It’s been quite a month for Friends of Science, the Calgary based astroturf group with a long history of engaging in climate science disinformation. First, RealClimate.org revealed that the supposedly “suppressed” EPA report, ostensibly by economist Alan Carlin, was based in large part on the pseudo-scientific musings of FoS director Ken Gregory (although it subsequently turned out that Patrick Michaels had a stronger claim on being anonymous lead author as detailed previously here and here).
Now it turns out that Friends of Science has big plans for this fall (which, not so coincidentally, will likely see another Canadian federal election). The group is co-sponsoring, along with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a cross-Canada speaking tour by none other than Lord Christopher Monckton, the “potty peer”. Also in the works is a cross-Canada “radio blitz” to promote Friends of Science and its website.
And it appears that at least some project funding will come via by anonymous tax-deductible donations to the preposterously named Science Education Fund at the charitable Calgary Foundation.
Observers of fossil-fuel industry funded astroturf groups will recognize much of this as a rerun of the Friends of Science saga from a few years ago. You can read about previous FoS shenanigans in excruciating detail at SourceWatch.org. But here’s a short summary, taken from that article (I’ve also linked to some of the various references):
[In August, 2006] The Globe and Mail revealed that the group had received significant funding via anonymous, indirect donations from the oil industry, including a major grant from the Science Education Fund, a donor-directed, flow-through charitable fund at the Calgary Foundation. The donations were funnelled through a University of Calgary trust account research set up and controlled by U of C Professor Barry Cooper. The revelations were based largely on the prior investigations of Desmogblog.com, which had reported on the background of FoS scientific advisors and Cooper’s role in FoS funding.
In the course of an internal review and audit begun in March of 2007, the University determined that some of the research funds accepted on behalf of the Friends of Science “had been used to support a partisan viewpoint on climate change”, and unspent grant money was returned on September 10, 2007, according to a Calgary Foundation statement. As a consequence, the University advised FoS “that it would no longer accept funds on the organization’s behalf”, according to an email from University legal counsel Elizabeth Osler sent on December 24, 2007. On February 17, 2008, CanWest News Service reported that U of C officials had shut down Cooper’s “‘Research on Climate Change’ trust account” …
In its heyday, Friends of Science managed to funnel hundreds of thousands dollars in non-taxable charitable donations to projects run by two of the top PR disinformation specialists in Canada:
- Tom Harris, then of APCO Worldwide, co-ordinated the production and dissemination of the FoS video, Climate Catastrophe Cancelled. The film featured several former and current FoS “scientific advisors”, including Tim Ball, Tim Patterson and Ross McKitrick.
- Morten Paulsen, lobbyist and Conservative Party organizer, ran an anti-Kyoto radio ad campaign during the 2005-6 federal election campaign, targeting several key close ridings (electoral divisions) in the province of Ontario.
- Paulsen, in a new role as Alberta vice-president for PR giant Fleishman-Hillard, lobbied the the Canadian government (ostensibly on behalf of Friends of Science), from March 2006 up to August 2006.
Here is the corresponding part of the grant history of the Scientific Education Fund as of early last year (from an official Calgary Foundation statement in April 2008).
$100,000 11/15/2005 University of Calgary
$100,000 03/15/2006 University of Calgary
To support academic research in the science of climate change
$25,000 06/07/2007 University of Calgary
<$25,000> 09/10/2007 University of Calgary returned
This donation was returned due to U of C investigation that found the funds supported a partisan viewpoint on climate change.
The timing of the first two “academic research” grants, totaling $200,000, indicates clearly that they were directed to support the above-mentioned activities of Morten Paulsen (i.e. the Ontario ad campaign in 2005-6 and lobbying efforts in 2006).
However, the grant history also shows that since the Globe and Mail revelations of 2006 and subsequent internal U of C investigations, Friends of Science activities have been greatly constrained. In 2007, a proposed Heartland-style climate conference, to be organized by Barry Cooper and Tim Patterson, was postponed and eventually cancelled. Presumably, the returned $25,000 grant had been earmarked for this purpose.
But it appears that is all about to change, as detailed in the latest FoS newsletter, released at the end of June. The newsletter makes the political motivation and policy objectives of the two new projects very clear:
Public support for an alarmist driven agenda has been waning as evidence for a warming atmosphere has not materialized. But still Canadian media such as the CBC and the Globe & Mail continue to stress the coming climate disasters: rising sea levels, greater incidence of malaria, extensive droughts, etc….
The Friends have lobbied politicians in an attempt to encourage a debate between the two sides of the climate change issue. But we have failed. It has become clear that our “leaders” are reluctant to adopt a stance which they fear is politically incorrect. If change is to be accomplished it must be
driven by the “man on the street”. We won’t change the way politicians act until we change what the majority of Canadians believe.
The Friends feel that steps should be taken to make the Canadian public better aware of actual climatic events which render IPCC predictions unacceptable as a basis for government policy. To that end we are planning two projects: a Canada-wide speaking tour by Lord Christopher Monckton and a radio blitz which will direct the listener to the Friends of Science web page. [Emphasis added]
[Updates, July 16: Clarification of Monckton's role in the Thatcher government and rephrasing "embarrassment" description].
Monckton, of course, is the so-called “former science advisor” to British PM Margaret Thatcher, and would-be debating opponent of Al Gore. (Independent sources refer to Monckton’s role as “policy advisor” or simply “advisor” in the Thatcher government). No doubt his Canadian presentations will contain his widely derided analysis of IPCC projections. Even contrarians like Lucia of Blackboard fame, feel compelled to refute Monckton’s specious arguments. And some her acolytes consider him an embarrassment to the “skeptic” side of the climate science “debate”.
Monckton’s “luncheon presentations” are slated for late September and will be given in several Canadian cities, including Ottawa (Canada’s capital city), Toronto, Calgary (centre of the Alberta “oil patch”), and Vancouver.
The newsletter also states that the Monckton tour is “a collaborative association between FoS and The Frontier Centre for Public Policy.”
The Frontier Centre is a right-wing think tank based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It shares a number of affinities with Friends of Science, including an identical anti-science position on climate change. Long-time FoS “scientific advisor” Tim Ball is also Senior Fellow at the Frontier Center, and another FoS advisor, Madhav Khandekar, is author of a Frontier white paper on climate science and featured in a long four-part interview video.
Indications of a cosy relationship between the two organizations came soon after began after the cutoff of University of Calgary project funding and the return of remaining funds to the Science Education Fund at the Calgary Foundation. Astonishingly, after the university returned the third grant and stated that previous grants had been used to “promote a partisan viewpoint on climate change”, the Calgary Foundation did not shut down the fund, but permitted new grants to the Frontier Centre, as seen in the rest of the grant history.
$5000 10/15/2007 University of Calgary,
A scholarship, granted through a competitive process and administered by the Political Science Department, U of C, Graduate committee
$50,000 11/15/2007 Frontier Centre for Public Policy
To support for science education
$17,000 Grant pending Frontier Centre for Public Policy
Awaiting confirmation of use of funds from the $50,000, 11/15/2007 grant
(The scholarship was administered, under protest, by Graduate Coordinator Professor Lisa Young who was obliged to oversee the award despite her express concerns about the source of funding – concerns apparently shared by many others in the Political Science department. This was the last grant before the final shutdown of Barry Cooper’s climate “research” fund at the end of 2007.)
As to the purpose of the grants, Canwest reported that the Frontier Centre wanted “to produce a climate change video for children in schools”. However, a search of the Frontier Centre’s website has not unearthed any such video.
The Frontier Centre was also involved in the last two Friends of Science annual luncheons. Frontier president Peter Holle introduced featured speaker Patrick Michaels at the 2008 event. And this year, at a luncheon featuring Tim Ball, free copies of Alberta geologist Bruno Wiskel’s book “The Emperor’s New Climate” were given out to attendees, courtesy of The Frontier Centre.
The 2007-2008 Calgary Foundation report shows the two grants but also shows a full $132,178 remaining unspent as of March 2008 (PDF is here). The 2008-9 report has not been released yet, but it’s reasonable to infer that Science Education Fund support for current or future Frontier Centre projects has grown. So it’s plausible, even likely, that the joint Monkcton tour is intended to be funded from that source. The Friends of Science apparently had difficulty funding such a tour on its own, as noted back in March of 2008 :
Lord Monckton is well known for his efforts to have Al Gore debate and defend his views concerning AGW…. He plans a tour of American Universities in the autumn. The Friends are attempting to raise monies to have him lecture in Canada at that time.
The radio ad campaign also raises some interesting issues. As noted above, the first FoS radio ad campaign (described in detail at SourceWatch) was clearly intended to influence the 2006 Canadian federal election outcome. Two complaints alleging infringement of Canadian law on third-party election advertising were rejected by Elections Canada. Even though one of the ads was a thinly-veiled attack on the Liberal government “One Tonne Challenge” awareness campaign, Elections Canada ruled that the ads did not take a position on an “issue associated with a political party”. Elections Canada also claimed that all political parties had “acknowledged the problem of global warming”, touting the Conservative Party’s hollow “made in Canada” approach. (The rules do permit third-party election advertising, but such advertisers must register with Elections Canada, observe spending limits and reveal all funding sources).
But despite this previous success at flouting the spirit, if not the letter, of Canadian third-party election advertising rules, FoS looks to be at least a little more circumpspect this time around, as detailed in the June 2009 newsletter.
Radio messages will be broadcast at prominent locations across all areas of Canada. They will raise pertinent questions about actual climatic conditions in Canada and across the globe. Listeners will be directed to our web page for answers. Purposes of the messages will be to challenge the alarmist position on atmospheric warming, educate the public on actual climate behaviour and force supporters the likes of Al Gore into an open debate.
The scope of our “radio blitz” is still under discussion. It will be obviously limited by the funding we can obtain from fellow sceptics. But we are encouraged by the response that we have obtained to date and are optimistic about being able to conduct an effective campaign to have our politicians re-visit their plans for cap and trade.
All indications, then, are that the ads will strive to avoid any explicit mention of climate policy or political issues. But listeners will be directed to a website which will be presumably much less reticent on such matters, if the Friends website at the time of the 2006 election, with its vicious attacks on Liberal environment minister Stephane Dion, is anything to go by.
Of course, all this points up a glaring loophole in Canada’s third party election advertising law. Although websites themselves can not be regulated practically as “election advertising”, the definition of election advertising should be amended to include advertising that directs listeners or viewers to a website containing political messages.
As for the Calgary Foundation, it should be compelled to release complete up-to-date information on all past and pending Science Education Fund grants, as well as the Fund’s overall status. But, based on currently available information, it is clear that funded projects can not be supported as legitimate research or science education. That donations to support such projects are fully tax-deductible is a shocking abuse of Canada’s tax system. In effect, the Canadian taxpayer continues to subsidize climate science disinformation propagated by think tanks like the Frontier Centre and the Fraser Institute. Even worse, all indications are that at least some of the grants to the Frontier Centre are simply a way for the Calgary Foundation to restore funding to the Friends of Science via the back door.
So it’s high time that the Calgary Foundation did the right thing: close the Science Education Fund. And it’s also high time that the Canadian public spoke up. Let’s send the Calgary Foundation and Friends of Science this simple message: “Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us again, shame on us.”