Quantcast

Busted: Academics-for-Hire Exposed for Failing to Disclose Fossil Fuel Funding

Energy

A Greenpeace undercover investigation has exposed how fossil fuel companies can secretly pay academics at leading American universities to write research that sows doubt about climate science and promotes the companies’ commercial interests.

Posing as representatives of oil and coal companies, investigators from Greenpeace UK asked academics from Princeton and Penn State to write papers promoting the benefits of CO2 and the use of coal in developing countries.

The professors agreed to write the reports and said they did not need to disclose the source of the funding.

Citing industry-funded documents—including testimony to state hearings and newspaper articles—Professor Frank Clemente of Penn State said: “In none of these cases is the sponsor identified. All my work is published as an independent scholar.”

The leading climate-skeptic academic, Professor William Happer, agreed to write a report for a Middle Eastern oil company and to allow the firm to keep the source of the funding secret.

Happer is due to appear this afternoon as a star witness in a U.S. Senate hearing called by Republican Presidential candidate Ted Cruz.

In emails to investigators he also revealed Peabody Energy paid thousands of dollars for him to testify at a separate state hearing, with the money going to a climate-skeptic think-tank.

The investigation also found:

  • U.S. coal company Peabody Energy paid tens of thousands of dollars to an academics who produced coal-friendly research and provided testimony at state and federal climate hearings, the amount of which was never revealed.

  • The Donors Trust, an organization that has been described as the “dark money ATM of the U.S. conservative movement, confirmed in a taped conversation with an undercover investigator that it could anonymously channel money from a Middle Eastern oil and gas company to U.S. climate skeptic organizations.

  • Princeton Professor William Happer laid out details of an unofficial peer review process run by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a UK climate skeptic think tank and said he could ask to put an oil funded report through a similar review process, after admitting that it would struggle to be published in an academic journal.

  • A recent report by the GWPF that had been through the same unofficial review process, was promoted as “thoroughly peer-reviewed” by influential columnist Matt Ridley—a senior figure in the organization.

The full story and all the documents have been published here

The findings echo the case of Willie Soon, a prominent academic exposed in an investigation in the New York Times as having accepted donations from fossil fuel companies and anonymous donors in return for producing climate-skeptic scientific papers.

Greenpeace investigators approached the academics claiming to be representatives of unnamed fossil fuel companies looking to commission "independent" research.

Professor Frank Clemente, a sociologist from Penn State university, was asked if he could produce a report “to counter damaging research linking coal to premature deaths (in particular the WHO’s figure that 3.7 million people die per year from fossil fuel pollution).” He said that this was within his skill set; that he could be quoted using his university job title and that it would cost around $15,000 for an 8-10 page paper.

Asked whether he would need to declare the source of the money, Professor Clemente said: “There is no requirement to declare source funding in the U.S.” He then shared examples of a testimony and an op-ed, explaining: “Note that in none of these cases is the sponsor identified. All my work is published as an independent scholar.”

Clemente also disclosed that for another report on “the Global Value of Coal” he was paid $50,000 by Peabody Energy—the sponsorship was mentioned in the small print of the paper, but the amount has not been disclosed until now.

The academics’ willingness to conceal the source of funding contrasts strongly with the ethics of journals such as Science, which states in its submission requirements that research “should be accompanied by clear disclosures from all authors of their affiliations, funding sources or financial holdings that might raise questions about possible sources of bias.”

The investigation has also revealed a system by which foreign oil and gas companies can anonymously fund U.S. climate-skeptic scientists and organizations.

When asked to ensure that the commissioning of the report could not be traced back to the Middle East oil and gas company, Professor Happer contacted his fellow CO2 Coalition board member, Bill O’Keefe, a former Exxon lobbyist. He suggested channelling it through the Donors Trust, a controversial organization that has previously been called theDark Money ATM of the US conservative movement.

When investigators asked Peter Lipsett of the Donors Trust, if the trust would accept money from an oil and gas company based in the Middle East, he replied that, although the trust would like the cash to come from a U.S. bank account, “we can take it from a foreign body, just we have to be extra cautious with that.”

Professor Happer, who sits on the GWPF’s Academic Advisory Council, was also asked by undercover investigators if he could put the industry-funded report through the same peer review process as previous GWPF reports claimed to have been “thoroughly peer reviewed.” Happer explained that this process had consisted of members of the Advisory Council and other selected scientists reviewing the work, rather than presenting it to an academic journal.

He added: “I would be glad to ask for a similar review for the first drafts of anything I write for your client. Unless we decide to submit the piece to a regular journal, with all the complications of delay, possibly quixotic editors and reviewers that is the best we can do and I think it would be fine to call it a peer review.”

GWPF’s “peer review” process was used for a recent GWPF report on the benefits of carbon dioxide. According to Dr. Indur Goklany, the author of the report, he was initially encouraged to write it by the journalist Matt Ridley, who is also a GWPF academic advisor. That report was then promoted by Ridley, who claimed in his London Times column that the paper had been "thoroughly peer reviewed."

Commenting on the investigation, Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said:

“This investigation exposes a network of academics-for-hire and a back channel that lets fossil fuel companies secretly influence the climate debate while keeping their fingerprints off. Our research reveals that professors at prestigious universities can be sponsored by foreign fossil fuel companies to write reports that sow doubt about climate change and that those professors will keep that funding secret from the public. The question now is very simple. Down the years, how many scientific reports that sowed public doubt on climate change were actually funded by oil, coal and gas companies? This investigation shows how they do it, now we need to know when and where they did it. It’s time for the skeptics to come clean.”

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Obama Administration Cancels Major Fossil Fuel Auction as Pressure Mounts From Climate Movement

Bernie Sanders Unveils ‘People Before Polluters’ Climate Plan

Kick Big Polluters Out to Stop Corporate Capture of COP21

Coal Baron Found Guilty of Infamous Mine Blast: But Was Justice Served?

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Matt Cardy / Stringer / Getty Images

The Guardian is changing the way it writes about environmental issues.

Read More Show Less
Blueberry yogurt bark. SEE D JAN / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Having nutritious snacks to eat during the workday can help you stay energized and productive.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A 2017 flood in Elk Grove, California. Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources

By Tara Lohan

It's been the wettest 12 months on record in the continental United States. Parts of the High Plains and Midwest are still reeling from deadly, destructive and expensive spring floods — some of which have lasted for three months.

Mounting bills from natural disasters like these have prompted renewed calls to reform the National Flood Insurance Program, which is managed by Federal Emergency Management Agency and is now $20 billion in debt.

Read More Show Less
Jennifer A. Smith / Moment / Getty Images

By Brenda Ekwurzel

When temperatures hit the 80s Fahrenheit in May above latitude 40, sun-seekers hit the parks, lakes, and beaches, and thoughts turn to summer. By contrast, when temperatures lurk in the drizzly 40s and 50s well into flower season, northerners get impatient for summer. But when those 80-degree temperatures visit latitude 64 in Russia, as they just did, and when sleet disrupts Mother's Day weekend in May in Massachusetts, as it just did, thoughts turn to: what is going on here?

Read More Show Less
Shrimp fishing along the coast of Nayarit, Mexico. Tomas Castelazo / Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

By Paula Ezcurra and Octavio Aburto

Thousands of hydroelectric dams are under construction around the world, mainly in developing countries. These enormous structures are one of the world's largest sources of renewable energy, but they also cause environmental problems.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Activists in North Dakota confront pipeline construction activities. A Texas bill would impose steep penalties for such protests. Speak Freely / ACLU

By Eoin Higgins

A bill making its way through the Texas legislature would make protesting pipelines a third-degree felony, the same as attempted murder.

Read More Show Less
An Australian flag flutters in the wind in a dry drought-ridden landscape. Virginia Star / Moment / Getty Images

Australia re-elected its conservative governing Liberal-National coalition Saturday, despite the fact that it has refused to cut down significantly on greenhouse gas emissions or coal during its time in power, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Tree lined street, UK. Richard Newstead / Moment / Getty Images

The UK government will fund the planting of more than 130,000 trees in English towns and cities in the next two years as part of its efforts to fight climate change, The Guardian reported Sunday.

Read More Show Less