How ExxonMobil Boosted Old-School Sceptics' Attacks on Michael Mann

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Our latest DeSmog UK epic history post examines the troop of climate sceptic scientists funded by ExxonMobil to attack Michael Mann’s hockey stick graph.

Neoliberal think tanks saw a significant boom period in the 2000s thanks to ExxonMobil’s continued spending to fuel the fire against the climate science consensus.

As per the Climate Action Plan – written in 1998 as a blueprint for sceptic industry action – the think tanks gathered together a group of hand-picked “independent” scientists who were “not usually published in the mainstream journals”.


The ‘90s old-timers, like Richard Lindzen, Patrick Michaels and Fred Singer, were still producing a steady line of “scientific” research but, with the new stream of funding, the crew were given turbo boosters.

Among them was Ross McKitrick, a senior fellow at libertarian, Antony Fisher's Fraser Institute. With a PhD in economics and a passion for the free market, he has published 14 peer-reviewed economics articles.

Despite being an economist, it is McKitrick’s work on climatology that has brought him prestige. McKitrick’s crowning glory was “Corrections to the Mann et al.,” a climatology paper published in a social science journal in 1998.

The paper, which argued Mann’s graph was false, made the national news and was quoted in evidence given to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, convened by the notorious climate denier, Senator James M. Inhofe.

At the same time, the Fraser Institute received $60,000 in funding specifically designated for “climate change” by ExxonMobil. In 2004, the institute received another $60,000 from the company for the same purpose.

Soon's Science

Another well-oiled scientist gaining steam at the time was Willie Soon, a doctor of aerospace engineering who got his first job under the Trusteeship of Robert Jastrow, founder of the Koch-funded Marshall Institute.

Between 1991 and 1997, Soon worked at the Mount Wilson Observatory inbetween writing a few corporate-funded papers for Texaco, Mobil and the American Petroleum Institute (API). In 1997 he was appointed senior scientist at the Marshall Institute, as well as moonlighting as a blogger for Koch's Heritage Foundation.

Throughout the decade, Soon published around two articles a year funded directly by ExxonMobil, Koch, Southern Electric and the API, totalling $1,322,980. His grants from the API started in 2001, and by 2007 they totalled $274,000. The vast majority of these grants were directed towards exploring the relationship between the sun and climate change.

Soon’s 2003 study “Proxy climatic and environmental changes of the past 1000 years” was one of the first, and most prominent, challenges to Mann’s hockey stick. Soon and his co-author Sallie Baliunas claimed that the 20th century was not the warmest of the past millennium and that the climate had not changed significantly during that time.

Scientific Outrage

The authors told the journal Climate Research that the paper was sponsored by the API but did not disclose the sum that was paid: an estimated $118,443 over two years. The study was thoroughly debunked, but in the meantime it got huge press and was re-published by the Marshall Institute.

The scientific community was outraged. Realising that the paper was funded by the API, Mann insisted that what appeared to be an academic paper was really a tool for “creating a highly visible critique of our work that could be used in political circles. They were funding the work and these guys were working closely with them. The White House was using Soon’s ‘paper’ to undermine our work.” 

Members of the Climate Research editorial board resigned in protest at the publication, including its editor-in-chief, Hans von Storch.

But, this was by no means the last that the denial machine had to say about Mann’s work.

Up next in the DeSmog UK epic history series, we investigate the dramatic U-turn taken by the late Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from environmental advocate to climate change sceptic.


Photo: Tim via Flickr

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