university of queensland

Inoculating Against Climate Science Denial

This is a guest post by John Cook, The University of Queensland.

Science denial has real, societal consequences. Denial of the link between HIV and AIDS led to more than 330,000 premature deaths in South Africa. Denial of the link between smoking and cancer has caused millions of premature deaths. Thanks to vaccination denial, preventable diseases are making a comeback.

Denial is not something we can ignore or, well, deny. So what does scientific research say is the most effective response? Common wisdom says that communicating more science should be the solution. But a growing body of evidence indicates that this approach can actually backfire, reinforcing people’s prior beliefs.

Millions In Gas Industry Cash Poured Into Public Research In Australia

SO a major United States university has decided to pull the plug on a research institute focussing on energy from gas after questions were raised over its ties to the industry.

Bloomberg reports that the “potential conflicts of interest”  had created  a “cloud of uncertainty” over the work of the Shale Resources and Society Institute at New York's State University at Buffalo.

Investigations led by the non-profit Public Accountability Initiative alleged there were flaws in the institute's research, which had engaged in “industry-spin” while the authors of the institute's sole report had failed to disclose previous industry ties.

In closing down the institute, the university's president Satish Tripathi said in an open letter:  “Conflicts – both actual and perceived – can arise between sources of research funding and expectations of independence when reporting research results. This, in turn, impacted the appearance of independence and integrity of the institute’s research.”

DeSmogBlog has been rather less forgiving, placing the institute's research into a new category it has dubbed “frackademia” in reference to the controversial hydraulic fracturing technology used by the shale gas industry.

Tripathi said that given the university's “geographic situation” in the line of sight of the booming shale gas industry, it was important the university played a role in research into energy and the environment.

But it seems that even the perception that the university might be funded by the industry (it has claimed the institute hadn't received industry cash) was enough for the “cloud of uncertainty” to overshadow work it was doing.

In a similar geographical situation is the University of Queensland in Australia, one of the leading research institutions in a state where a $60 billion boom in the coal seam gas industry is currently underway. 

UQ also has a centre launched to research the coal seam gas industry. Yet the difference here is that the university has openly welcomed millions of dollars of coal seam gas funding.

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