Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Question of Tom Crowley to Ross McKittrick

The attach inquiry by Tom Crowley and the response by Ross McKittrick maybe of interest of our readers. Both, Tom and Ross have no objections against publication.

Dear Prof. McKittrick:
I recently read a blog posting suggesting (but not demonstrating) that you may have accepted consulting fees from Exxon.
Could you please clarify for the record whether this is true?
If so, could you please state how much consulting fees you obtained, and the year or years it applied to?
Thank you for your attention,

Thomas Crowley
Professor of Geosciences University of Edinburgh




Dear Prof. Crowley

Thank you for asking and giving me the chance to address this. I have never done any consulting for Exxon. I have never done any consulting for any energy company, or any other company, to the best of my recollection. Nor have I ever received any payment from Exxon in any amount at any time.

Personally I have no objection to researchers obtaining industry funding for their research, as long as they follow all the usual protocols to ensure transparency and external review of their work. In many cases having industry partners is essential for their work, and there are some
government grant competitions in Canada that require academics to find private sector partners to qualify. However in my case I have no need of such funding, I have never sought it and have never received it. My research is funded through peer-reviewed grant competitions at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and through internal grant competitions at the University of Guelph.

I realize there are persistent rumours on this. The usual basis is that I am a Senior Fellow of the Fraser Institute in Vancouver BC. My fellowship at FI is unpaid and in any case I have very little contact with the Institute these days. Also the FI does not do contract research, and does not allow donors any editorial input into publications. The few projects I have been involved in at the FI that required a budget were funded internally to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest.

Cheers,
Ross McKitrick

33 comments:

P Gosselin said...

It irks me every time I read that this person or that person is funded by ExxonMobil or Big Oil or whatever, and thus cannot be taken seriously.

Mr Crowley,
Is this the tactic you will use to regain lost scientific credibility in the field of climate science?
How about producing credible science, instead?

Even if it were true - so what?
They have as much right to defend their legitimate legal interests against junk science as any other person or company. You accept their gas and oil, do you not?

Science is science, and does not depend on who pays for it. If it's proven wrong, then it's wrong. Everything else is a diversion.

mazibuko said...

Dear P. Gosselin,

I can understand that it might irk you that people's motives are questioned based on their funding sources. This is the same charge that is leveled at people whose science points to anthropogenic cc. I regularly see that such people pretend or exaggerate cc in order to secure funding (usually government-based).

Is the latter tendency not the same problem? If so, do you feel that is important to also not question the motives of people on the "other side" based on where they get their funding?

Thanks, M

Wee Willy Winkie said...

It's very interesting to see just how much funding from energy companies supports climate change research.
A little digging will show virtually all the major oil/gas providers provide significant amounts to the climate scientists.
The energy companies are far too canny to miss out on the vast sums that are being contemplated for green energy.
It would be refreshing for the global warming proponents to show a little more interest in providing some quality research and scientific papers on which some reliance could be placed.
Simply repeating the same old accusations over and over (which they do ad nauseam) does nothing to address the very obvious deficiencies in their work.

eduardo said...

A clear and polite question and a clear and polite answer. I see no problem in exchanges like this one.

More and more journals are requiring to identify the sources of project funding or possible conflicts of interest. I think it is nothing wrong or dishonorable for Exxon or WWF to fund research projects, as long as this is disclosed.

Richard Tol said...

-eduardo

... as long as the source is disclosed and the source keeps the appropriate distance.

I've accepted money from environmental NGOs and from oil companies, from government departments and from charitable foundations. I found that the energy companies, US government agencies, and foundations are being watched, and that they therefore behave as one would like: The researchers control the results.

Unfortunately, NGOs and European government agencies are not audited on content -- and I've experienced far more numerous and intrusive attempts to interfere with my results.

_Flin_ said...

So until now in this thread we have statements about:
- the problematic tendency of exaggerating climate scientists to satisfy there european government funding masters
- the "global warming proponents" not showing enough "interest in providing some quality research and scientific papers"
- the good oil companies not interfering with scientific work (as opposed by the bad environmental NGOs)

I guess it was probally just a dream that:
- Exxon Mobil pumped millions into PR campaigns in the last 15 years against AGW, starting with Kyoto (I still remember the "It's of no use if we acted but China and India don't" ads from 1997), and supporting think tanks flat out denying AGW
- So did the Scaife Foundations (e.g. Gulf Oil, Alcoa)
- Think Tanks on the lobby PR pay roll are CFACT, American Enterprise Institute, George C. Marshall Institute, Cato Institute, Atlas Economic Research Foundation or the Fraser Institute all of which distort reality on a professional basis
- A major shareholder of News Corps is Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud from the house of Saud, prince of Saudi Arabia, with 7% of shares. And until 4 years ago major News Corp shareholder was a Cato Institute board member.
- In Germany (where some of the people on this blog are located), the party currently proposing AGW-skepticism, is the FDP. FDP's own think tank, the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, lists the aforementioned Atlas Economic Research Foundation as one of their foreign partners.
- Another loud german "skeptic" think tank is the E.I.K.E. Jena. It's president, Dr. Thuss, is the co-founder of CFACT Europe, the european subsidiary of the aforementioned CFACT

It's good to hear that I dreamed about public lies about cow taxes, or snowfall proving no global warming exists, or the distortion of statements of Phil Jones about warming trends since 1995, or that the Co-Editor of a "scientific peer-review journal" (that last year published an absurd paper about the sun consisting of iron and therefore influencing climate with gravitational effects due to the spinning iron) sits as an "expert" on a governmental inquiry about scienctific expertise and conduct.

It's good that I dreamed all of that, because then I do not have to turn into a cynic.

Anonymous said...

some people are reading their own thoughts into my letter. I did not accuse Prof. McK of working - I simply asked for clarification.

I further posted McK's response to a large number of people, plus sent it to Dr. v Storch for this site.

this hardly seems like bias.

open your eyes when you read!!

tom crowley

_Flin_ said...

@Hans von Storch: Thank you for your patience.

I just wanted to mention again that I forgot the Heartland Institute in my post about professional partisan PR think tanks.

In my opinion these think tanks are just the same as environmental NGOs. As soon as one associates with them too closely, there is a big "partisan!" sign hovering above.

An example about a neutral stand in my eyes is Susan Solomon. "Science should inform and contribute to the decision making process, but should not dominate it". Which doesn't prevent her from getting ridiculed in Congress with dinosaur flatulence or catalytic converters on the back of cows, though.

Richard Tol said...

@_Flin_
Of course all sides are pumping money into PR.

The discussion, however, is about undue influence of financiers of climate research.

Zajko said...

What if McKittrick isn't in it for the money? And what if he did consult for Exxon (I'm just saying, hypothetically) - how much would that actually change? (besides giving his opponents some ammo to throw at him)

There are clearly some skeptics who aren't in it for the secret money from Exxon, and some scientists who are getting research grants under the assumption global warming is a problem - does that mean those skeptics are right because their motives are pure? I say hell no.

I feel a little ambivalent on this, because I do think conflict of interest can be a serious problem, but this whole idea that climate skeptics can be explained by their funding sources has gotten ridiculous.
It used to be true to a significant degree (in the 1990s), but is increasingly irrelevant. Exxon could shut its secret tap tomorrow and the skeptics would keep going strong.

Zajko said...

And my above comment was not directed at anyone in particular.
I think just borne out of frustration at spending too much time on desmogblog and deepclimate

TomFP said...

Before I accept Crowley's claim that his question was just that, rather than the attempt to discredit McKittrick, I'd like to see all the similar letters he has written to AGW researchers, and the responses he received.

Richard said...

Wee Willie ... the digging has already been done - some of it:

http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2009/12/pachauri-and-big-oil.html

Marco said...

@Richard:
And that digging showed that Pachauri has no reason to be pro-AGW !

_Flin_ said...

@Richard Tol: I think this is too easy.

In this discussion there are two sides. One side, the denialist side, tries to fight the other with all possible means:
- public lying and distortion of reality (cow tax, there is no warming, Jones' saying 95 to now no warming trend, it's the sun, dinosaur flatulence; there are 100s of examples)
- theft (E-Mails)
- threats of extreme physical violence (Limbaugh, Morano, Beck)
- threats of prison (Sen. Inhofe)
- targeted hate E-Mails
- efforts to publicly discredit the persons behind the science (from Hansen over Mann to Jones and many more)

The other side has... supposedly influenced science and policy with their own beliefs. So they are as bad as the other ones, if you leave aside all the REALLY nasty behaviour

If I read about a scientist associating themselves with the former institutions, I do not take them very seriously. Why? Because the former institutions told so many wrong things already (like the George C. Marshall director about CO2 saturation in front of the Senate; he is a scientist, too), that for me, personally, as a layperson, the association with these institutions for me is an association with professional liars. And not harmless lies, but lies that make people die. And I don't have the time to identify whether a BigOil or extreme right wing publication is from a serious, knowledgable scientist working in their own field of work, or another piece of hilarious nonsense from the PR bullies stating that the sun is made of iron, that the temperature measurement is rigged, that smoking is healthy, that drilling is better than efficiency, that the american people don't want public health care, that pollution standards are bad and damage the car industry (oh, where did the american industry go? all the competitors have higher efficiency standards), that guns don't kill people, that there are WMDs in Iraq, that we don't need regulation of the financial markets etc.

So, when I, personally, as an amateur, stumble over such a paper, I think it is probably bad. Because it is sponsored by an industry that has supported bogus pseudo-science on many many occasions. And guess what, in four out of five of the cases I am right.

Influence? No need for influence. How often does a scientist suddenly publish something that goes 180 degrees into the opposite direction from all of his former studies?

Richard Tol said...

@_Flin_
You may want to check your facts.

Lying, threats of violence, bullying, hatemail, threat of prison, ad hominems are all part and parcel of the tactics of the environmental movement.

Hans von Storch said...

TomFP/12 - I may have to clarify something: Tom Crowley sent his exchange with Ross McKittrick out to a large number of scientists, commenting "
below is my question, plus a prompt response from Ross McKittrick,
concerning this question. his response is open and frank and I think it best to stop any further
discussion about this issue.
" - and it was me, who decided that this may be of interest for the readers of the Zwiebel.

Thus, if somebody had intentions when posting the exchange here, it was me, not Tom. Actually, I was wondering if this posting would give any response, and I am a bit surprised about the number of comments.

My own position is that I find doing work for WWF or for Exxon as essentially equivalent. In both cases it is doing work for legitimate vested interests. The question is if one is able to maintain intellectual independence from the funding interests. This is particularly difficult if one shares some of the views and values, the interests are about.

P Gosselin said...

I think a number of scientists have abandoned intellectual independence in exchange for some sort of generous benefit. Some scientists would simply be obscure professors carrying out their mundane work day after day, like thousands of others. But because some have adopted "extreme" views, they now enjoy much publicity, fame, and influence.
I'm sure if, for example, Prof von Storch made the statement today: "I've come to the conclusion that there's a very high probability the world will suffer catastrophic climate change in the next 50 years.", Bild, ZDF, etc. would have him in the limelight for days, if not weeks.
In fact, you would be "eingestuft" to "one of the world's leading climate scientists, and authorities on climatology".
What are you waiting for! :)

Indeed many scientists are living high on the hog perpetuating climate myths. Some people need a lot of attention, and a sense of power and importance.
Just my ramble for the day.

isaacschumann said...

OT: First time commenting, but have read the klimazwiebel since december, truly a rare example of informed and respectful discussion, cheers to the authors!

@flin:

My interpretation of your argument with richard tol is that, when it really comes down to it, there is a "good" and "bad" side to this debate, while Richard's position seems to be that both sides are guilty of poor behaviour. this belief in the moral superiority of one side is, IMO, one of the major problems in the AGW debate, the tendency of people, (whatever their opinions) to portray this as a black and white struggle of good versus evil. Reasoned and respectful debate is difficult when the participants hold this mindset.

arguments about which side of the debate are "worse" are counterproductive as they are highly subjective and distract from the real issues of disagreement. The bottom line, for me, is to stick to the issues and keep it respectful.(also the motto of this blog)

if i have misinterpreted your meaning, please correct me, thanks.

cheers,

isaac

Neven said...

People who would like to know more about McKitrick's associations with CEI, Marshall Institute and APCO Worldwide, etc, might be interested in this text and this text.

BTW, does McKitrick attend those Climate Conferences by the Heartland Institute?

Hans von Storch said...

Neven/20 - I think the issue of this thread is not Ross McKitrick but how to deal with funding by vested interests, and how scientific participants relate to such interests. Please avoid ad personam comments. - Hans

plazamoyua said...

Neven, you links and your question are a perfect demonstration of a way of thinking. -Oh, my god, McKitrick must be a contrarian!

Well, there was no real need for the show; we had a pretty good idea of Deep Climate in action. But thank´s.

_Flin_ said...

@isaacschumann: Actually, you are right.
In my perception living on this planet in a sustainable way is moral.
Plundering resources without looking at the consequences is not.

I know that people exist who think that it is a moral obligation to strive for some kind of "Atlas Shrugged" rational self-interest, where society is brought forward by it's most productive members. Which are first of all caring for themselves and thus, by maximizing their own benefits, maximize the benefit of society. And who think that every intervention of the state into economy is the first step on the road to communism and hell.

So on the policy side this is a moral issue for both sides.

While I cannot speak for the views of Mr Tol (whose comments about bad behaviour in this thread concentrate on the environmental side, so I fail to see the balance that you perceive), mine are pretty clear:

Evil people exist. Powerful people exist. Powerful and evil people exist. My interpretation of certain people being evil (based on my personal moral values) has nothing to do with climate change. It just happens that these people that I perceive as evil (because they are e.g. killing tenthousands of civilians in wars with bogus reasons; or are abducting and torturing humans, denying them basic human and civilisatory rights, like physical integrity, a lawyer and a trial) are vehement campaigners against the idea of an anthropogenic climate change.

So whenever a scientist associates himself with an organization with a long track record of positions and ambitions that I perceive as negative, this will probably have an influence on my interpretation of him (even if it might only be a raised eyebrow because of assumed naiveté) and his work. While there is no direct pay needed, it certainly raises my eyebrow higher if it exists (of course it's something different if oil companies sponsor research on topics like geological research or research into fuelproduction from algae or similar; that would be about improving their business).

Richard Tol said...

_Flin_
You accused the anti-green movement of bad behaviour. I did not deny that. I just pointed out that greens aren't particularly nice either.

Put differently, your initial statement was unbalanced. My statement was a counterbalance. Counterbalances are, by design, unbalanced on their own.

_Flin_ said...

@Richard Tol: Thank you for the clarification.

isaacschumann said...

@flin:

I did not mean to imply moral equivalency, just that arguing about it is pointless.

Feeling oneself to be morally superior to an intractable and nefarious enemy is what causes people to respond to mistakes in ipcc reports by making personal attacks and rediculous accusations, or to issue lists of climate scientists to be arrested and tried for "fraud" and other such nonsense.

Björn said...

@Flin

It is misleading to believe that AGW and carbon limiting policies are bad for the 'evil' energy sector companies. Quite the opposite is true for many energy sector companies:
+ Electric utilities in Europe have made literally billions in selling their kW-hours at higher prices "due to the imposed carbon costs" during times when carbon credits were given for free to them.
+ Sustainable corporate development and good governance in the oil sector will have to take into account the finiteness of oil resources, and many oil companies are heavily investing into renewable energy projects. They simply prepare for a future after oil and still want to play a big role then. Carbon limiting policies as an external pressure on the organization are not always bad to foster internal change.

In my view, it is very rare that 'good' or 'evil' behaviour can be detected. Usually companies (and individuals) are governed by their interests or by what they consider to be their interests.

It is hence not the issue whether research has been funded by Greenpeace or Exxon, but whether it was good or bad science and whether the results were influenced by the one who funded the research. Although I know that many people try to make funding an argument, we should try to keep this out of the discussion at Klimazwiebel.

mazibuko said...

Hi, a comment/question for Richard Tol re. the environmental movement.

Could you please clarify what you mean by the environmental/green movement?

I ask because I have worked as a park manager (protected area manager) and more recently as an environmental scientists focusing on conservation issues. Under some definitions, that could make me part of the "green" movement.

If so, then I would like to let you know that the nasty tactics that you and Flin have been discussing here are not "part and parcel" of the way my colleagues and I work.

I would also add that there are many conservation NGOs that do their work without resorting to intimidation, threats, violence, etc.

I personally have just as much distaste for groups like Earth Liberation Front, and a number of animal rights organizations (with whom I have experienced conflict in the past).

Part of the problem of this debate is that groups on opposing sides are treated as if they are monolithic. I can tell you that environmental groups are quite diverse in their methods and viewpoints.

Thanks, M

deepclimate said...

Ross McKitrick says:

"The few projects I have been involved in at the FI that required a budget were funded internally to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest."

This is nonsense. The Fraser Institute enjoys funding from such energy companies as Imperial Oil (ExxonMobil's Canadian subsidiary) and Encana, Canada's largest oil and gas company. Encana ex-CEO Gwyn Morgan is vice-chairman of the Fraser Institute, and endowed the Institute's Foundation with a cool $1 million in 2007. I would submit this goes well beyond the mere appearance of conflict of interest.

Hans von Storch said...

deepclimate/29 -
A person A is paid by somebody B who has money from a stakeholder C on his accounts. A person who was with C, is now important at B, and provides funding. What do we say about A? Is the arrangement indicating that A serves the interests of C?
The "trick" may be to discuss the situation without reference to the specific interests of C. To not take into account, if one likes or dislikes the interests of C.
Again, using categorical statements, before having reflected upon the issues, may not be helpful.

Richard Tol said...

@mazibuko
I did not mean to imply that every green is routinely engaged in bad behaviour. Please accept my apologies if my words could be interpreted in that way.

Most people in the green movement are perfectly decent, and the same is true for the anti-green movement.

There are a few bad apples on both sides, but they are a small minority.

mazibuko said...

Dear Dr. Tol,

Many thanks for your reply and clarification.

Indeed, there is the problem in any contentious debate that one side caricatures the other based on that side's most extreme/worst members.

I posted less in reaction to your specific statement, and more because of the accumulation of frustration I have from seeing conservationists being painted as "anti-democratic", "totalitarian", "misanthropic", "communist", etc. within the context of the climate debate (for instance, I have been involved in exchanges with commenters at RPJ jr's blog who assert just such things).

I thus again thank you for this clarification and your considered tone.

Thanks, M

hardiansyah said...

yea.. Feeling oneself to be morally superior to an intractable and nefarious enemy is what causes people to respond to mistakes in ipcc reports by making personal attacks and rediculous accusations, or to issue lists of climate scientists to be arrested and tried for "fraud" and other such nonsense.