Right-Wing Media Desperately Smear Scientists To Defend Climate Deniers' Virtue


Who is more likely to be influenced by money: The vast majority of climate scientists who agree with the scientific consensus that human activities are driving global warming, or the small pool of climate change deniers funded by the fossil fuel industry? The answer probably seems obvious, but some deniers are doing their best to play the “conflict of interest” card against respected climate scientists. 

Right-wing media are promoting the myth that scientists who agree with the consensus of human-caused climate change have been “corrupt[ed]” by “massive amounts of money.” Most recently, National Review published an op-ed from the Cato Institute's science director, Patrick Michaels, who wrote that the U.S. government disburses “tens of billions of dollars” to climate scientists “who would not have received those funds had their research shown climate change to be beneficial or even modest in its effects.”

Here's the bizarre thing: After arguing that money “corrupts” science that supports the consensus on man-made climate change, Michaels then tried to defend the industry funding behind the research that's used to deny climate change. Michaels wrote: “Are the very, very few climate scientists whose research is supported by [the fossil fuel] industry somehow less virtuous?”

It should come as no surprise that Michaels himself works for an organization funded by the fossil fuel industry. The Cato Institute was co-founded by the oil billionaire Koch brothers and has received millions from the Koch family, while also receiving funding from ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute.

Further, an article by Kevin Mooney in the Daily Signal similarly defended the fossil fuel funding behind climate science denier Willie Soon, who accepted over $1.2 million from the fossil fuel industry to produce scientific papers that dismiss the role of human activities in recent global warming. Documents obtained by Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center detailing the relationship between Soon and the fossil fuel industry reveal that he characterized many of his flawed studies as "deliverables" for his funders. In his article, Mooney cited a blog post by Paul Driessen, senior policy analyst at Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, in order to suggest that “climate change advocates” are just as compromised as fossil fuel-funded deniers like Soon. Mooney quoted Driessen as saying: “If members of Congress are genuinely concerned about conflicts of interest, they should send letters to institutions with researchers on the administration's side of the climate debate that benefit from the billions of taxpayer dollars spent promoting alarmist positions.”

The “researchers” that Driessen criticized are non-profit environmental groups that are seeking to protect the public good, which is a far cry from the oil companies funding climate deniers to protect their profits. It should also be noted that Daily Signal is an online news site created by the Heritage Foundation, which has received almost $800,000 from ExxonMobil and millions from the Koch Family Foundations. And Driessen's Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow is an industry-funded organization, too.

Accusing climate scientists of being financially motivated has been a common talking point on Fox News; The Five co-host Eric Bolling once stated that global warming is a “scam” to fund climate researchers' “lifestyles.” And Fox News contributor and American Enterprise Institute scholar Jonah Goldberg said in November that climate scientists are “financially incentivized” to produce climate research “to go one way.” (Goldberg's group, AEI, has received millions from ExxonMobil and once offered scientists and economists $10,000 each to write articles that would undermine the United Nations' key climate science report.) But as Ars Technica has noted, the notion that climate scientists enrich themselves by publishing studies agreeing with the climate change consensus is an inaccurate reflection of reality, and conspiracy theorists who suggest that research money is distributed in a way that ensures support for the consensus display “an almost incomprehensible misunderstanding of how science research works."

The link between industry funding and faulty science has been shown time and time again. And every conspiracy theory seeking to undermine the consensus -- from the false claim that scientists nefariously adjust temperature data to exaggerate rises in temperature, to the notion that scientists were urged to cover up evidence of a lack of warming, to the manufactured controversy of "Climategate" -- has fallen flat.