03 February 2007

The Oily Business in Global Warming

Yesterday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has published their fourth assessment report, concluding that global warming is indeed occurring, and is likely to be the result of human activities. That's what environmentalists have been arguing for years, but now with some scientific heavyweight behind them.

But does that mean global warming will be the focus of governments around the world? It's not gonna be easy, judging by where the money lies...

Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study

Ian Sample, science correspondent
Friday February 2, 2007
The Guardian

Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world's largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.

Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The UN report was written by international experts and is widely regarded as the most comprehensive review yet of climate change science. It will underpin international negotiations on new emissions targets to succeed the Kyoto agreement, the first phase of which expires in 2012. World governments were given a draft last year and invited to comment.

The AEI has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI's board of trustees.

The letters, sent to scientists in Britain, the US and elsewhere, attack the UN's panel as "resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work" and ask for essays that "thoughtfully explore the limitations of climate model outputs".

(Click here for the full article.)

From an academic viewpoint, this is blatantly wrong (though this is probably the norm in politics and business). It's not wrong because it opposes an academic body. It's not wrong because "global warming is a fact and their activities are harming the environment", which is what they are trying to dispute in the first place. It's not wrong because they only care about their profits.

What is wrong with it is the fact that they "select" the results. That's not how things should be done. Academic research is not carried out like that. Yes, one can start with the hypothesis or proposition that global warming is natural (i.e. not caused by human, or at least oil companies), but if it turns out to be otherwise, one has to just accept it. If one doesn't, it can be considered academic fraud. Imagine the pressure on the scientist to do so if he/she knew that $10000 is appended to the equation.

But then, what I've described above is the ideal scientific method, a code in which all scientist should adhere to. In real life, however...

That's the sad fact in life. And I believe it won't be long before we see some papers on what ExxonMobil wants. Well, at least Shell acknowledges global warming...


warhammer said...

Holy crap!
There was always some mention of companies funding researchers to dispute climate change, but I've never read about something this blatant. As an aside, the tobacco industry use to do very similar things to confuse the public. Because, fact or fiction, it's public opinion that drives policy.

I think what you're saying is that the action is wrong because of the motive, not the act itself right.?

Pandemonium said...

Actually, not quite... Both the motive and hence the act is wrong... one should never determine beforehand what results will be obtained. One can expect certain results from an experiment, but if it turns out otherwise, one should not just throw the data out of the window, or worse, modify the data to fit the theory, which is something the ExxonMobil is implicitly trying to encourage.

Personally, I think it is far beyond reasonable doubt (even before the IPCC's assessment report) that global warming exists and should be a major concern. But if there is someone who wants to challenge this idea, I'm quite okay with that, as long as they do it the proper way.