The Republican War on Science

by Ben Hoffman

There is overwhelming scientific consensus that greenhouse gases emitted by human activity are causing global average temperatures to rise. Conservative think tanks are trying to undermine this conclusion with a disinformation campaign employing “reports” designed to look like a counterbalance to peer-reviewed studies, skeptic propaganda masquerading as journalism, and events like the AEI luncheon that Crichton addressed. The think tanks provide both intellectual cover for those who reject what the best science currently tells us, and ammunition for conservative policymakers like Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, who calls global warming “a hoax.”

This concerted effort reflects the shared convictions of free-market, and thus antiregulatory, conservatives. But there’s another factor at play. In addition to being supported by like-minded individuals and ideologically sympathetic foundations, these groups are funded by ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company. Mother Jones has tallied some 40 ExxonMobil-funded organizations that either have sought to undermine mainstream scientific findings on global climate change or have maintained affiliations with a small group of “skeptic” scientists who continue to do so. Beyond think tanks, the count also includes quasi-journalistic outlets like Tech CentralStation.com (a website providing “news, analysis, research, and commentary” that received $95,000 from ExxonMobil in 2003), a FoxNews.com columnist, and even religious and civil rights groups. In total, these organizations received more than $8 million between 2000 and 2003 (the last year for which records are available; all figures below are for that range unless otherwise noted). ExxonMobil chairman and CEO Lee Raymond serves as vice chairman of the board of trustees for the AEI, which received $960,000 in funding from ExxonMobil. The AEI-Brookings Institution Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, which officially hosted Crichton, received another $55,000. When asked about the event, the center’s executive director, Robert Hahn—who’s a fellow with the AEI—defended it, saying, “Climate science is a field in which reasonable experts can disagree.” (By contrast, on the day of the event, the Brookings Institution posted a scathing critique of Crichton’s book.)

During the question-and-answer period following his speech, Crichton drew an analogy between believers in global warming and Nazi eugenicists. “Auschwitz exists because of politicized science,” Crichton asserted, to gasps from some in the crowd. There was no acknowledgment that the AEI event was part of an attempt to do just that: politicize science. The audience at hand was certainly full of partisans. Listening attentively was Myron Ebell, a man recently censured by the British House of Commons for “unfounded and insulting criticism of Sir David King, the Government’s Chief Scientist.” Ebell is the global warming and international policy director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which has received a whopping $1,380,000 from ExxonMobil. Sitting in the back of the room was Christopher Horner, the silver-haired counsel to the Cooler Heads Coalition who’s also a CEI senior fellow. Present also was Paul Driessen, a senior fellow with the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow ($252,000) and the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise ($40,000 in 2003). Saying he’s “heartened that ExxonMobil and a couple of other groups have stood up and said, ‘this is not science,’” Driessen, who is white, has made it his mission to portray Kyoto-style emissions regulations as an attack on people of color—his recent book is entitled Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death (see “Black Gold?”). Driessen has also written about the role that think tanks can play in helping corporations achieve their objectives. Such outlets “can provide research, present credible independent voices on a host of issues, indirectly influence opinion and political leaders, and promote responsible social and economic agendas,” he advised companies in a 2001 essay published in Capital PR News. “They have extensive networks among scholars, academics, scientists, journalists, community leaders and politicians…. You will be amazed at how much they do with so little.”

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