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Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Fossil Fuel Funded Science Communication

Taking fossil fuel money is immoral. Says a science communicator who wore Shell logos to work.


click for source

Joe Duggan is a painfully young, self-described science communicator from Australia. He runs a climate change blog called Is This How You Feel?  One of the first things we encounter there is the following paragraph:

Luckily there are a large group of passionate individuals who have dedicated their lives to studying climate change. These people write complex research papers, unpacking every aspect of climate change, analysing it thoroughly and clinically. They understand the numbers, the facts and the figures. They know what is causing it, what the impacts will be and how we can minimise these impacts. [bold added]

Passion is a good thing in lovers and poets. But scientists are supposed to be dispassionate for the obvious reason that passion prevents us from thinking and seeing clearly.

Those who commit crimes of passion are “overcome with emotion.” They are “blind” with rage. Passionate people are often impetuous, reckless, and foolhardy. If you tell me a particular scientist is “passionate” you are telling me, de facto, that their judgment is impaired.

While genuinely dispassionate scientists are experts in their own sub-specialty, they typically have no training, expertise, or real-world experience in much else. Just because they understand “the numbers, the facts and the figures” in their particular field, does not mean they have first-hand knowledge of what is causing climate change (however one defines that term). Or that they know “what the impacts will be” (that’s someone else’s scientific specialty). Or that they know “how we can minimise these impacts” (a question for policy experts).

Duggan’s characterization of climate scientists is pure naivety. Climate scientists aren’t ordinary people, working for their paycheck in large, bureaucratic institutions riddled with politics and groupthink (otherwise known as government agencies and universities). They’re selfless souls who’ve “dedicated their lives to studying climate change.”

Climate scientists aren’t susceptible to normal human failings. Somehow, they alone are passionate and clinical. They alone possess encyclopedic knowledge of matters well beyond their areas of professional expertise. They are, in Duggan’s view, the anointed – those who will lead us out of danger and toward the Promised Land.

Is This How You Feel? is a blog about feelings that wants us to believe people because they’re scientists. Emotion. Science. Two things that do not belong together. How can this sort of intellectual slop be taken seriously?

When it launched last August, said blog made the front page of Australia’s top-ranked online news site (see here, here, and here). It was written up by the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science. And by the National Journal, which describes itself as “the most credible and influential publication in Washington.” And by science writer Chris Mooney at Mother Jones.

But some of the opinions expressed on that blog border on the unhinged. Here’s a taste of what professor Corey Bradshaw, the director of ecological modelling at the University of Adelaide, has to say in a hand-written statement posted there:

My overwhelming emotion is anger; anger that is fuelled not so much by ignorance, but by greed and profiteering at the expense of future generations… I am furious that politicians like [Australian Prime Minister Tony] Abbott and his anti-environment henchman are stealing the future from my daughter, and laughing about it while they line their pockets with the figurative gold proffered by the fossil-fuel industry…My frustration with these greedy, lying bastards is personal…Mark my words, you plutocrats, denialists, fossil-fuel hacks and science charlatans – your time will come when you will be backed against the wall by the full wrath of billions who have suffered from your greed and stupidity, and I’ll be first in line to put you there.

Professors talking about backing people against the wall, presumably in preparation for the firing squad. Yeah, that inspires trust.

As is evident from the above quote, Duggan’s is a blog that talks about “denialists.” And “fossil-fuel hacks.” And politicians “in the pay of fossil fuel special interests.” It’s a blog that strongly implies that:

  1. the fossil fuel industry is evil
  2. the fossil fuel industry pays people to hold certain views
  3. people who take fossil fuel money are corrupt and therefore cannot be trusted

How bizarre, therefore, that Duggan spent 2014 touring Australian schools funded by a fossil fuel giant. He was part of the Shell Questacon Science Circus. Employees of that project wear shirts emblazoned with Shell’s logo to work.


Jesse Jorgensen-Price, one of Duggan’s colleagues; click for photo source


Joe Duggan (click to see full photo)

The Australian National University offers a one-year graduate degree called the Master of Science Communication Outreach (cost: nearly $25,000 for domestic students, $33,000 for foreign students). The minions who work for Shell’s science circus are recruited from those enrolled in this Masters program.

If people who take money from fossil fuel interests cannot be trusted, Duggan himself is irredeemably tainted. So are the 14 young people who comprised the 2013 Shell science circus team, and the 11 people who worked alongside Duggan in 2014.

According to the logic of some of the climate scientists featured on Duggan’s blog, the careers of these two dozen young people are over before they’ve even begun.

They’re all fossil fuel hacks. Damaged goods.


see also Joanne Nova’s recent post about the disquieting remarks made by some other climate scientists

the following may also be of interest:



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This entry was posted on January 31, 2015 by in activist scientists, money & funding and tagged , , , , .
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