- - Thursday, May 21, 2015

Do conflict-of-interest disclosure rules only apply to climate skeptic researchers?

About three months ago, the climate-alarmist-inspired mainstream media launched a coordinated attack on Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics researcher Willie Soon for allegedly failing to disclose energy industry funding of him in a study he co-authored.

After the media assault on Mr. Soon, climate-hysteria-friendly politicians like Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Democrats all, piled on by sending menacing letters to universities and energy companies about funding climate skeptics.

Mr. Soon maintains that he followed all applicable disclosure rules and no one has yet responded with evidence that he is lying. So far, Mr. Soon has only been the victim of hit-and-run yellow journalism.

But as it turned out, the alarmist theatrics were seemingly timed to be the pre-release marketing for a climate alarmist documentary then about to premiere in theaters, “Merchants of Doubt.” The film is a takeoff on the eponymous book by Harvard professor Naomi Oreskes. Its general thesis is that climate skeptics are all industry-paid liars.

While the film and Soon-bashing fade from the public eye, there is reason not to let that ugly episode simply fade away.

A study co-authored by Ms. Oreskes appeared on May 7 in the journal Global Environmental Change. The study claimed that climate skeptics were distorting scientific debate by forcing the “scientific community” to overstate uncertainty and to understate knowledge. Whatever.

What is noteworthy about the study is the acknowledgments section, in which the authors are supposed to disclose their funding and conflicts of interest. Apparently all Ms. Oreskes could manage to disclose was a vague reference to “Harvard University faculty development funds.”

Harvard faculty, however, are covered by a conflict of interest code, which provides, for example, that income from books in excess of $5,000 is a conflict of interest that requires disclosure.

While the amount of money Ms. Oreskes made from her 2010 book “Merchants of Doubt” — including the documentary (which grossed $192,400 in just its first month in release and with the DVD version yet to come) plus whatever related paid speaking gigs Ms. Oreskes snagged — is unknown, there is a good possibility it is in excess of $5,000.

It sure looks like, under Harvard rules, Ms. Oreskes should have disclosed her financial interests in the study.

Moving on to the journal, Global Environmental Change requires that a “self-serving stake” in research results should be disclosed. Another disclosure failure for Ms. Oreskes. What’s really astounding, though, is her arrogance.

In The New York Times hit piece on Willie Soon, Ms. Oreskes had the chutzpah to say that “academic institutions and scientific journals had been too lax in ferreting out dubious research created to serve a corporate agenda.” She added that Mr. Soon’s papers “should be retracted by the journals that published them.” Wow.

When I contacted one of The New York Times reporters about all this, his response was that’s “an interesting take on disclosure.” When I followed up, I got “have a lovely day.” Double wow.

Apparently, this is all just so much just silly rule-breaking, which only matters when it comes to destroying demonic climate skeptics.

Steve Milloy publishes JunkScience.com.

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