Science is a fussy profession

Science is a fussy profession. For example, it is generally frowned on to not disclose your funding sources or conflicts of interest – and for good reason.

Take the recent study by Yale University, which found that industry-funded studies of soft drinks are far less likely to find negative impacts. “Studies funded by the food industry simply did not find the degree of negative health effects from soft drinks that independent scholars discovered,” said Kelly D. Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale.

This type of peer-review and oversight is par-for-the-course in the scientific community. If the researcher is seen to be in any way biased, the research they produce is naturally suspect.

So why the free ride for climate skeptics in the media? The usual suspects who pop up regularly in the mainstream media are almost never questioned about their funding sources or industry affiliations.

Consider the curious case of Dr. Tim Ball. He hasn’t produced a peer reviewed scientific paper in over ten years but has certainly being busy writing in the mainstream media. Over the course of five years, Ball authoured over 70 op-ed pieces and letters to the editor in Canadian newspapers - all questioning mainstream climate science. In virtually all of those cases, he was identified in his by-line as a Ph.D. climatologist or a former professor at the University of Winnipeg.

That is until he sued the Calgary Herald for defamation. It seems that Ball objected to the Herald publishing a letter to the editor from a practicing scientist who questioned Dr. Ball’s credentials. Ball’s suit sought $325,000 for among other things “damages to his income earning capacity as a sought after speaker with respect to global warming”

What a difference a lawsuit makes. In their statement of defence, the Calgary Herald, which is owned by Canwest Global, characterized the man whose op-eds they had chosen to publish eight times in five years as a “a paid promoter of the agenda of the oil and gas industry rather than as a practicing scientist.”

They went on to say in their sworn statement to the court that Dr. Ball published few articles in academically recognized peer-reviewed scientific journals” and that he “has not conducted research regarding the relationship between climate and elements within the atmosphere”.

Strangely that journalistic epiphany of full disclosure did not last long. Tim Ball’s controversial op-eds have been published an additional eight times in Canwest papers since Ball sued the editors of the Calgary Herald in September 2006. In all of those cases, Ball was cited as a former professor at the University of Winnipeg.

About the author: Mitchell Anderson is an environmental and science writer and blogger living in Vancouver, BC, Canada. He is a guest-blogger for DSBlog.


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