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Science, education, funds

A look into the Friends of Science connection to the University of Calgary

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Is there a debate about the existence of and the causes of global warming?

It depends on who you talk to. If you ask the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change they would answer with their fourth report. The most recent IPCC report found that there was a 90 per cent chance that 50 per cent of the current warming observed in average global temperatures is the result of human activity. The report was compiled with the help of over 2,000 global scientists, is the largest peer-reviewed project ever created and is what most scientists will refer to when you ask about the existence of any sort of a consensus.

Yet a small group of loud voices are continuing to argue with the reports' findings, rail against the supposed scientific consensus and disagree with the base causes of global warming. These small groups themselves, however, have not avoided criticism directed at their sources of funding and the credentials of their spokespeople.

If you ask the Friends of Science, they'd be one of the most vocal groups advocating that the debate on climate change is still raging. The Calgary-based society has been active on the national level for the last two years, launching its opinions on the causes of global warming and the flaws behind the IPCC's science with a video and a radio campaign. But they also have attracted their own fair share of critical attention, with funding at the centre. Donors interested in donating to the Friends and receiving a tax-receipt for their donation can donate to the Science Education Fund, a fund set-up at the Calgary Foundation. But, because the Friends aren't a charitable organization, they can't issue tax-receipts for donations and the Calgary Foundation can't directly transfer the donations to them. Instead, the University of Calgary becomes the intermediary and the money then filters out to the projects the Friends want to support. $200,000 was granted to the University of Calgary from 2005 to 2006, according to the Calgary Foundation's 2006 annual report. In the last year, however, this practice has attracted the scrutiny of the university and is currently the subject of a U of C internal audit, whose results have yet to be released.

The Friends of Science Society had its first meeting in the curling lounge of the Calgary Glencoe Club in 2002.

"In the late '90s we had a visit from Dr. Chris de Freitas--he came and spoke to the Geological Society twice," said Friends of Science vice-president Eric Loughead. "He was an expert with respect to the IPCC and in both cases he was very critical of what was being said about the role of carbon dioxide in global warming. We all left the luncheon speeches all shaking our heads that this silliness was going on."

When Canada signed onto the Kyoto Protocol, Loughead and his fellow geologists felt what was going on was serious and decided to found an organization to help tell the other side of the science story that wasn't being told. The group launched their website in Oct. 2002.

In order to further their goals of convincing the Liberal federal government at the time to reconsider their position on the Kyoto Protocol, they needed funds for larger-scale projects. Since the Friends Society is not a charitable organization, they cannot issue tax receipts for donations. Loughead said that they had a lot of people say they were interested in donating, but they also wanted a tax receipt.

"We got talking to this person at the Calgary Foundation and they explained to us how they could, in fact, be an intermediary between us and projects," said Loughead. "It was kind of one of these mutual things. They were aware of us and we were aware of them. I think we learned of them from one of the other trusts in Calgary and they suggested to us that we talk to the Calgary Foundation. That's where the Science Education Fund was originated."

Dr. Barry Cooper, a professor in the political science department at the U of C, set up the Science Education Fund at the university, according to an Aug. 12, 2006 article in the Globe and Mail and, according to the Calgary Foundation's communications director Kerry Longpre, the fund was established in Oct. 2005 at the Calgary Foundation. Because the Calgary Foundation has a policy of withholding the names of donors, this allowed anonymous, tax-deductible donations to be made to the Friends of Science through the Science Education Fund. By Mar. 31, 2006, the end of the Calgary Foundation's fiscal year, the fund had granted $200,000 to the University of Calgary and had a market value of $76,000.

The Science Education Fund is an anonymous fund, which means who founded the fund and the identity of the donor advisor, who advises the Calgary Foundation as to what projects they want to give the money to, cannot be disclosed, Longpre said.

"It's an anonymous fund and we have a number of those," said Longpre.

According to Loughead, the Friends of Science administered the fund and when the Friends had projects they wanted to sponsor, they would instruct the Calgary Foundation where to direct the money.

"For instance, when we did the sponsoring of [a] post-graduate student [at the U of C], we gave the Calgary Foundation instructions to send money to the university," said Loughead. "The graduate student was able to take his money and it was applied to his scholarship."

The flow of money on both sides has come under criticism and scrutiny.

The in-flow

"I keep telling people I'm a recovering journalist," said Richard Littlemore, who worked in the daily newspaper business for over 20 years, the last 12 at the Vancouver Sun.

Now Littlemore works for an online blog, founded in Dec. 2005 by Jim Hoggan, the president of James Hoggan and associates, a public relations firm. The DeSmog blog works to examine the public relations element of the current debate around the science of climate change, according to the DeSmog blog website, desmogblog.com.

"The DeSmog blog was a very strategic response to the international campaign to deny that climate change was happening," said Littlemore. "As a [public relations] guy, [Hoggan] could more easily recognize the difference between public relations and science. What he noticed about what was happening in the conservation there was an awful lot of PR and not very much science at all."

The blog was given the startup funds it needed by John Lefebvre of Netteller fame and Littlemore helped research and write the articles behind the blog. Since Jun. 2005, DeSmog has been following the Friends of Science.

Before the group initiated the Science Education Fund at the Calgary Foundation allowing anonymous donations, the Friends had troubles raising any money, Littlemore said.

"They had no money until they found this way to fairly secretly move the money into the Calgary Foundation and then through the University of Calgary, which itself is a very highly questionable tactic," said Littlemore.

At issue is the source of income for the Science Education Fund. Both Dr. Cooper and current Friends president Douglas Leahey have admitted that the Friends are taking donations from oil companies. Leahey said in a Jan. 2007 article in the Toronto Star that over a third of the Friends' budget, or $35,000, came from oil companies. Loughead doesn't believe this discredits their scientific stance on global climate change.

"[British Petroleum] has sold more gasoline since the Kyoto thing took place by absolutely going green [and they are] one of the world's largest oil companies," said Loughead. "Exxon is exactly the same. Locally, Petro Canada refuses to give us any funds whatsoever but they're giving money to [the] Suzuki [Foundation], the Pembina [Institute]. I don't understand why you would say they are against Kyoto. Our experience is they're totally for it. Most oil companies will not even talk to us, so how could you say somehow oil money is dirty? If we could get some, and we have had a few small donations from oil companies, is that bad money? Most of them won't give us a cent."

Littlemore disagreed and pointed to the process of moving the money through the Calgary Foundation first with anonymous donations as a concern.

"I think that Exxon has a perfect right to speak on climate change policy and to criticize Kyoto," said Littlemore "So does EnCana. If they go out of their way to get somebody else to say something about climate change on their behalf and they further go out of their way to conceal the fact that the person that is speaking on their behalf is taking money from them, I have a real problem with that. That's what's happening here.

"If the Friends' position is not discredited by virtue of them taking money from oil and gas, then why are they trying to hide it?" Littlemore continued. "If they're legitimately proud that most of their support, in terms of financial support, comes from the oil and gas industry, then why did they go to all this trouble to give it first to the Calgary Foundation and then flip it into the University of Calgary and then slide it over to Friends of Science?"

The out-flow

The University of Calgary's role in the funding of the Friends' activity has come under scrutiny with an internal U of C audit started earlier this year by the university.

At the heart of the concerns is the Science Education Fund's role in financing a radio ad campaign in Nov. 2005 in Ontario.

"[The use of the Science Education Fund for funding the radio campaign] is certainly one of our concerns and it's part of the reason for the review that's underway," said U of C vice-president external relations Roman Cooney.

In Apr. 2005, the Friends released a video titled Climate Catastrophe Cancelled: What you're not being told about the science of climate change. The video detailed the Friends' scientific position on climate change and featured members of their scientific advisory board, Dr. Tim Ball, Dr. Tad Murty, Dr. Sallie Baliunas, among others.

After the video was released, the Friends came up with an idea for a radio campaign to help promote the video.

"In the spring of '05, we came up with the idea; they were 20-second, soundbite-type radio things," said Loughead. "At that time, we were getting some advice from a communications expert and [they said] our money would be best spent to do short little radio ads. The interesting thing about it was, our website was up and running at the time and it had been going along with a few hits, a few hits, a few hits. With the initiation of the short ads in Ontario--my God--it just jumped. We got hundreds of thousands of replies to our website looking for information as we had urged them to do with the radio ads."

In the first 12 days of Jan. 2006, the Friends' website attracted over 300,000 visitors. The ads began running in Oct. and ran through to Jan. But this proved to be a point of controversy with observers of the Friends. In Nov., after a vote of no-confidence, a federal election was called and the ads, questioning the myths behind global warming and asking listeners to ask their members of Parliament why they should spend billions on global warming theories, were running in ridings where the federal Liberal Party, who had signed Canada on with Kyoto, held small leads in the polls. The Friends never registered as third-party advertisers during the election campaign and the Conservatives won several of the ridings targeted by the ad campaign.

"Friends of Science was boasting about their success in affecting the outcome of the election," said Littlemore. "That to me answers the question as to whether or not they were involved in third-party advertising."

The Friends maintain that they didn't have to register because they had planned the campaign back when there was no word of any election being called.

"We initiated that project in May/June '05," said Loughead. "There was no talk of any election at that time. There was no election. There was nothing to register. We felt, ultimately, it was a happy coincidence because we were unhappy with the party line that was coming out of Ottawa from some of the political parties and we thought, 'holy smokes, that was good timing on our part.' We had done this well in advance of any call of election."

This radio advertising remains at the centre of the U of C audit because, as confirmed by Loughead, the funding for the project did come from the Science Education Fund, but Loughead, and Cooper at the time of the planning of the ads, according to Loughead, felt that the ads were an extension of the educational aspects of the video, not third-party election advertising.

For Littlemore, there is no question that the advertising was third-party election advertising. Kevin Grandia, manager of the DeSmog blog, recently filed a complaint about the Friends not registering and the source of their funding with Elections Canada.

"If they did advertising during the course of an election and boasted afterwards about the affect on the election, that's not just third-party advertising, that's successful third-party advertising," said Littlemore. "If the money for that campaign came through the magic money box operated by Barry Cooper, then the University of Calgary's prints are on that. I think that's a problem for everybody."

More concerns

The radio campaign funding wasn't the only cause for concern for the University of Calgary.

In Apr. 2005, the Friends held a news conference in Ottawa to announce the launch of the Climate Catastrophe Cancelled video.

"Today, the University of Calgary, in cooperation with the Friends of Science Society, released a video entitled Climate Catastrophe Cancelled: What you're not being told about the science of climate change," the original press release said. "Commenting on the University of Calgary's decision to get involved with the video project, Professor Barry Cooper stated, 'universities are in the education business. In a democracy like Canada, education and informed discussion of public policy are tightly linked. The public, media and government would benefit by hearing from all sides on this important issue in order to make as informed a decision as is possible.'"

The original video, available on YouTube, contained both the University of Calgary and Friends' logos at the start of the video.

"That was our information from Barry Cooper, he said that he had clearance from the [U of C] legal people to do that," said Loughead. "We didn't challenge that, obviously. We had no reason to suspect that anybody was not going to approve it."

After the video was released, the Friends were instructed by the U of C to remove the crest and vice-president external Cooney denied the Friends ever had permission to use the U of C logo.

"At no time was the use of the university's coat of arms approved by the university's lawyers in the context in which it was used for that video," said Cooney. "We made that absolutely clear to Friends of Science. The logos were already used when I became aware of it and as soon as we became aware of it, we advised them to stop using our coat of arms."

Loughead found this puzzling because from what Cooper had told him, the use had been okayed.

"That was an extremely puzzling thing to us, because Dr. Cooper reviewed the whole thing with the legal people at the University of Calgary," said Loughead. "They knew exactly what project he was working on [and] who was doing the work on the project. At the press conference in Ottawa when the thing was released, Barry Cooper was there, a representative of the political science department. There were three or four people representing FOS, Barry Cooper representing the political science department at the U of C and it was released under the banner of poli-sci department, U of C and Friends of Science."

The video was reproduced with the U of C's logo removed.

Climate Catastrophe Cancelled started with archived footage from Canadian Parliament sessions featuring members of the Liberal and NDP party yelling about climate change. The Friends weren't too happy with this introduction.

"We felt that [the introduction] was putting too much political influence on the thing," said Loughead. "We as a group, Friends of Science, did not particularly like that. That was an example of the politicization of the thing that we would rather not have had and the most recent, the second edition of that DVD, we updated some of the scientific material but we scrapped that political rhetoric that was going on in the original DVD."

The video, also available in its second version released Sep. this year on the Friends of Science's website, presented members of the Friends scientific advisory board detailing arguments against the accepted causes of climate change and stating there is no evidence of humans being the cause of climate change, but that evidence of natural causes was overwhelming. The Friends' video has been seen through the internet, but they've had troubles getting it into schools.

"We admit the way it was structured originally-because the poli-sci department at the U of C was behind it--there was a strong political element that we weren't too happy with," said Loughead. "We were very happy with the scientific part of it so there was some give and take."

Severance?

There are signs that any connection that the University of Calgary may have with the Friends of Science may be coming to an end.

In Jan. 2007, the Friends announced in their quarterly newsletter that they would be hosting a conference on climate change Apr. 18-19 at Carleton University with Barry Cooper and Dr. Tim Patterson, a Carleton University professor, hosting. The conference was to be funded by the Science Education Fund and focus on the discussion of the science of global climate change.

The conference was first delayed by the Friends until Sep. and then eventually cancelled at the last minute because the university refused to grant the conference funds through the Science Education Fund.

"We had lined up, I think it came down to four or five people on each side [of the debate]," said Loughead. "All arrangements had been finalized as of approximately the first week of September and we got notification from the University of Calgary that they could not accept funding from the Science Education Fund for this U of C poli-sci department and University of Carleton geology department conference. They just said, 'no, we cannot accept funding.' Period. Barry Cooper was not allowed to accept funding from the Science Education Fund to pay for the hotel, the honorariums, the travel arrangements that had been made, etc, etc. The rug was pulled right out from under him at the last minute. People had actually bought airline tickets. The University of Calgary, really, the poli-sci department had made reservations at an Ottawa hotel, which was the venue for the event. It was a disaster."

Beyond being denied funding for the conference, the Friends have had other funding problems. No grants had been distributed out of the Science Education Fund during the Calgary Foundation's last fiscal year, ending Mar. 31, 2007, according to the foundation's communication director Kerry Longpre. Longpre also said the fund's current market value is $92,500 at the end of the fiscal year and with no grants being distributed, the fund has only increased by less than $20,000. The market value of the fund at the end of Mar. 2006 was $76,000.

More recent Friends newsletters mention problems they've been having fundraising. Littlemore speculated that this may be due to the publicity the organization has received in the national media.

"Okay, they're saying they're not getting that much money from oil and gas but that's because they're no longer useful as an Astroturf group because the biggest newspaper in the country has reported an admission on the part of Albert Jacobs that [oil companies are] where the money was coming from," said Littlemore. "Then, it's no longer opaque, it's now obvious to everybody. When Friends of Science speaks, they do so on behalf of the oil and gas industry."

In a Jan. 2007 Toronto Star article, Jacobs, a former spokesman for the organization, admitted that over a third of the Friends' budget or $35,000 came from oil companies.

The audit

At the centre of any connection the University of Calgary may have with the Friends of Science is Barry Cooper. It was Cooper who set up the Science Education Fund and that's the only direct connection there is between the Friends and the U of C. The connection is currently being scrutinized by an internal audit being conducted by the U of C, started after a meeting in Mar., according to an e-mail the university's legal counsel Linda Barry Hollowell sent to sourcewatch.org, a free encyclopedia on political organizations and people set-up by the Centre for Media and Democracy.

Despite numerous attempts to contact Cooper, he refused to be available for comment on the subject.

For Littlemore, he believes the U of C's reputation is at risk.

"The whole reason that universities act aggressively to protect the integrity of the academic process is because the reputation of every academic in the organization rests on the standard that is practiced by the least-best in their midst," Littlemore said. "If one person at the University of Calgary is doing something that is calling the integrity of the institution into question, that stain splashes on every academic and every graduate of the institution. That's why academics work so hard to protect the academic standard and to protect the reputation of their institution because we're talking about the value of the University of Calgary degree at this point. I think that Barry Cooper for sure has something to answer for here and the university, which has made convincing public pronouncements in the past, may need to stand up one more time and say, 'we didn't give them this permission and if we did it was mistake.'"

University external relations would not comment on the audit except to say that they are currently preparing a statement which was not released by press time.

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Comments

What a scurrilous attack on a group of genuine scientists trying to challenge the global warming mantra. You should check out the money from Big Beanz, the dough Al Gore is raking in from his climate "offset" companies and his minimum $100K appearance money, the massive government funding to what is still Play Station climatology. When it comes to the weather, it has all happened before. The facts are available but the media prefers the shock horror of long term computer extrapolations from short term events.

Dennis,

These are not scientists trying to challenge the global warming science in any serious scientific way. If they were, they would be publishing in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Rather, they are people with scientific credentials engaged in a PR campaign to convince the general public, using arguments that are, for the most part, completely discredited in the scientific community.

The money is secondary to the fact that their arguments are without scientific merit. It is just interesting to understand help understand how and why this small minority of scientists, most of whom are not actively publishing in the field, play such a large role in the debate about climate change.

an example of university research:
www.flickr.com/photos/yemeni_in_calgary/397144246/

The note above is typical. The arguments against the science of human impacts on the atmosphere and global warming (even in the UK, apparently) often fall into the following key points: 1. Gore is fat. 2. Gore has a big house. 3. Gore is well-paid. 4. Gore is a politician. But Gore, not a scientist, was only presenting the summary of what has been concluded by real atmospheric scientists (not pretenders with remotely related credentials, as in the FOS). We don't get someone with a degree in the history of bridges, or accounting, or political science, to design and construct a highway overpass. We get properly trained engineers. Let's not imagine that this standard works for even larger risks.

And by that I mean that scientists with training and research in the chemistry and physics of the atmosphere are the ones we should listen to regarding the chemistry and physics of the atmosphere. They are not the ones to tell us the environmental impacts or economics of the resulting problem, but fortunately, those fields have trained people as well.

Friends of Science is unscientific, unfriendly, and antithetical to the purposes of free enquiry in a university. They avoid the scientific process, have established no links with groups at the university that share their stated goals (such as the Environmental Science program) and actively avoid engaging factual and scientific information as provided through the Royal Society of Canada, The Royal Society, the various National Academies of Science, etc. They exist solely to serve a political and ideological purpose. If they continue, it is fair and fitting to establish a Friends of Biology group to promote creationism, and a Friends of Medicine group to promote the humoral theory of disease.

Perhaps we also need a "Friends of Medicare" to promote a fantastic single comprehensive public health care system in Alberta...

(Comment on Joel Shore's and Dan's comment on Dennis Ambler)

Do you seriously think that any so-called ordinary people or any politician, for that matter, reads peer-reviewed papers? Didn't this matter go political long before they (and others) entered the scene?

Since ordinary people will be seriously affected by the actions taken by leading politicians in this matter, doesn't they deserve a chance to see the whole picture?

What chances do scientists have to reach ordinary people if not by using ordinary media?

What chances to influence political decisions do scientists have if restricted from the political arena?

The climate debate has become so important, chasing consensus and spending billions of dollars, that it threatens to overthrow one of the foundations of science - namely to try being objective in our search for the truth...

...not for the consensus.