Researching global warming skeptics

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Learn more from the Center for Media and Democracy's research on climate change.

Every day global warming skeptics feature prominently in newspapers, talk shows, TV programs and across the blogosphere disputing the overwhelming bulk of scientific evidence that greenhouse gas emissions are destabilizing the global climate.

Why document the skeptics?

All too commonly, media consumers are given scant background information on who they are, their scientific credentials (if any), any ties they have to corporate funded think tanks or past claims they have made that were incorrect. Some were defenders of the tobacco industry when they were affiliated with think tanks the tobacco companies funded. Some of these have now moved on to be deniers of global warming with think tanks that have been or are funded by fossil fuel companies such as Exxon. Not surprisingly, connections such as these are rarely included in the promotional materials circulated by the skeptics or groups such as the Heartland Institute.

Just as commonly, skeptics who aren't affiliated with think tanks make a lot of noise disputing scientific information that is outside their expertise. Even where they do have real climate science credentials they often champion claims rejected by the overwhelming bulk of climate scientists within that discipline.

Having a well rounded and documented page on the leading skeptics in SourceWatch can be a powerful antidote to the often limited disclosure statements of the individuals and think tanks disputing global warming. Within a short period, SourceWatch pages will float to the top of Google rankings and allow citizens and journalists to get the best synthesis of information available in the individual.

Useful information to add

If you are interested in researching some of the global warming skeptics here are some of the useful things that can be added to their profiles (in approximate order of increasing difficulty).

Adding material to pages of individuals

  • The best place to start is with a basic biographical profile. While the Heartland Institute hasn't published bio notes for the speakers at this years conference, they did for last year's (pdf). It is usually best to directly cite their bio note in quotes as long as it is not too wordy. This way, readers can see exactly what the person wrote about themselves.
Often people have other more comprehensive versions of their bio notes on other websites so it is usually worth having a look around. If there are several bio notes that are different, it is worth creating a subsection within the "External links" section at the foot of the page listing them. (For example, often later versions of bio notes will exclude earlier useful information on who they first worked for or earlier campaigns they were involved in).
  • From looking at a number of bio notes it is usually possible to build an affiliations section listing which positions they have held and the approximate dates of each of them. If you think there is enough information to do this, create a ==Affiliations== section before the "Resources and articles" section.
  • Some skeptics will be primarily associated with one group or website and will have a collection of articles linked to off one page. If this is the case, it is worth creating a sub-section "Articles BY XXX" under the "External Links" section and either linking to the main page or adding links to the most relevant articles on global warming, tobacco or other topics you think most notable.
For these links the formatting is different than for citations associated with narrative text. Instead of this <ref>Author (if one), [url "Title"], publication or website, date or date accessed.</ref> it would be *Author (if one), [url "Title"], publication or website, date or date accessed. The * is used to create a bullet point listing.
  • Some global warming skeptics have been presenters at the 2008 and 2009 conferences for skeptics organized by the Heartland Institute. Copies of some of their presentations are available at the conference websites. See:
    • here for the 2008 conference;
    • here for the 2009 conference.
  • If they have had articles published in both scientific publications and general media, it may be best to create subsections for each reference.
If you can summarise the key themes that they usually write about or sources they cite, it would be great to add this up near the top of the page (between the lead overview par and their detailed bio note) in a section titles "Views on Global Warming" or whatever is most appropriate.

Adding material on think tanks

Some think tanks are open about where they get their funding from, others prefer secrecy. (The Heartland Institute, for example, is in the latter camp). An important section for the profile of each think tanks is to build up a picture of their current and former funding, who specifically works on global warming issues for them and what their main activities are.

Some possible sources of information are:

  • check the think tanks own website for what they say about who funds them (this is often in the "About Us" section or on the "Donate" page). Even if they only have a general statement about who funds them or the percentage from different corporate sectors etc, this is worth adding;
  • sometimes think tanks only have a general statement about their funding sources but provide a little more information in their annual reports to supporters. (These are sometimes linked to off the "About Us" page or tucked away in the publications section of their website);
  • sometimes think tanks won't have their annual reports on their website. In which case, for U.S.-based think tanks, you can look up their annual returns to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) at websites such as Guidestar. (You will need to register, which is free, and this will give you access to the last three IRS returns that have been submitted. IRS returns often provide only financial information but some material that can be particularly interesting is the list of office bearers, consultants and staff who were paid over $50,000 and disclosures on transactions with related entities);p
  • Even if there is nothing in any of the above sources, it is worth doing a search on the group at the Media Transparency website. (Media Transparency information is based on the information provided by the foundations making the grants not by the groups receiving them, so this site can have useful historical material);
  • You can have a look at Exxon's own 2007 disclosure statement (pdf) on which think tanks they are currently funding. (you may also be interested in having a look at the disclosure statement of the power utility Xcel Energy's as well;
  • One other source that is worth having a look at is Greenpeace's ExxonSecrets. (Though there are two things to note: 1) the site has not yet added data from Exxon's 2007 disclosure statement linked to above; and 1) Greenpeace's referencing style often has less information than we require so finding the exact source can sometimes take a little effort); and
  • it is also always worth checking the treasure trove of internal tobacco industry documents to see if the think tank you are profiling was funded by or a supporter of the tobacco industry. (If you need a hand specifically with trawling through the tobacco industry archive material, feel free to drop a note to the editor of TobaccoWiki, Anne Landman. Her talk page is here).

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