Would it matter to you if you found out your doctor, who had been prescribing you medications, was accepting money from the pharmaceutical company who made your medications all along? Would you wonder about the doctor’s motives for prescribing those drugs? Would you wonder if the doctor really had your best interest at heart?
Let’s say you found out a scientist who makes very clear pronouncements on the state of climate change was being paid substantial amounts of money from Big Oil, the very industry whose products are accused of contributing the most to climate change. Would you wonder about that person’s motives? Would you wonder if that person really had your — or the planet’s — best interests at heart?
This is the question raised today by revelations that Willie Soon, an astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and a very vocal denier of climate change, has been given over $1,000,000 for research grants over the last ten years from the very companies who stand to benefit from society maintaining the climate status quo. His benefactors include ExxonMobil, the Charles G. Koch foundation, the American Petroleum Institute and other sources, all of whom have an interest in debunking theories that humans have caused climate change through the use of the very products these organizations represent.
Certainly, to an ethical researcher, funding is funding is funding — or at least, it should be. The source of the funding should not matter one whit to any research outcomes. However, it also stands to reason that if the researcher were to arrive at findings the fund granter did not agree with, he wouldn’t receive funding from similar sources anymore. And yet, Soon has continued to receive funding from Big Oil and Big Coal — despite, or perhaps because, his research is contradictory to the findings of almost all other researchers.
Does Big Oil like to give Soon funding because he says what they want to hear, thus giving them ammunition to fight climate-change initiatives? Or are Big Oil and Big Coal simply giving him funding because they truly want to fund climate change research?
I’ll leave that up to you.
Photo Credit: akeg on Flickr.