Social Science

Headline Shocker! Foundations and Corporations Support Groups That Share Their Values!

New Yale study uncovers vast conspiracy of like-minded folks!



Earlier this week NPR's Morning Edition reported a story in which ExxonMobil asked for an inquiry into the journalistic ethics of Columbia University students. The company is evidently annoyed by the Los Angeles Times story that they helped to research that claimed that the oil giant lied about what it knew about man-made global warming. Based in part on those stories, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has issued subpoenas to the company with the aim of possibly suing it for failing to disclose to stockholders what it knew about the risks of climate change.

According to the NPR report, one major objection by the company was that the Los Angeles Times did not disclose to its readers that the Columbia University investigation on which its stories were based was supported by a foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which is advocating a shift away from fossil fuels. Now the Dean of the Columbia Journalism School Steve Coll has responded in a six page letter to the company's critiques. In his letter, Coll notes that the investigative project's Columbia University website does list its funders. But more interestingly, Coll argues:

ExxonMobil, as you note in the penultimate paragraph of your letter, has also supported projects at Columbia University. You therefore understand that the issue is not who provided funding for this or any Columbia University project, but whether the work done is independent of the funders. In short, did the journalism fellows and the Los Angeles Times editors on these stories follow the information uncovered by the reporting or did they follow the funders' agenda? The fact is that this reporting was not subject to any influence or control by the funders….

Of course, that's just as it should be. Nevertheless, some still practice "follow the money" when it comes to activities which they dislike and hope to thereby discredit. For example, a new study, "Corporate funding and ideological polarization about climate change," by Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Sciences researcher Justin Farrell got plenty of uncritical headlines when he claimed to have found that "organizations with corporate funding were more likely to have written and disseminated texts meant to polarize the climate change issue." By polarization, Farrell means that they question the scientific consensus that most recent global warming is man-made and will likely result in catastrophic future consequences.

Based on prior peer-reviewed research Farrell assembled a database of 164 organizations and 4,556 individuals that he deemed as "overtly producing and promoting skepticism and doubt about the scientific consensus on climate change." These include think tanks, foundations, trade associations, and grass roots lobbying firms. He then assembled a database of 40,785 texts dealing with climate change issued from these organizations between 1993 and 2013. Finally, Farrell then checked to see if any of these groups had received any amount of funding from either ExxonMobil or the Koch family foundations during that period. After "following the money" through his databases, Farrell concluded that "corporate funding influences the actual language and thematic content of polarizing discourse [about climate change]" and "that organizations that received corporate funding were more likely to have written and disseminated contrarian texts."

Sounds damning, right? Well, maybe not. Farrell more or less buries the lead in his research when at the end of his paper he acknowledges "a causal dilemma about whether corporate funding leads to increased production of discourse, or whether the organizations already creating discourse attracted corporate funding." He further notes that his analysis "revealed few discursive differences between organizations who received money before producing discourse (e.g., front groups) versus organizations that received it later (e.g., established think tanks)."

Put plainly, Farrell's analysis could not determine if opinion follows the money or if money follows the opinion. One reasonable interpretation of Farrell's work is that he has discovered the not-all-that-surprising fact that funders tend support researchers and groups that share their values and views. Hardly the stuff of anxious headlines.  Dean Coll is right when he states that the "issue is not who provided funding…, but whether the work done is independent of the funders." Farrell's analysis cannot and does not address this question with regard to the groups who have been participating in the public debate over climate change. (In any case, I look forward to Farrell's research on the funding of corporations and foundations for groups who challenge the broad scientific consensus on the safety of biotech crops.)

Finally, one of the supposed 164 "climate contrarian" groups listed by Farrell includes the Reason Foundation which publishes this website. So in the interest of disclosure, I point to my 2006 article, "Confessions of an Alleged ExxonMobil Whore" in which I explain how I changed my mind about the possible dangers of future man-made climate change.  In addition, I note that the Reason Foundation hasn't received funding from ExxonMobil since 2006. David Koch is a member of Reason Foundation's Board of Trustees and the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation has supported Reason each year since 2013. Each year we publicly thank and publish the list of supporters who have given $1,000 or more to the Reason Foundation. The lists are published in Reason magazine, most recently in the June 2015 issue. We already know what Farrell has concluded about these disclosure, but readers are invited to make up their own minds.

Finally, I will note that there is a webathon going right now where those of you who share our values and views can also make "suspicious" contributions to the work of my excellent colleagues at Reason magazine.

Note: I will be reporting daily dispatches from the Paris climate change conference beginning next Monday.

NEXT: The Dead in San Bernardino: Heartbreaking Portraits of Everyday People

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  1. I only invite my own friends to my birthday party, too.

    NEWSFLASH AT 11″00!!!

    1. FLASH AT 11″

      Go on…

      1. Be careful what you wish for…

  2. Heard a bit on NPR this morning where they were praising technocrat central planners in China with something along the lines of “They believe in man-made climate change because they’re scientists.”


    1. Which is a shame — what we really need are more mathematicians because the scientists models are absolute garbage. Call me when you guys finally have a working model that accurately predicts future outcomes.

      1. The models are accurate. It’s the climate that’s wrong.

        1. How are simulation and masturbation the same? Do them both often enough and long enough and you start to think they’re real.

          1. Masturbation is real. It’s sex that’s the fiction.

            *weeps softly*

            1. *pats cs on the shoulder and hands over a flask*

    2. NPR has been going overboard on the corruption train lately it’s been pretty good. They went after the dc mayor in an expose, the standards of corruption have become lowered in my area ever since the VA gov. went to prison. Terry McCauliffe is so scared every-time he flies anywhere he takes out an ad in the Washington Post explaining what he did and how he paid it back.

      1. That’s not the worst thing, although I wish they would talk about how corrupt the tax breaks T-Mac gives to businesses moving into Virginia are.

  3. The lack of self-awareness from the church of global warming is truly amazing.

    It’s sinister and evil for companies and industry groups to publishes research that contravenes the AGW orthodoxy because of a clear conflict of interest. But it’s holy pure goodness when the government publishes research that supports AGW orthodoxy (that enables the government to grow it’s power without fail) despite the clear conflict of interest.

    1. Corporate motives bad. Government motives good. Corporate intentions bad. Government intentions good. Money bad. Power good. Corporations them. Government us. Corporations bad. Government good.

      Does it make sense now?

      1. The Economist, while always to the left on issues like gun control and climate change, have really doubled down on the derp lately. Thinking about unfollowing them, FWIW.

        1. I’ve subscribed for years, it’s been going downhill for a while. The number of terrible articles multiplies every year.

    2. It is a point of faith that government is a disinterested party. The government exists for the good of the people, it’s agents can not have venal motives.

      1. The government exists for the good of the people, it’s agents can not have venal motives.

        Public Choice Theory is bunk?

  4. When asked to name specific corporations that are “ruining our democracy,” leftists point to Koch Industries and other libertarian or right-leaning companies, but not to Democrat supporters like the average tech company or Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. They also don’t object to in-kind contributions from, for example, certain Comedy Central comedians, TV shows, and newspaper editorials, all of which invariably support Democrats.

    It’s almost like leftists are full of shit.

    1. But I thought we had a right-wing controlled media because Fox News.

      1. One of the biggest scams perpetrated on the American public is the idea foisted on them by the likes of Pulitzer and Hearst, the Rupert Murdochs of their day, that “the press” just gives the public the facts with no bias, no agenda, no spin. Bullshit. It’s all bias and spin and agenda, Murdoch is just more upfront about the fact that he has an opinion and he’s going to give you his opinion. Read the op/ed section of any newspaper and realize this is the reason you own a newspaper in the first place. The hard news is the way to draw in an audience, persuading them to your opinion is the reason you want an audience. The NYT is no different than Fox except for the fact that the NYT pretends that it is different.

        1. The NYT is no different than Fox except for the fact that the NYT pretends that it is different.

          I would mostly agree with you but Fox pretends that it’s different too. See “Fair and Balanced”. Not because they’re evil or because Joseph Goebbels runs the place, but because the vast majority of people do believe in the “objective press myth” and if Fox News didn’t at least rhetorically support that theory, they would be totally finished as a news organization. They are certainly more up front about it though.

  5. Each year we publicly thank and publish the list of supporters who have given $1,000 or more to the Reason Foundation.

    I guess my $2 isn’t truely appreciated.

    1. Our two cents is worth more than a measly $1,000 contribution, anyway.

      1. OO & SDY: Be assured that both are much appreciated.

  6. OT: Mark Brunell Fondly Recalls The Time Brett Favre Tortured A Deer To Death

    My favorite Brett Favre story is a hunting story from when he was a kid. He and a buddy or a couple buddies who were out trespassing on some property somewhere and they had a .22 rifle. They were just messing around and they see a deer. You’re trespassing, you shouldn’t be there to begin with, and the last thing you should do is take your gun and shoot at a deer. So they do it, and I think they hit it a few times and knock it down. After a couple shots ring off, they realize somebody could discover them and find out they’re trespassing. They’re frantic, they don’t know what to do, and they’ve got this deer and it’s flopping all over the woods. So, they figured out the only way to kill this deer without shooting at it is to drown it. So they drag it over to a puddle, a stream, a small pond, I don’t know what it was, but they basically held this deer underwater until the bubbles stopped coming out of its nose. Listen, I’ll probably get in trouble for telling this story, but it’s one of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard. And the way he told that story, we were crying laughing. It was gut-ache type laughing.

    That’s pretty fucked up.

    1. definitely not as funny as the dick pic saga.

    2. Gitmo residents demand trigger warning for this post.

    3. The punch line was the this is how Brunell got the inheritance from his mom.

      1. And I was already busting a gut at the deer torture!

  7. Climate change, money in politics, TEH KOCHTAPUS!!1! and Reason’s journalistic credentials. What fun!

  8. So…partisanship makes you retarded. Got it.

    1. your moms retarded.

      1. Well…yeah. Isn’t that why you like her?

        1. it keeps thing simple.

    2. It’s a less fun version of huffing gasoline.

      1. It’s the less fun version of huffing jenkem.

        1. It’s the less fun version of huffing tonpost.

          1. HuffingCom Post

  9. Bailey didn’t overtly promote his book in this article. A sign of the end of times?!

    1. M: Thanks very much for pointing out this lamentable oversight – it won’t happen again. BTW, did you know that The End of Doom makes as excellent holiday gift – you can’t have too many copies!

      1. Ron, thank you for reminding me about your book, The End of Doom.

        1. Wasn’t Scott Weiland on a promotional tour supporting “The End of Doom”, by Ronald Bailey, when he met his untimely demise? I believe Lou Reed was accompanying him to promote the book, which is “The End of Doom”, by Ronald Bailey.

            1. A great game.

  10. One reasonable interpretation of Farrell’s work is that he has discovered the not-all-that-surprising fact that funders tend support researchers and groups that share their values and views.

    Well color me surprised that a paid shill for the Kochtopus thinks we support Reason because we’re libertarians rather than the more obvious explanation that Reason pretends to be libertarian because it’s just trying to weasel some money out of its libertarian readers. We’re on to you, Ron!

  11. Semi OT: Anyone catch CBS This Morning this morning? (I did, because I’m an idiot) They’ve been pumping this “exclusive” interview with Pres. Obama all week. He once again addressed the question of whether climate change is a greater threat than terrorism (false choice… they didn’t even mention uneven application of the targeting rule in college football). Anyhow, the answer is yes, because 99.5 percent of scientists are in agreement, and once the oceans rise “…five, six, seven feet…” and [insert additional apocalyptic calamities here], all of humanity is at stake or something. Cut back to the studio where Norah O’Donnell and that other woman stooge tut-tut about 190 world leaders being in agreement that something must be done about climate change, and two-thirds of the American public believe climate change deserve action, and only a few pesky Republicans oppose this infallible wisdom.

    1. I’d still bang Norah O’Donnell. But only with her mouth duct taped shut.

  12. Anything that dissuades corporations from handing unearned cash to looters can’t be all bad.

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