Sunday, March 2, 2008

Biofuels, the Environment, and Funding Studies

In the Who's the Most Obviously Biased contest, we give you The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council who suspended grants to the University of Minnesota after researchers there concluded that global warming could actually be made worse by growing biofuels.

The study, by University of Minnesota ecologist David Tilman and others, said that dedicating huge amounts of land to grow corn, soybeans, sugarcane and other food crops for fuel could drastically change the landscape and worsen global warming. Farmers in the U.S., Brazil, Indonesia and other countries will need to clear forests, grasslands and peat lands on a massive scale to grow more of those crops, according to the research, unleashing far more carbon dioxide from natural vegetation than is saved by the lower emissions of the biofuels.

And what exactly were the farmers problems with the study?

Ethanol industry officials criticized the study as a simplistic analysis that doesn't include the economic benefits for those who grow biofuel crops or the environmental cost of continuing to rely on petroleum. "The study was over the top by implying that biofuels were bad," Palmer said. "Farmers were extremely surprised that it came out, why it came out, and that it came from the University of Minnesota."

How are economic benefits going to change the impact on climate change? If they are implying that economic benefits somehow reduce say emissions by lessening demand, they should be more explicit about it, because that point is far from obvious. The economic benefits might cause more demand for even bigger and better things. Such counterintuitive results are common. Airbags didn't decrease insurance costs, they increased them.

Also notice the complete lack of any kind of factual critique. Why was their result over the top. Maybe biofuels ARE bad! This is right out of the IDers playbook: lose the science game, blame the scorekeepers. Their own possibility of error is never given even passing consideration.

But the best comment? This has to be read to be believed:

"The university hurt the farmers' feelings, OK? That's probably the best way to say it," said Jim Palmer, executive director of the two groups.

Earth to Jim Palmer: science doesn't give a shit about your feelings. That aside, surely a professional PR guy would understand how ridiculous that comment makes them look. Now any study funded by this group will rightly be considered biased, since they obviously pick and choose their researchers according to who they most believe will give them the answers they want. That's essentially cherry-picking data, and it ain't science.

Hat tip: Pharyngula

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