masthead-highres

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Seven Degrees of ExxonMobil

The environmental lefties sure are desperate to discredit any scientist who disagrees with them on global warming.

Thanks to Google, I happened upon this reference and this similar one to our think-tank in which Dr. Tim Ball, a retired professor of climatology at University of Winnipeg in Canada, is attacked. The attacker is Donald Gutstein, a senior lecturer in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University and author of the book "E.Con: How the Internet Undermines Democracy" (unstated subtitle: "And How It Is All America's Fault").

The goal of his polemic, as it usually is with those of his ilk, is to link any scientist who is not 100 percent politically-correct on global warming to ExxonMobil, even if one has to resort to links built on automated comment spam to do it.

In this case, Dr. Tim Ball is attacked for giving a policy briefing to a Canadian think-tank, the Fraser Institute. That event brings out Mr. Gutstein's long knives.

First, the well-respected, 32-year-old think-tank that invited Dr. Ball, according to Mr. Gutstein, receives one percent of its funding from ExxonMobil. So, according to Gutstein's Theory (which holds that even slight connections to major U.S. corporations are inherently wholly corrupting), Dr. Ball's entire professional integrity is compromised by appearing -- after retiring from 28 years as a professor of climatology -- at a major think-tank with a one percent ExxonMobil link.

But wait, there's more evidence.

Dr. Ball also, says Mr. Gutstein, is "promoted by" The National Center for Public Policy Research (us), which, the critic says, has received $225,000 from ExxonMobil.

Two thoughts.

First, "promoted by" refers to the fact that we listed Dr. Ball on our auxiliary environmental website Envirotruth, on a webpage we have that lists the names, titles and contact information for several dozen climate scientists. Furthermore, elsewhere on that website, we reprinted a multi-part analysis of Canada's global warming policies written (not specifically for us) by Dr. Ball, and included his bio with it. That's it. Dr. Ball is not affiliated with us and has never received a penny from us. I've never even met him.

Second, the $225,000 figure, if it is even accurate (it sounds about right) refers to the total sum of all contributions from ExxonMobil (and Exxon and Mobil before one bought the other) since 1982. We had over 8 million in income last year alone. Does it really look like we are a wholly-owned subsidiary of ExxonMobil?

And remember, the funding we receive from ExxonMobil has to corrupt us so terribly that Dr. Ball himself becomes corrupted if we even reprint on one of our websites an article Dr. Ball wrote for someone else entirely.

I want to be fair, though. Donald Gutstein of Simon Fraser University has yet more evidence.

Dr. Ball, like Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit fame (and many others), has had some op-eds published on Tech Central Station. Tech Central Station lists ExxonMobil as one of eight corporations sponsoring its site. No claim is made by Mr. Gutstein that Dr. Ball received compensation from Tech Central Station for his op-eds published there.

But Mr. Gutstein is not done. The evidence against Dr. Ball continues to mount. Mr. Gutstein says, "He's a hot topic on the Coalblog Web site, www.coal.ca/blog/?p=134, sponsored by the coal companies." Coal=evil. (Darth Vader isn't the color of coal by accident, you know.)

I held on tight to my ethics and checked the coal blog. Mr. Gutstein must have a sense of humor: His "hot topic" allegation is hilarious. The blog links to two presentations Dr. Ball gave to a third think-tank. Following that -- the supposed "hot" part -- are 29 pieces of automated comment spam apparently put there by promoters of an online poker website and some people who sell drugs.

So Dr. Ball is again condemned, this time for the crime of having remarks he gave to a think-tank linked to by a coal industry blog which subsequently got spammed. And not even by ExxonMobil.

And all this presupposes, in this age of hyper-regulation, that ExxonMobil itself is corrupt, an allegation for which the senior lecturer in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University provides no evidence. We don't even know if ExxonMobil has ever been the target of comment spam.

I review all this because I have many times observed how quickly environmentalists in debate attack an opponent's source of funding, when the real point of debate is supposed to be a discussion of policy ideas and evidence.

For instance, in this debate between an official from the National Wildlife Federation and my husband David (who is our VP) over needed changes to the Endangered Species Act, the official accuses us of being funded by developers. The implication, not subtle, is that our position on the Endangered Species Act comes solely from the allegation that we have -- according to the unknowledgable -- been bought off by developers.

Never mind that at the time of the debate we had just finished a project taking on big developers, who were promoting policies we deemed hostile to small landowners. And never mind that the sum total of our receipts from developers over 23 years has been $500 -- no, not five million, or five hundred thousand, but five hundred dollars. That gift was in 1994, from a business group that in 1995 suffered a mail bomb attack by the Greenie killer "Unabomber" -- an attack that killed its president. So I think the Greenies already have attacked them enough.

In summation: There's more to the environmental debate than who funds whom. Sure, it is fine, even desirable, for folks to disclose their funding sources, but let's be realistic: Both sides have funding sources (the leftie side of the environmental debate has more), and it is impossible to tell from funding alone if a person's ideas have merit. To do that, one actually has to discuss the ideas.

Addendum, 5/3: Mea culpa. I was wrong about something above. My husband David read this blog entry and pointed out that the group I mentioned in the second-to-last-paragraph as having donated $500 to us -- the one I thought was backed by developers -- actually wasn't backed by developers, but by the forestry industry. So zero developer dollars to us, I guess.

Posted by Amy Ridenour at 2:14 AM

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