The Planet

Undercover Activists Buy Off Professors in Climate Sting

by Ben Jervey

December 8, 2015

With the second week of climate talks in a relatively steady holding pattern, the most interesting news out of Paris today had nothing to do with the negotiations themselves. Greenpeace used the platform of COP21 to release results of an undercover investigation that revealed just how easy it is to pay an academic to say whatever you want him to.

While posing as representatives from oil and gas companies, the Greenpeace U.K. investigators struck deals with academics from Princeton and Penn State to publish academic articles that promoted the positive benefits of carbon dioxide and the positive impacts of coal for the poor.

One of the academics exposed, William Happer of Princeton, is actually testifying at Ted Cruz's Senate hearing on protecting climate denial this afternoon.The details from the sting are a fascinating look into how academic credibility can be bought.

In Happer’s case, investigators said they were part of a “Middle East oil and gas company” and asked to ensure that their commissioning of the report could not be traced. Happer reached out to a friendly Exxon lobbyist who suggested channeling it through Donors Trust, the shady donor anonymity organization that has been called the “dark-money ATM” of North American conservatives.

They followed up with Donors Trust, asking if they accepted money from a Middle Eastern oil and gas company. The Trust basically said no problem, as long as the cash came from an American bank account. “We can take it from a foreign body, just we have to be extra cautious with that.”

The emails and recordings also outline how Happer ran a sham peer-review process through the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a prominent U.K.-based climate skepticist think thank. Happer admits that his papers would not likely be published through typical the academic peer review process. “I would be glad to ask for a similar review for the first drafts of anything I write for your client. Unless we decide to submit the piece to a regular journal, with all the complications of delay, possibly quixotic editors and reviewers that is the best we can do, and I think it would be fine to call it a peer review.”

Screenshot via Greenpeace.org

The case of Frank Clemente of Penn State University has similarly damning details. Investigators asked Clemente, a sociologist, if he could publish a paper to “counter damaging research linking coal to premature deaths (in particular the WHO’s figure that 3.7 million people die per year from fossil fuel pollution).”

Clemente said that he could be quoted in support of the report using his university job title, and that it would cost $15,000 for the 8-10-page paper. Asked for assurance that the oil and gas funding would be kept secret, Clemente referenced past articles and even testimony in front of state legislatures and said, “In none of these cases is the sponsor identified. All my work is publised as an independent scholar.”

“There is no requirement to declare source funding in the U.S.,” he explained.

Clemente also took home the biggest paycheck of any in this particular sting. He said he was paid $50,000 for a report titled “The Global Value of Coal,” which was actually published by the International Energy Agency in 2012.

If you want to get a deep inside look at how to get an academic—a greedy one, at least—to sell their soul, give these email chains a read.

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Undercover Activists Buy Off Professors in Climate Sting