Authors of Wall Street Journal climate piece downplay industry ties
Feb. 1, 2012
Half the authors of a controversial Wall Street Journal opinion piece denying the Earth's warming trend have ties to the oil and gas industry, a DailyClimate.org investigation finds.
By Amy Silverstein
Half of the 16 scientists who penned a controversial Wall Street Journal opinion piece proclaiming there is "no need to panic" about global warming have ties to either the oil and gas industry or groups dedicated to debunking climate science, a DailyClimate.org investigation has found.
The article, criticized by climate scientists and environmental groups, says that the field of climate science is dominated by opportunists and that "a large and growing number of distinguished scientists and engineers do not agree that drastic actions on global warming are needed."
"Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many," the authors wrote.
The Journal noted that 16 scientists co-authored the article. But in listing their affiliations at the end of the piece, the paper didn't mention half of them have ties to groups and businesses that often cast doubts about man-made global warming.
One example: The Journal credits William Happer as a professor of physics at Princeton University. Unmentioned is his role on the board of the George C. Marshall Institute, a conservative Washington, D.C.-based think tank that assesses scientific issues impacting public policy.
The institute has long rejected that humans can influence the planet's climate. Newsweek in 2007 described the organization as “a central cog in the denial machine.” The group has previously listed support from oil giant Exxon Mobil on its website.
Criticism from climate scientists
Happer, in an interview, downplayed the issue, saying there is more money to be made in climate science than climate-denialism. "I don't get a penny," he said.
The Wall Street Journal did not respond to phone calls and e-mails inquiring about the piece.
The paper has been criticized by climate scientists for publishing the article. On Wednesday, the Journal published a letter signed by 38 climate and earth scientists claiming that most of the authors of the original piece "have no expertise in climate science."
"The few authors who have such expertise are known to have extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert," the letter from the scientists said.
A deeper look at the authors' biographies suggests some industry influence, too.
Happer, for instance, was one of three experts associated with the Marshall Institute to have a say in the Journal's piece.
Institute board member Rodney W. Nichols also signed the article and is credited by the Journal as former president and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences.
Roger Cohen is listed by the Journal as a fellow at the American Physical Society, a non-profit group working to expand knowledge of physics. His Marshall Institute biography adds another position unmentioned by the paper: ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Co. retiree.
'Doesn't affect his views'
Co-author Edward E. David, Jr. also has ties to that ExxonMobil subsidiary. The Journal described David as a member of both the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences. And he is perhaps best known as science advisor to former President Richard Nixon.
But after leaving government, David led Exxon's research and engineering unit from 1977 to 1986, according to his biography at the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank headquartered in New York City where David serves as emeritus trustee.
David is hard of hearing and could not respond to a request for an interview for this article. Happer said the former Exxon job played no role in David's opinions. "Of course it doesn't affect his views, he's a very distinguished engineer," Happer said. "He knows a lot about climate."
Virginia Tech chemistry professor James McGrath, another Journal co-author, has had much of his research funded by industries affected by environmental regulations. In 2007, chemical giant Arkema Inc. partly provided $375,000 in funding for his research. In the 1980s, his research received funding from ExxonMobil and Phillips Petroleum.
"They have no input to my opinions," he said in an email statement.
Links to policy groups
The Journal describes Harrison H. Schmitt as an "Apollo 17 astronaut and former U.S. senator.”
Schmitt, a Republican who represented New Mexico from 1976 to 1982, is also a former chairman for the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy, a group opposed to taking action to prevent climate change. The organization has since taken its website down. In 2009, it received $105,000 from ExxonMobil, according to Exxon's annual donations list.
In 2010, Schmitt joined the board of The Heartland Institute, a free-market public policy group that opposes government regulations on the environment. The organization has received funding from Exxon, according to company documents posted online by Greenpeace, an environmental advocacy group.
Journal co-author William Kininmonth’s credit line – "former head of climate research at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology" – similarly fails to mention his affiliation as science advisor for two climate-skeptic groups: The Australian Climate Science Coalition and the Science & Public Policy Institute. He said in an email that he does the work for free. "I am a retired public official with no other organizational financial linkages."
Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of atmospheric sciences Richard Lindzen is also a former advisor to the Exxon-backed Annapolis Center and has published research for the Cato Institute, a free-market think tank that opposes government efforts to restrict carbon dioxide emissions.
Declined a science essay
Lindzen, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, is well-known in climate science circles for his long-standing and articulate opposition to the conventional consensus on global warming.
Writing in Harper's Magazine in 1995, former Boston Globe reporter Ross Gelbspan called Lindzen a "hood ornament" for the fossil fuels industry, alleging that the scientist once received $2,500 a day in consulting fees from oil and gas companies.
Lindzen, in an email, called the charge false. "When Gelbspan published his piece, I checked into whether I should sue for libel," he said. "I quickly discovered that it would cost more than I could afford."
Climate scientists found the Journal's article odd for another reason: In 2010, 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences submitted an essay warning of the realities of climate change and calling for improved and serious public debate around the issue. The paper declined to publish it.
Writing in Forbes this week, Peter Gleick, lead-author of that 2010 essay and founder of the California-based Pacific Institute, said the Journal's editorial decisions offered "a remarkable example of their unabashed bias."
© Amy Silverstein. All rights reserved.
Photo (left to right): Richard Lindzen, William Kininmonth, Sen. Harrison Schmitt, James McGrath, Edward E. David, Jr., Roger Cohen, Rodney Nichols, William Happer.
Amy Silverstein is freelance reporter based in Los Angeles. DailyClimate.org is a foundation-funded news service covering climate change. Contact editor Douglas Fischer at dfischer [at] dailyclimate.org
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