Rooting out scientific corruption
By Paul Driessen
Dr. Brian Wansink recently resigned from his position as Columbia University professor, eating behavior researcher and director of the Cornell “food lab.” A faculty investigation found that he had misreported research data, failed to preserve data and results properly, and employed dubious statistical techniques.
A fellow faculty member accused him of “serious research misconduct: either outright fraud by people in the lab, or such monumental sloppiness that data are entirely disconnected from context.” Among other things, Wansink had used cherry-picked data and multiple statistical analyses to get results that confirmed his hypotheses. His papers were published in peer-reviewed journals and used widely in designing eating and dieting programs, even though other researchers could not reproduce his results.
It’s about time someone exposed and rooted out this growing problem, and not just in the food arena.
Countless billions of dollars in state and federal taxpayer money, corporate (and thus consumer) funding and foundation grants have fueled research and padded salaries, with universities typically taking a 40% or so cut off the top, for “oversight and overhead.” Incentives and temptations abound.
Far too many researchers have engaged in similar practices for much too long. Far too many of their colleagues do sloppy, friendly or phony peer review. Far too many universities and other institutions have looked the other way. Far too often those involved are rewarded by fame and fortune. Far too many suspect results have been used to attack and sue corporations or drive costly public policies.
A good example is glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup weed killer and the world’s most widely used herbicide. The Environmental Protection Agency, European Food Safety Authority and many other respected organizations worldwide have consistently reaffirmed that this chemical does not cause cancer.
One rogue agency says otherwise. The International Agency for Research on Cancer is top-heavy with anti-chemical activists, some who’ve had blatant conflicts of interest or engaged in highly questionable conduct. IARC relies on antiquated methods that have examined over 1,000 substances – and found that only one does not cause cancer. It says even pickled vegetables and coffee are carcinogenic.
IARC makes no attempt to determine exposure levels that actually might pose cancer risks for humans in the real world and ignores studies that don’t support its agenda. It has created enormous pressure on EU regulators to ban glyphosate, which would help organic farmers but decimate conventional farming.
It also helped the mass-tort lawsuit industry hit the jackpot, when a San Francisco jury awarded a retired groundskeeper $289 million in compensatory and punitive damages – because he claims his non-Hodgkin lymphoma resulted from exposure to glyphosate. Thousands of similar lawsuits are now in the pipeline.
The potential impact on the chemicals industry and conventional farming worldwide is incalculable. But worse outrages involve research conducted to advance the “dangerous manmade climate change” thesis – for they are used to justify demands that we give up the fossil fuels that provide over 80% of America’s and the world’s energy – and replace them with expensive, unreliable pseudo-renewable alternatives.
In a positive development that may presage a Cornell style cleanup, after seven long years of stonewalling and appealing court decisions, the U of Arizona has finally agreed to give the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic the emails and other public, taxpayer-funded records it asked for in 2011. The documents relate to the infamous “hockey stick” temperature graph, attempts to excise the Medieval Warm Period and Little Ice Age from history, machinations over the preparation of an IPCC report, efforts to keep non-alarmist papers out of scientific journals, and actions similar to Wansink’s clever research tricks.
While the legal, scientific and public access issues were very similar in another FOIA case back in 2010, the court in that U of Virginia/Penn State case took a very different stance. That court absurdly ruled that alarmist researcher Dr. Michael Mann could treat his data, codes, methodologies and emails as his personal intellectual property – inaccessible to anyone outside Mann’s inner circle – even though his work was funded by taxpayers and was being used to support and justify the Obama era carbon dioxide “endangerment finding” and war on fossil fuels, and thus affected the living standards of all Americans.
Scientific debates absolutely should be played out in the academic, scientific and public policy arena, instead of our courts, as some 800 academics argued in defending Mann’s position. However, that cannot possibly happen if the scientists in question refuse to debate; if they hide their data, computer codes, algorithms and methodologies; if they engage in questionable, secretive, unaccountable science.
We who pay for the research and will be victimized by sloppy, improper or fraudulent work have a clear, inalienable right to insist that research be honest and aboveboard. That the scientists’ data, codes, methods and work products be in the public domain, available for analysis and critique. That researchers engage in robust debate with fellow scientists and critics. It’s akin to the fundamental right to cross-examine witnesses in a civil or criminal case, to reveal inconsistencies, assess credibility and determine the truth.
Scientists who violate these fundamental precepts should forfeit their access to future grants.
Instead, we now have a nearly $2-trillion-per-year renewable energy/climate crisis industry that zealously and jealously protects its turf and attacks anyone who dares to ask awkward questions – like these.
What actual, replicable, real-world evidence do you have that convincingly demonstrates that:
Alarmist, climate crisis scientists demand and/or help justify radical, transformative, disruptive, destructive changes to our energy infrastructure, economies, livelihoods and living standards – and prevent Earth’s poorest people from having the energy they need to improve their health and living standards. They must therefore face a very high burden of proof that they are right. They must be required to provide solid evidence and be subject to robust, even withering debate and cross examination.
They must no longer be permitted to hide material evidence, emails or conversations that might reveal conflicts of interest, collusion, corruption, data manipulation or fabrication, or other substantive problems.
It’s reached the point where almost anything that happens is blamed on fossil fuels, carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases and those who “question the reality of [cataclysmic manmade] climate change.”
The assertions now range from implausible to ridiculous: Earth is doomed if developed nations don’t drastically slash emissions by 2020; Arctic ice will disappear; wildfires will be more frequent and deadly; more people will die from heatstroke; Hurricanes Harvey and Irma were due to human activity; President Trump caused Florence by exiting Paris; Arctic plants are getting too tall; coffee growing will be impossible in many countries; Earth will become Venus; pigs will get skinnier; tasty dishes like cioppino will be a thing of the past; and a seemingly endless list of even more preposterous manmade disasters.
Congress and the Trump Administration want to ensure sound science and informed public policy, root out fraud and corruption, and “drain the swamp.” If they’re serious about this, they will take the necessary steps to ensure that no universities or other institutions get another dime of federal taxpayer money, until they implement changes like those suggested here. Climate crisis corruption is a good place to start.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and other think tanks, and author of books and articles on energy, climate change and economic development.