February 2, 2007 The Pump Handle 0Comment

By David Michaels

The Guardian newspaper reports that The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the think tank/public relations firm, has offered scientists and economists $10,000 to undermine the report on global warming issued today by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). According to the report, AEI “offered the payments for articles that emphasize the shortcomings” of the IPCC report.

The offers were made in anticipation of the report, which was released today. In its letters, AEI asserted that the IPCC was “resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work.” So, without reading the report, AEI commissioned rebuttals.

We’ve written about this approach before (here and here) – the tobacco industry was famous for it. AEI offers the money and, more importantly, the public relations support, to hire a mercenary scientist to create a contrarian report, and blast it around the media so often that it looks like a commonly held position within the scientific community. In covering the issue, reporters feel like they have to give equal time to “both sides” of the argument, even if one is unrepresentative of the vast majority of scientists knowledgeable in the area.

The problem AEI (and its funders like ExxonMobil) face is that more and more people see through the ruse. Increasingly, AEI and similar operations are losing the little credibility they have, as it becomes increasingly clear they are purveyors of science-for-hire.

Update: David Roberts and Andrew Dressler at Grist have the whole story, with far more detail and nuance than I gave  it in my post.

David Michaels heads the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) and is Professor and Associate Chairman in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.

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