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If you are a scientist, successful in getting published either in peer-reviewed professional journals or in the popular press research that would tend to undermine or at least raise doubts concerning the claim that humans are causing catastrophic climate change, almost invariably, the first question the mainstream media asks is not about your methodologies, your assumptions or the soundness of your results, rather it is “who funded you.” By contrast, those who publish a papers reinforcing the view that human fossil fuel use if causing climate calamity almost never have their funding sources question.
For the main stream press, it seems, to be skeptical — long the hallmark of good science — is to come under immediate suspicion of being a bought and paid for shill for some special interest. Skeptics are guilty of conflict of interest until they prove themselves innocent, and sometimes (as is the case with Willie Soon), they are guilty in the eyes of the press even after they’ve proven themselves innocent.
A recent post by Steve Milloy highlights this double standard with regard to climate research and the media.
In a brazen display of hypocrisy, the media recently fawned all over a new report in Nature Climate Change claiming the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) clean power plant rules will save thousands of lives per year.
Almost every story on this new report went out of its way to stress the research team involved in the study had no personal interest in the results of their research; their research could be trusted because it was untainted by the influence of special interests.
How do we know the authors had no financial interests in the findings? Because, like Soon, they declared it at the end of the article. And the press swallowed this claim hook, line and sinker.
There’s just one problem, collectively the authors of the study have received more than $45 million from the EPA for their research.
It’s a safe bet each of the co-authors will seek more funding from the EPA in the future (if they don’t already have grant and research funding requests currently pending at the EPA). Since the EPA had already determined it was going to restrict carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants, does anyone really believe the study would find the proposed restrictions are unjustified? Does anyone believe if it had, the EPA would continue to reward the authors with continued generous research funding? As Steve Milloy, founder of JunkScience.com, wrote discussing funding given to just three of the co-authors, Joel Schwartz, Jonathan Levy and Charles Driscoll, “… how could Schwartz’s $31,176,575 or Levy’s $9,514,361 or Driscoll’s $3,654,608 from EPA possibly be considered as a ‘competing financial interest’ in an article they wrote in support of EPA’s flagship regulatory effort?”
And this despite the fact one of the authors seemed to reveal to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the findings had been predetermined, saying, “People are focused on climate control and mitigation, but in doing this study we wanted to bring attention to the additional benefits of carbon control.” (Emphasis mine) So the benefits were already evident and they wanted to put the icing on the EPA’s carbon-control cake. The conclusions were forgone, no need to do actual research.
To be fair, unlike the media, we at The Heartland Institute roundly reject the idea a researcher’s sources of funding determines the soundness of his or her results, rather as J. Scott Armstrong recently forcefully argued, the methodologies and results stand or fall based upon their ability to be replicated and prove what they claim to prove. Still the double-standard the press displays with regard to the research of climate skeptics as opposed to climate alarmists, when questions of conflict of interests are raised (or are not raised as is the case with the alarmists camp), rankles me.
On another point, Milloy also highlights research raising doubts the EPA’s clean power plant rule will actually save lives or prevent illness or hospitalization. Did the media ask any hard questions concerning the recent study’s results? Did they point to previous research showing the clean power plant rule will not save lives because the ancillary air pollutants the EPA claims will be reduced are already at safe levels and ask the Driscoll, et. al why their findings should be believed in light of findings diametrically opposed to their own? The answer, of course, is no. To ask such questions is to practice real journalism, a calling the most reporters abandoned long ago.