April 19, 2016

A Response to Progressives About Corporate Funding

Filed under: Politics — PolitiCalypso @ 4:53 pm

Or, How’s the View from That High Horse?

So a week or so ago, the progressive blogosphere declared that meteorologists are partly responsible for public climate change denial because about a third of TV meteorologists are skeptics and don’t go on air making attributions of specific weather events.  Never mind that their markets may include a majority of viewers who are also skeptics and they don’t want to lose their jobs by costing the station viewers.  Never mind that they may not want to make speculations on the air that they cannot prove.  Never mind that it has been statistically shown that partisan political ID is the only demographic factor that correlates significantly with climate change denial, indicating that it wouldn’t even matter if TV weather people did this.

Now the progressive blogosphere is in the process of declaring war on the American Geophysical Union for accepting $35,000 in sponsorship money from ExxonMobil to put on their annual convention.

Do they realize that the American Meteorological Society accepts sponsorship money for its convention from the likes of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and AccuWeather (which donated $50,000 to push for a bill to emasculate the National Weather Service)?  …Or did I just open them up to attack by “exposing” this?

I would like to point out that sponsors DO NOT have input into which abstracts are accepted for publication in conferences or any of the organization’s scientific journals.  They do not apply pressure to distort the science.  This is not about research fraud.  If ExxonMobil offered me $35,000 with no strings attached, I’d take it.  I would not take it if they offered me money to publish “research” showing what they wanted to see, but that’s not what this is about.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Alleging a conflict of interest does not discredit research.  And accepting money for matters that are not even about conducting research doesn’t discredit anything.  It’s simply pragmatic.

I realize that people like this (on the left and the right) like to sit in their ivory towers and pass judgment, but the contributions of sponsors to professional organizations help lower the cost of conference fees to the scientists, observers, and students who attend them.  This makes it possible for attendance to be higher and therefore for more people to be aware of the scientific research that is being presented.

I am aware that there are a number of climate scientists who object to the ExxonMobil money because of the company’s history promoting climate change skepticism.  I understand and respect their concerns, and I don’t think that they are coming at this from a partisan political standpoint, but rather, out of concern for scientific integrity.  But again, corporate sponsors don’t get to influence which research is accepted for conferences or publication.  And as someone who is both a scientist and has a history in politics, I am able to see the pragmatic reason for accepting the money.

Also, there is more than one way to destroy an enemy.  You can either annihilate them, or you can turn them.  Perhaps the high-horse political activists prefer annihilation, but the more reasonable thing to do is to change corporate culture.  Blacklisting a company from a major geoscience conference when the company—like it or not—employs certain geoscience specializations is not going to change anything.  It’s just removing the opportunity for new blood.

If progressives really don’t want professional organizations to have to accept corporate money, they should make an effort to push for massive increases in public funding of science.  NOAA, NASA, the USGS, and other such governmental agencies are also sponsors of professional conferences, and if they had more money allocated for such purposes, perhaps the professional organizations wouldn’t need to look to corporate funding as much?

I do not want to have to consider fellow liberals as enemies, and I don’t.  This is not liberalism as a whole; it is a very specific subset of progressive writers who promote the concept of ideological purity testing even when it is not feasible in the real world.  But I am not going to accept any part of collective responsibility for climate change skepticism in the general public, nor will I accept unrealistic purist attacks upon professional organizations in my field for simply doing what they have to do in an era in which science funding is so hard to come by.  Progressive bloggers are more than happy to use our research to promote their economic and environmental policies, and I accept that that’s just part of the game.  As long as the research is not being cited for conclusions that it does not actually support, I don’t mind that.  It’s politics.  But the sort of behavior that’s been going on lately is starting to look a lot like bullying, and they ought to keep in mind that no one likes to be taken for granted.

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