Researchers' Payments From Group Backed by Climate Skeptics Are Questioned

February 22, 2012

[Updated at 6:07 p.m. February 22 with additional material on Capitol Hill and other reaction, and at 5 p.m. February 27 with addition information from Michigan Technological University.]

The scandal involving documents obtained from the Heartland Institute grew wider on Wednesday when the environmental group Greenpeace aimed financial-disclosure allegations at several university researchers who have helped cast doubt on the science of climate change.

Greenpeace sent letters to six university presidents whose faculty members were named in the Heartland documents as receiving payments from the organization, a Chicago-based nonprofit group supported by skeptics of climate science. The Greenpeace letters suggest that the payments violated disclosure policies of both the universities and the National Science Foundation, which financed some of the scientists' work.

Those named in the letters include Anthony R. Lupo, department chairman and professor of atmospheric science at the University of Missouri at Columbia, and Robert C. Balling Jr., a professor of geographical sciences at Arizona State University. Both have publicly expressed doubts about the threat of climate change.

Greenpeace also wrote letters concerning Heartland payments to staff members at two other American institutions, Harvard and Michigan Technological Universities, and at two Canadian institutions, Lakehead University and the University of Victoria.

Mr. Lupo confirmed to The Chronicle that he receives payments from Heartland—$750 a month since December 2010—but said the money posed no conflict with an NSF grant worth nearly $300,000 for studying climate change that ran from August 2006 to July 2010. "I can assure you that I am not" violating any conflict-of-interest rules, he said.

Mitchell K. Taylor, a contract lecturer in the geography department at Lakehead, said he received the $750 payments "for a few months," then stopped because he couldn't meet the associated time commitment. He said he had never had an NSF grant.

'Blinded by My Frustration'

Copies of internal Heartland Institute budget and strategy documents were leaked earlier this month. They outlined a series of activities by the group to cast doubt on scientists' findings that manmade pollutants have contributed to the gradual warming of the Earth.

On Monday, Peter H. Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security, admitted he was the source of the leaked documents. Mr. Gleick said he had received some of the documents anonymously by mail, then obtained more by writing to Heartland under a false name.

Writing in The Huffington Post, Mr. Gleick offered an apology for his deception, saying his judgment was "blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts—often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated—to attack climate science and scientists." More than two years ago, activists stole e-mails from the University of East Anglia and distributed them publicly, suggesting they showed a conspiracy to exaggerate the dangers of climate change.

Other researchers shown by the documents to be assisting the Heartland Institute include Robert M. Carter, an adjunct professorial research fellow in the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at James Cook University, in Australia. Mr. Carter was listed as getting $1,667 per month for "regularly and publicly" countering warnings about climate change.

Mr. Lupo said he fully reported his payments from Heartland to administrators at Missouri, which posts the information on a password-protected Web site listing faculty financial disclosures. He said he had agreed to help Heartland—even though it asked him to work on a project that went beyond his scientific qualifications—because the group's approach fit his belief that manmade climate change is occurring but that there's no certainty yet of its effects.

"It's a political document, there's no doubt about that," Mr. Lupo said of the Heartland report.

Attention on Capitol Hill

Mr. Gleick, winner of a MacArthur Foundation fellowship (commonly known as a "genius award"), resigned his position as chairman of the American Geophysical Union's ethics committee last week, just ahead of acknowledging his role in the Heartland matter.

The scandal also gained new attention Wednesday on Capitol Hill after a top-ranking Interior Department official was reported to have received payments. Indur M. Goklany, a senior adviser in the department’s Office of Policy Analysis, was described in the Heartland documents as being offered $1,000 per month to write a chapter on economics for a report by the group challenging United Nations-sponsored findings on the risks of human-induced climate change.

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, a Democrat of Arizona who serves on the Natural Resources Committee, called on the committee's leaders to hold a hearing to investigate Mr. Goklany’s role. The reported payments, if actually made, would appear to violate federal law, Mr. Grijalva said in a written statement.

Harvard officials had no immediate comment on the connection between Heartland and Willie H. Soon, identified on Harvard's Web site as an associate of the Harvard College Observatory. But Greenpeace, in a separate document on its Web site, has acknowledged that Mr. Soon works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory through his employment with Smithsonian and has no direct affiliation with the university.

Update (February 27, 5 p.m.): David D. Reed, vice president for research at Michigan Tech, said administrators there "have checked into this thoroughly, and neither Michigan Technological University nor its faculty member has been offered or received any money from the Heartland Institute." And the Michigan Tech faculty member referred to in the Heartland Institute documents said he had "not had any contact with the Heartland Institute" and did not know why his name appeared in their budget material.