People who live in glass greenhouses shouldn’t throw stones.
A Democrat-led congressional investigation into the funding sources of scientists they deride as climate-change “deniers” has triggered another scientific law — to every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Rep. Raul M. Grijalva’s investigation into the funding sources of seven professors has triggered a round of Freedom of Information Act requests by two free market think tanks in an effort to learn more about the financial backings of climate professors aligned with the “consensus” or “warmist” school of thought.
At the same time, the Competitive Enterprise Institute has filed a FOIA request with the Environmental Protection Agency asking for correspondence related to climate change from Mr. Grijalva, Arizona Democrat, and three Democratic senators — the same three investigating whether 100 fossil fuel companies and trade associations have funded climate research.
Mr. Grijalva’s probe into academic research funding has been likened to McCarthyism, but Competitive Enterprise Institute senior fellow Christopher Horner said the point of the latest round of requests isn’t that one good witch-hunt deserves another.
Rather, the inquiries are aimed at “reminding those who think it’s a one-way street that, since the congressman seeks only information from people who dare disagree with him, we can do what they do,” said Mr. Horner, who also filed the Grijalva-inspired FOIAs on behalf of the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic and the Energy & Environment Legal Institute.
“You believe information is necessary for the public to properly assess claims, then so do we,” said Mr. Horner. “We are even using laws enacted for the purpose, unlike the gentleman sailing in under the flag of congressional letterhead and whatever that implies, but not even a pretense at citing any authority that I can see.”
The parallel investigations mark the latest example of bias hunting in climate science, a field coming under increased political scrutiny as the stakes surrounding the global warming debate soar.
Four years ago, meteorologist Anthony Watts coined the term “foilball” to refer to efforts to beat back FOIA requests aimed at rooting out institutional bias stemming from high-profile conflicts at the University of East Anglia and the University of Virginia.
The UVA brouhaha erupted after Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II and the American Tradition Institute began digging into the research funding of professor Michael Mann, a leading “warmist” and creator of the “hockey stick” theory of climate change.
The Virginia Supreme Court squelched Mr. Cuccinelli’s investigation in 2012, and the university reportedly spent $600,000 to fight the American Tradition Institute’s FOIA requests in the name of academic freedom. Less noticed was that Greenpeace had asked UVA for funding-related information about climate professor Patrick Michaels, a well-known “skeptic.”
Greenpeace also requested records on professor David Legates at the University of Delaware, and astrophysicist Sallie Baliunas and aerospace engineer Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Still, the outrage from environmental and science groups centered on the Mann probe.
“[T]he hypocrisy is breathtaking when it comes to similar actions against former UVA faculty member Dr. Patrick Michaels,” Mr. Watts said in a post on his blog Watts Up With That.
In fact, Mr. Grijalva’s investigation was prompted by documents obtained and released by Greenpeace showing that Mr. Soon had received $1.2 million in research funding since 2008 from fossil fuel interests, including Exxon Mobil Corp. and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.
“For years, we at Greenpeace have been working to make public the secret paper trails that show what everyone already knows: climate science deniers — #Fakexperts — are few and far between, and most of them are paid by companies most responsible for global warming to downplay the problem,” Greenpeace said in a Feb. 25 blog post on Mr. Soon.
Mr. Soon, who has become a target of the climate change movement for positing that the past century’s rise in solar output was largely responsible for warming temperatures, acknowledged as recently as 2013 that he receives fossil fuel funding while countering that he is not motivated by money.
Elsewhere, reports are seeping out about funding of climate research by pro-“warmist” nonprofits such as the Park Foundation in Ithaca, New York.
The foundation began funding Cornell marine biologist Robert Howarth after approaching him in 2010 to write an “academic article that would make a case that shale gas was a dangerous, polluting fuel,” according to a Summer 2014 article in Philanthropy magazine.
“By simultaneously funding an interlocking triangle of sympathetic scientists, anti-fracking nonprofits, and media outlets, Park helped move the idea that natural gas is environmentally unfriendly from the activist fringe to the mainstream,” said the article by Jon Entine, senior fellow at the World Food Center Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy at the University of California-Davis.
“The foundation has continued to provide numerous grants (in the range of $50,000 to $60,000) directly to Howarth and his research colleagues,” Mr. Entine wrote.
Mr. Howarth said his research is not motivated by financial considerations. The report also points to Ithaca College biologist Sandra Steingraber, a recipient of Park Foundation funding who was active in the anti-fracking fight in New York as a co-founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking — which also has received Park funding, according to the pro-industry website Energy in Depth.
In addition, Ms. Steingraber was a peer reviewer on a research paper cited by the Cuomo administration in New York when enacting its statewide fracking ban last year, although she told a reporter afterward that she was “absolutely objective about the data.”
The largest source of research dollars, of course, is the federal government, which spent $32.5 billion on climate research from 1989 to 2009, according to the Science and Public Policy Institute.
The White House has placed itself firmly the “warmist” camp with President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and declarations on the website such as “Due to climate change, the weather is getting more extreme.”
“Billions of dollars have been poured into studies supporting climate alarm, and trillions of dollars have been involved in overthrowing the energy economy,” Richard Lindzen, a retired professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the “Grijalva Seven,” said in a March 4 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. “So it is unsurprising that great efforts have been made to ramp up hysteria, even as the case for climate alarm is disintegrating.”
Still, it’s tough to prove that a federal grant into climate research, even one from the Obama administration, is somehow evidence of bias, and Mr. Horner isn’t trying.
Instead, the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s FOIA requests ask the EPA for any communications between Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and four staffers in the EPA’s office of congressional and governmental relations.
Specifically, the FOIAs seek communications dating from Jan. 1, 2013, that mention Tom Steyer, founder of the left-wing advocacy group NextGen Climate, as well as the terms “denier,” “denial” and “deniers,” and liberal groups including the Climate Investigations Center, Greenpeace, the Energy Foundation, the Center for American Progress and the Sierra Club.
Mr. Horner’s FOIAs asking for funding information on four climate professors were sent to the University of Arizona, the University of Colorado, the University of Delaware and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Mr. Grijalva sent letters to three of those universities, as well as Arizona State University, Pepperdine University, MIT and the University of Alabama, focusing on professors who had testified to Congress about climate issues.
The House Natural Resources Committee minority delegation responded in a statement, “We continue to pursue necessary information that sheds light on financial conflicts of interest in the preparation of testimony and policy recommendations to lawmakers.”
Mr. Grijalva has asked universities to respond to his letters no later than Monday, and the Senate Democrats’ deadline is April 3. Already, however, Koch Industries general counsel Mark Holden has told the senators that the company will not comply with the request, citing in a March 5 letter their “apparent efforts to infringe upon and potentially stifle fundamental First Amendment activities.”
The University of Colorado’s Roger Pielke Jr. apparently has had enough of the controversy. He said in a blog post shortly after the letters were issued that he would be moving his focus away from climate science.
“The incessant attacks and smears are effective, no doubt,” Mr. Pielke said. “I have already shifted all of my academic work away from climate issues. I am simply not initiating any new research or papers on the topic and I have ring-fenced my slowly diminishing blogging on the subject.”