Lawmaker asks whether MIT climate researcher took oil money

Lawmaker asks whether MIT climate researcher took oil money

A prominent Democratic congressman is probing MIT about funding for professor emeritus Richard S. Lindzen, who is known for his skepticism of what he calls climate change “alarmism.”

“My colleagues and I cannot perform our duties if research or testimony provided to us is influenced by undisclosed financial relationships,” wrote Rep. Raul M. Grijalva of Arizona, the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, in a letter to President L. Rafael Reif.

Grijalva sent similar letters to six other universities on Tuesday. He is asking for detailed records about funding and other compensation for researchers who have testified before lawmakers and challenged the scientific consensus on global warming.

Lindzen, who spent three decades in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Science, said Grijalva is “conducting a witch hunt in the tradition of McCarthyism.”

Regarding funding for his own work, Lindzen said he was not worried at all about what might come to light: “[Grijalva] has no evidence, and there is no evidence because there’s nothing to find.”

“I think the hope is you throw a lot of mud, and some of it’ll stick, and maybe you’ll get away with it,” Lindzen said. “This is just extraordinarily poor behavior.”

Grijalva’s letter came just after revelations that Willie Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who also doubted the risks of climate change, failed to disclose sponsorship from the fossil-fuel industry in many of his papers.

An MIT spokesperson, Kimberly Allen, said on Wednesday that Reif was reviewing the congressman’s request with MIT’s provost and vice president for research. An assistant to Reif, Karla Casey, said that he had asked MIT’s lawyers to look into the request.

“I do hope that, on a matter of principle, that President Reif refuses this request,” Lindzen said. “It has no legal basis, and once he opens that up, he’s open to harassment.”

—Leon Lin

Noblesse Oblige over 6 years ago

This stunt is at best political grandstanding, at worst a bold attempt to stifle dissent on the administration's favorite fetish -- global warming. As for Grijalva's justification, it amounts to the claim that "I can't do my job unless the public record is made public."

The fact is that the administration can't allow skeptics the run of the science field. They know they will lose the argument as the weight of empirical evidence continues to accumulate against them. Science Advisor Holdren and his clique of loons must be getting more and more desperate.

alimura over 6 years ago

I'm surprised Lindzen thinks being asked to disclose your funding sources is a witch hunt. There's clear evidence that funding influences outcomes (as seen with tobacco research), so it's important in this instance, when lawmakers must rely on scientific evidence, that they know it has been achieved objectively. Why would Lindzen not want that?

David over 6 years ago

Lindzen has been a denier since well before 1990.

Arthur Yip over 6 years ago

The problem or issue isn't whether disclosure is needed. Of course it's important and necessary. But how could the political targeting of specific scientists be an appropriate response? Why would a politician try to enforce disclosure by singling out controversial and influential scientists who he disagrees with? By making science political, you are destroying its credibility. Science requires all views, especially controversial ones, to work. There are plenty areas of climate science and policy that do not have any consensus. Lindzen's work should be critiqued via science (and it has), not by insinuations and unsubstantiated allegations of "dirty funding."

Do you think this will actually help the science-policy process (to use an analogy, perhaps this means the "consensus" is actually 98 instead of 97 /s )? Or will it simply invigorate "skeptics" and "deniers" and give them more reason to think this is all just political?

P.S. Plenty of good and objective scientific and policy research, including and especially at MIT, is funded by corporate interests and fossil fuels. We should review disclosure practices, but for everyone. Then, ask your colleagues if their research is influenced by their funding or not, and how close or separate the funding is to research questions/topics/results.

Arthur Yip over 6 years ago

Here is the American Meteorological Society's response:

"Publicly singling out specific researchers based on perspectives they have expressed and implying a failure to appropriately disclose funding sources and thereby questioning their scientific integrity sends a chilling message to all academic researchers. Further, requesting copies of the researchers communications related to external funding opportunities or the preparation of testimony

impinges on the free pursuit of ideas that is central to the concept of academic freedom.

The AMS maintains that peer-review is the appropriate mechanism to assess the validity and quality of scientific research, regardless of the funding sources supporting that research as long as those funding sources and any potential conflicts of interest are fully disclosed. The scientific process that includes testing and validation of concepts and ideas discarding those that cannot successfully withstand such testing is chronicled in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. We encourage the Committee to rely on the full corpus of peer-reviewed literature on climate science as the most reliable source for knowledge and understanding that can be applied to the policy options before you."

RAM over 6 years ago

All research is funded and all funding sources have axes to grind. Researchers have to make their own reckoning of their ability to do their work impartially. The notion that corporate money of one type sways researchers more than other corporate money or foundation money or government money is laughable. All these sources have well-known points of view.