Abstract: A professor in my department, who seems to be a climate change denier, is offering me funding for a project that is NOT related to climate change. Should I take it?

For my stipend at the my department, I have to teach a lot. This implies 12-15 hours of work per week for the next one year. It is a lot of time I could put into research/writing papers instead.

I have been offered funding to conduct research under a professor. The research question sounds interesting, is unrelated to climate science, and is probably going to lead to publications along with relieving me of teaching duties. However, the professor offering this funding says that sea levels are not rising at an accelerated rate. 

Perhaps one extreme way of looking at this would be that he is a climate change denier. However, he did claim that he does not know about other indicators of climate change- he only pointed out that sea levels are not rising at an accelerated rate, which is a claim made by climate change proponents. 

He said that NOAA data suggests this. However, on doing a simple google search, I found this article on the NOAA website- https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/sealevel.html

To quote from the article, "Yes, sea level is indeed rising at an increasing rate. Global sea level has been rising over the past century, and the rate has increased over recent decades." Hence, his source of information also seems to be spurious. Should I accept funding from him? It seems to look good for my life and career in general. But should I compromise on my beliefs and take funding from him?-

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    I will ask you a few questions. If he was religious, and you were not, would you accept? If you were religious, and he was not, would you accept? If he was gay, would you accept? If he was a fascist, would you accept? If he didn't appreciate Monet's painting, would you accept? If he thought that Twilight is a good movie, would you accept? – user68958 May 15 '19 at 19:29
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    @corey979 Having and acting on repugnant beliefs that harm others is not the same as taste in movies. – Elizabeth Henning May 15 '19 at 19:37
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    The framing here seems reversed. I mean, it sounds like would accept this funding if not for the source's position on climate change, right? So the null-decision seems to be to accept the funding, as that's what you'd otherwise do. Then, the question would seem to be if you should then change your mind, and reject the funding, based on the source's position about climate change. This is then a question that sounds pretty opinion-based if you don't further specify why you might want to do this; for example, are you thinking that accepting would promote a position you disagree with? – Nat May 15 '19 at 20:16
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    I'm also wondering how you think you're compromising your beliefs by taking funding from him. I don't think anyone would ever construe that as you agreeing with his views about climate change. And in general, keeping civil relations with all the weird people out there that believe weird stuff is the only way you're gonna reach them when you want to convince them of your way of seeing things. – sgf May 15 '19 at 20:18
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    says that sea levels are not rising at an accelerated rate vs. rising at an increasing rate --- For issues as impassioned as this, I think extra care needs to be taken to say exactly what is intended. To me, "rising at an accelerated rate" implies the third derivative of height is positive, while "rising at an increasing rate" implies the second derivative of the height is positive. It is certainly possible that the height could be rising at an increasing rate without rising at an accelerated rate. – Dave L Renfro May 16 '19 at 10:04

It is ultimately up to you. However, if you refuse to collaborate with people who have different political, religious, moral, etc. standards or opinions than you, you'll pretty soon find that you are missing too many exciting opportunities. The disagreement over a climate change is a relatively mild one as far as such things are concerned. You do not need to change your position and you can even try to convince your professor that you are right when you have some chat over a cup of coffee, but I wouldn't take the issue too far. After all, from his perspective, he offers a collaboration to a proponent of some crazy politicized hype and does it first. So I would meet an open hand with an open hand in this case, but, as I said, nobody but you can make the choice.


A lot of people you will come across have ideas that you would consider screwy if you only knew of them. But you don't.

Unless the idea repels you in some way, note that if the money isn't, itself, tainted and you aren't asked to do something you consider wrong, then there is no real reason to turn it down.

If the money was coming from a Coal Baron, you might want to refuse it. Likewise if you think you are being compromised in some way.

But hopefully the work you do will have some positive impact on the world in spite of any ideas of the professor.


You say that the research is "unrelated to climate science" but I'd want to distinguish between two rather different scenarios:

  1. The professor's professional research program is entirely unrelated to his climate change positions. For example, let's say this professor does Number Theory.
  2. The professor's professional research program touches on issues related to climate change, but the particular project you're working on doesn't relate to this. For example, this professor works on fluid dynamics including applications to atmospheric science, but this project is about the mathematical side.

In case 1 I think you should completely ignore this person's non-professional non-expert opinions, and go ahead and collaborate (assuming those non-professional opinions are along the lines of being a flat earther or ghost hunting, and aren't something like working for ISIS or having a confederate flag tattoo).

In case 2 I think you should avoid this collaboration because this professor's poor professional judgement may reflect poorly on you if people see that you're collaborating with someone who also publishes junk.

  • "aren't something like working for ISIS or having a confederate flag tattoo" There's a difference between actively supporting a group of terroristic murderers, and having regional pride and/or political beliefs you disagree with. – nick012000 May 16 '19 at 2:47

In addition to the project being unrelated to climate change, he isn't someone who has any influence over policy except by voting. Like most culture-war issues, climate-change denialism isn't about what it claims to be about, which is why he doesn't care what the facts are and wouldn't be able to articulate what he would regard as convincing evidence of anthropogenic climate change.

This is a matter of identity: he imagines that he is an independent-minded skeptic who doesn't subscribe to the liberal agenda. There's no way to make a dent in that by refusing his funding and it will only reinforce propaganda about the intolerant left. So take his money and if you want try to reason with him if he brings the subject up. But this is almost certainly going to be a losing battle.

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    They do say "never argue with a fool, people can't tell the difference"... – Solar Mike May 15 '19 at 19:39
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    I downvoted this for Like most culture-war issues, climate-change denialism isn't about what it claims to be about. How would you even know? What would even make this sentence true or false? If what percentage of climate change deniers actually held their beliefs for some other reason? In what way is that different from any other opinion, belief or conviction people have? – sgf May 15 '19 at 19:58
  • @sgf I know this because (1) there have been studies showing it and (2) culture-war positions like ACC denialism are prima facie logically and scientifically indefensible, but make perfect sense from other points of view. It's true that people delude themselves all the time about why they believe something, but ACC denialism specifically purports to be about lack of evidence, which is nonsense. – Elizabeth Henning May 15 '19 at 20:00
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    I believe that academics should know the difference between "I believe" and "I know." – shoover May 15 '19 at 20:10
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    "will only reinforce propaganda about the intolerant left" I wish it were a pure propaganda! he isn't someone who has any influence over policy except by voting. If he is a reputable researcher, he may have some other options too. But you entirely miss the point anyway: the OP is concerned about his own integrity, not about the conversion of the professor into his faith... – fedja May 15 '19 at 20:17

Maybe you should consider the possibility that his claim about sea levels is true.

He is a math professor, who makes this claim and says he does not know about other indicators of climate change. Based on that, I would guess that he knows a lot more about sea levels than you, and a lot more than can be found from a simple google search and a single short article on the NOAA website. Maybe he has looked at the actual data.

If you want to find out, you could ask the professor, or look for proper scientific articles about whether the rise is accelerating, or get the data and see for yourself.

  • I guess the point is that he claims NOAA data is what clearly states that sea levels are not rising. However, the NOAA website clearly states that sea levels are indeed rising. Hence, unless NOAA is contradicting its own data, it is likely that the sea levels are indeed rising – mathboy May 15 '19 at 20:12
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    I agree some clarification on the professor's statement is needed. There is a difference between an informed opinion that a particular methodology is flawed and a fact-denying "skeptic" who refuses to accept well-established results. – cag51 May 15 '19 at 20:51

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