Pew, What’s That Smell?

August 4, 2011 at 8:57 am

According to its website, the Pew Environment Group is on a mission. Its purpose is:

saving the natural environment and protecting the rich array of life it supports. Our aim is to strengthen environmental policies and practices…and mobilize public support for their implementation. [bold added]

In other words, it’s an environmental advocacy outfit. Its entire purpose is to draw more attention to environmental concerns. Of all the problems and issues out there (from inadequate inner-city schools, to horrible diseases desperate for research funding, to the wrongfully convicted), this organization thinks the environment is top-of-the-list.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Per se. But what happens when a group with a political agenda becomes a persistent source of funding for a particular category of scientists? Say scientists whose specialty is the oceans and marine life. Say via a program that has been running for more than 20 years – long enough to have influenced an entire generation of research?

Allow me to introduce you to the Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation. Researchers lucky enough to be named a Pew Fellow receive $150,000.

These days, five new scientists each year become Pew Fellows – which adds up to $750,000. Back in the year 2000 10 scientists a year were being so honoured – representing an expenditure of $1.5 million per annum.

That is one big bag of cash. Can you imagine the outrage if the tobacco industry was handing out $1 million to researchers in one corner of the scientific world every year like clockwork? Would anyone believe that such a constant stream of cash was having no influence on which scientific questions those working in that field were choosing to ask – or avoid?

Even more to the point: Do we imagine that the work of such scientists would ever be taken seriously again? Surely, in many circles, their findings and their judgment would henceforth be considered suspect.

Which brings me to Jane Lubchenco. In 2008 US President Barack Obama nominated her to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In early 2009 her nomination was duly confirmed by the US Senate. She therefore holds the title of Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere.

When her appointment was officially announced, the NOAA told us that “Dr. Lubchenco is the first woman and the first marine ecologist” to lead “the nation’s top science agency for climate, oceans, and the atmosphere.”

We were reminded that the NOAA’s annual budget is four billion taxpayer dollars.

We were advised that Lubchenco is part of “a distinguished group of scientific leaders in the Obama administration that will ensure that science plays its proper role in shaping policy.”

In this official announcement, Lubchenco promised to use “the best science” as her guide. Moreover, someone else described her as “a top flight scientist.” We were told about her many awards and her many impressive titles.

What the announcement neglected to mention is that, at the time she was nominated, Lubchenco was Vice Chair of the board of the aggressive, influential, and outrageously wealthy Environmental Defense Fund (I’ve blogged about the EDF here).

Nor did it mention that in, 1992, she became a Pew Fellow – which means she accepted $150,000 from the activist entity I’ve described above. (To confirm this fact, one need only type her surname into the search box on this page.)

Nor, funnily enough, did the official announcement mention that Lubchenco is a former trustee of the World Resources Institute.

At the moment, this third activist group’s board of directors includes Al Gore. Its climate and energy program is being directed by Jennifer Morgan, the former chief spokesperson for the World Wildlife Fund (read about Morgan’s current role with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change here).

This means that an enormous government body is being led by a woman whose links to activist organizations are beyond dispute. The EDF. The Pew Environment Group. The World Resources Institute. None of these are a secret. None are marginal, shoe-string operations.

Yet even when there are three good reasons to worry that an activist mindset may be clouding your judgment, people are still prepared to call you a top flight scientist.

This suggests that, at its very highest levels, the scientific establishment is now rife with activists. But these people are not the same thing as genuine, bona fide scientists. Not at all.

So long as the scientific community chooses to pretend otherwise it doesn’t deserve the public’s respect – or its trust.

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h/t Mike Johnson via Tom Nelson

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Entry filed under: activist scientists, ethical & philosophical, money & funding, NGOs. Tags: , , , , , , , .

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