Hit & Run

Union of Concerned Scientists Admits It Was Wrong


Balance sheets in the balance?

Last week, my column, Union of Concerned Scientists Cooks the Books, Media Swallow It, dissected the artful way in which UCS analysts had used corporate giving data to imply that General Electric executives were climate change hypocrites, by allegedly supporting think tanks that endorse the scientific consensus on man-made global warming and others that are skeptical. In the UCS study the Reason Foundation, the non-profit that publishes this website, was specifically cited as garnering GE corporate support and was also accused of "misrepresenting" climate change science 

Setting that accusation aside, going through the figures it turns out that the Union analysts were counting $325 in corporate matching funds for employee donations to Reason as damning evidence of corporate climate change hypocrisy. I called up Francesca Grifo, the UCS' scientific intergrity officer, to ask her if the report was seriously counting those donations? She replied yes. By the way, it turns out that GE executives and employees had contributed $497,744 to the non-skeptical think tanks. To get the rest of the story read my column.

Yesterday afternoon, Dr. Grifo sent an email correcting the record with regard to General Electric. The relevant portions are below:

I wanted to let you know that we've clarified one of the findings in our report, "A Climate of Corporate Control". 

As you pointed out, originally, we counted funds General Electric gave to several non-profit groups through an employee matching gift program. These matching gift programs allow individual employees to choose where their money (and GE's matching money) go. By contrast, funds from GE and its corporate foundation are directed by company executives. Our updated report removes the matching gifts, which affects our analysis of which climate-engaged groups GE ultimately gave to. We also reviewed the rest of the data related to non-profit group support and found no further need for clarification beyond GE.

We now conclude that GE has only funded non-profit groups that support climate science. Previously, we had concluded they were funding groups that misrepresent climate science, too. However, GE has still taken contradictory actions on climate change overall, including its support for Proposition 23 in California and its membership in and board service to various trade organizations that work against one another on climate change. …

We have alerted reporters who covered this aspect of our findings and provided them with updated information as well. We will post a blog with a fuller explanation of the update later today.

I have added this email as an update to the column and I say: Well done. The corrected UCS report can be found here.

However, I ended my original column with the observation….

…that the Union of Concerned Scientists asserts in this study that a hallmark of misrepresenting science is "emphasizing unknowns" while simultaneously "ignoring what is known." Yet this seems to be precisely the strategy that the UCS pursues in its campaign against biotech crops. Perhaps Dr. Grifo, as the Union's scientific integrity officer, could usefully spend some time getting the UCS to accept that scientific consensus.

So the question remains: What about getting the UCS to stop its denialism with to the scientific consensus with regard to biotech crops?