Three Degrees of Separation or Less, Part VI: The ‘Conflicts of Interest’ Notification Idea

In the global warming issue, when it comes to the idea of skeptics being ‘corrupted by industry funding’, basically any variant of that notion inadvertently points to the core promoter of that accusation, Ross Gelbspan. Take the March 9 article in Energy & Environment’s ClimateWire by Evan Lehmann, for example (archived version here).

It appears Lehmann received a chain of leaked emails (not from me!) in which I was a participant discussing whether skeptic climate scientist Dr S Fred Singer had any grounds for launching a libel/slander lawsuit against people accusing him of being a ‘liar for hire’. Check out my prior blog posts tagged with Dr Singer’s name and you’ll see why he appreciates my research.

When such reporters’ names are unfamiliar to me, I combine them in internet searches with Gelbspan’s name. In this case, the top result was a Feb 22, 2015-updated PolluterWatch page on Dr Willie Soon, where there was no direct association between Lehmann/Gelbspan, but it did link to an E&E article by Lehmann. Since my Feb 25 blog post detailed a common citation pattern of “Climate Investigations Center’s Kert Davies” among the recent rash of stories about Dr Soon’s ‘conflicts of interest notification problem’, I thought I must have missed Lehmann’s article. PolluterWatch’s link goes to an E&E link requiring a subscription to see it, but a search of the first part of Lehmann’s quote turns up many other sites quoting from him over the last month. Beyond those recent results, however, was from the June 28, 2011 date when Lehmann’s article first appeared. Who did Lehmann cite about the funding of skeptic climate scientists? Greenpeace’s Kert Davies. And as I illustrated in my Feb 25 post, the ‘conflicts of interest’ accusation traces back to a window of time when Davies and Gelbspan were associated with the ozone depletion activist group Ozone Action.

Look into the reporting history of skeptic climate scientists having a ‘conflicts of interest notification problem’, and the same single-source cast of characters appears.

First, a vintage explanation of what was an early effort to tie the medical science aspect of the situation to physical science, from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) Press Release “Scientists Call on Journals to Disclose Authors’ Conflicts of Interest”, February 4, 2002:

Today, more than two dozen prominent scientists, including two former editors of the New England Journal of Medicine and a former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, sent a letter to editors of Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and 200 other scientific journals, urging them to strengthen their policies concerning disclosure of conflicts of interest….

Whether the issue is clinical research, cancer clusters, or global warming, corporate interests can hide behind the credibility of peer-reviewed journals,” says Virginia A. Sharpe, Ph.D., a bioethicist and Director of CSPI’s Integrity in Science project which coordinated the initiative. ….

“With the amount of industry money pouring into scientific research,” says Dr. Orrin Pilkey, Director of Duke University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines and a co-signer of the letter, “there is a risk that more research will just become ‘client science,’ where truth is determined according to your client’s needs….”

(Dr Pilkey went on to write a global warming book in 2011 in which there is no mistaking his enslavement to Naomi Oreskes’ repetition of the “reposition global warming” phrase while apparently being unaware that Oreskes is enslaved to Ross Gelbspan for that phrase as an indictment of skeptic climate scientists’ ‘conflicts of interest guilt.’)

Now, excerpted sentences below, key words highlighted in boldface, with the critical sources within the quotes highlighted as clickable screencaptures:

• CSPI, Conflicts of Interest in Environmental Science, August 20, 2001:

….Notwithstanding the scientific consensus on global warming, a few scientists—who probably not coincidently receive energy-industry funding—continue to question if the Earth’s temperature is rising and question the need for action. Dr. Robert Balling, a researcher at Arizona State University, has been a persistent skeptic of global warming. He has been quoted in the New York Times and elsewhere as an authority on the issue, frequently called to testify before congressional panels and other public groups, and repeatedly raised questions about whether global warming is occurring. What is typically not reported, however, is that according to Ozone Action, an environmental organization, Dr. Balling has received at least $311,000 from oil and coal industries

…Last year, at the urging of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Natural Resources Defense Council, and others, the NAS made a strong commitment to greater openness. As a result the NAS asks all candidates for committees to complete a “Potential Sources of Bias and Conflict of Interest” form….

….science writers and other journalists…should ask the scientists they interview about possible conflicts of interest. Such information should be provided to readers when it may have a bearing on a scientist’s credibility. The Washington Post has adopted a policy along those lines….

(CSPI’s source to indict Robert Balling was the same “Ties That Blind” report where Ozone Action said they and Ross Gelbspan ‘obtained’ documents with the “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact” phrase.)

• CSPI, Letter to Katherine Roberts Concerning NYT News Articles with No Disclosure of Conflicts of Interest, April 20, 2001:

Dear Ms. Roberts:  We write to you about some articles that have appeared in the Times, some recently, some a few years ago. Our concern pertains to the need for the news media routinely to disclose conflicts of interest of those whom they quote. …

The Stevens story also quoted “Dr. Robert Balling, a climatologist at Arizona State University.” It was not disclosed that Dr. Balling has received funding from the Kuwaiti government, foreign coal and mining corporations, and from the Cyprus Minerals Company. (Source: Ross Gelbspan, The Heat Is On (Perseus Books, 1998), pp. 44-45)

• The Christian Science Monitor, Corporate cash & campus labs, June 19, 2001:

… “There has been in some fields a substantial, industrial-commercial influence,” says David Blumenthal, director of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Institute for Health Policy and a professor at Harvard Medical School. In a 1998 study, he and colleagues found that 43 percent of scientists – many of them at university medical centers or schools – had received at least one research-related gift. About two-thirds said the gift had been important to their research.

Such conflicts are hardly confined to the medical field. In his 1997 book, “The Heat Is On,” Ross Gelbspan cites professors for not disclosing that coal and oil companies had funded their studies, which were used to undercut arguments in favor of reducing greenhouse gases.

• Le Monde diplomatique, For sale: US academic integrity, March 2001:

…by looking at research on the health impact of tobacco, the “science” behind global warming or breast implants, or the effectiveness of a drug, we can see that it is not unusual for sponsored academics to fudge the data, suppress unfavourable evidence, and otherwise “torture the numbers till they confess” (9)…

9. Marcia Angell, Science on Trial: The Clash of Medical Evidence and the Law in the Breast Implant Case, W W Norton, New York, 1997 ; Ross Gelbspan, The Heat Is On: The Climate Crisis, the Cover-up, the Prescription, Perseus Press, Los Angeles, 1998.

Jump in time forward, not to the present time but to March 2012:

• Arizona State University’s The State Press, Professor accused of bias in environmental research, March 4, 2012:

Greenpeace is calling for a formal investigation into Balling’s research, pointing to a history of having conflicts of interest.  In a letter to ASU President Michael Crow, Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford requested documentation that Balling submitted proper background documents for his research. …

Balling’s potential conflicts of interest go back 15 years.

In 1997, Ross Gelbspan discounted several climate scientists, including Balling, in his book “The Heat is On.”

(Before coming to work at Greenpeace, Phil Radford was Ozone Action’s Field Director)

Ultimately, the only thing Phil Radford accomplished in that effort was to greatly amplify the two fatal problems with the ‘conflicts of interest notification’ problem:

1) without proof that monetary or other influences negatively affect a person’s assessments/conclusions, allegations of bad conflicts of interest are unsupportable. You must first prove the person’s assessments/conclusions are false before an investigation into what prompted those results is warranted. Ross Gelbspan, Al Gore, and all of their friends skip that step entirely.

2) from the late 1990s or earlier to now, no evidence has been produced to prove skeptic climate scientists are paid to lie. All we see are pure guilt-by-association talking points, which first got their media traction in late 1995 / early 1996 from the small clique of enviro-activists surrounding Gelbspan.

Rather than any of the current uproar about skeptic’s conflict of interest being some kind of new revelation to investigate, the situation instead begs for investigating why it has only a single highly questionable and literally unsupportable source for the ‘corrupted skeptic scientists’ allegation, and why no journalists over the last 20+ years have ever checked the veracity of the allegation.