February 27, 2006

Private funding of science

Gary Comer - sailor, adventurer and entrepreneur - has been enamored of the Arctic since he was 10 years old. After selling Lands' End to Sears in 2001 he set out to "identify a few top-notch senior scientists; give them money, unsolicited, to support up-and-coming young scientists; fund fieldwork nobody else would touch; and then--less predictably--jump in and enjoy the science." Since then he has poured several tens of millions of dollars into research on abrupt climate change. He has kept it simple - no unsolicited proposals, no peer-review system, no paperwork. The funded research is reaching top journals, and 60 or 70 young scientists that have enjoyed Comer fellowships have subsequently found jobs in climate research. Additionally,
Comer does have one other iron in the climate fire. Backing up the science he's funded, he is sinking millions a year into a small Arizona company developing a method for extracting the main greenhouse gas--carbon dioxide--right out of the air for permanent storage underground. If some new science can't win the day, perhaps some innovative engineering can.

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