Political agenda and scientific neutrality

An article published in the New Scientist entitled “Climate change sceptics criticise polar bear science” (link) is an interesting read regarding scientific neutrality. A little background: In December 2006, the United States Department of Interior proposed that the polar bear be listed as a threatened species under the US Endangered Species Act – the first time such a proposal has been attributed to global warming (link). Although local numbers of polar bears have declined in recent years, the overall population has increased from ~5000 to 25000 in the past three decades – something that the climate change skeptics have jumped upon. One of these authors is Jennifer Marohasy, a freelance journalist and a senior fellow of the Institute of Public Affairs. On the topic of polar bear populations, Marohasy stated earlier this year:

The reasoning from the most shrill of the self-proclaimed experts has been that because there is a likelihood the situation might deteriorate into the future, we can’t acknowledge the good news now.

I completely reject the notion that any scientist, researcher, campaigner, or self-proclaimed expert has a right to withhold good news on an environmental issue of intense public interest because of what may or may not happen in the future.

As such, Marohasy (who states “I am no expert on polar bears”) must be delighted by the recent findings of Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who question the decline of polar bear populations and if the sea ice will disappear as climate change models predict (link). Sadly, this paper has caused significant controversy, as critics have accused him of ‘ignoring data that does not fit his argument and of misinterpreting the predictions made by climate models’. More interesting is the fact that the Soon’s research is funded by the Exxon-Mobil corporation (the largest publicly traded oil and gas company in the world) and that 3 of the other 6 authors have links to the oil industry. But then again, this should come as no surprise to Marohasy, considering that the Institute of Public Affairs is funded by Caltex – a subsidiary of Exxon-Mobil. Despite the Institute being described as an “independent, non-profit public policy think tank, dedicated to preserving and strengthening the foundations of economic and political freedom”, underlying political agendas and a lack of scientific neutrality and underlying political agendas and a lack of scientific neutrality are a cause for concern (and a large shaker of salt!). None-the-less, I am sure that Jennifer will respond that there is not such influence (as she would claim that there is no water quality issue on the Great Barrier Reef or salinity crisis in the Murray-Darling River system – but see John Quiggin’s poignant observations about Jennifer’s veneer analysis).

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