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Light-weight liberal academics on the prowl

By Joseph Bast - posted Friday, 19 June 2009

Light-weight liberal academics on the prowl to find and attack their conservative and libertarian counterparts can be found all around the world, even in such far-off corners as the Media and Communications department of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia. A case in point: Professor Sharon Beder, a “visiting professor” in said department, whose writing focuses on “the corporate assault on democracy” and opposing “capitalist hegemony”.

On June 17, Ms Beder set her sights on The Heartland Institute, the free-market think tank in the United States that I co-founded 25 years ago and still direct. In an essay titled “Fielding’s conversion to sceptic”, she notes that a member of the Australian parliament, Senator Steve Fielding, had attended a recent conference on global warming convened by The Heartland Institute and was apparently “brainwashed” by the speakers there. Now he’s back home asking embarrassing questions about whether or not the scientific debate over global warming is really over.

Ms Beder fails to report that Mr Fielding stayed in Washington DC for several days following the Heartland conference to meet with government and non-government authorities who do not share our “scepticism” towards global warming alarmism. Failure to tell the whole truth emerges as a favourite technique Beder uses in the rest of the article, which is entirely devoted to attacking Heartland and a speaker (1 of 19) at the Heartland conference.


She refers to The Heartland Institute again and again as a “corporate-funded” organisation, but doesn’t report what percentage of its funding comes from corporations (it was 14 per cent in 2008); whether the institute has policies that protect its authors and spokespersons from influence by donors (it does, they appear on the institute’s web site); or whether it has a history of taking consistent and principled stands regardless of funding consequences, which The Heartland Institute most definitely does.

Ms Beder singles out for criticism two individuals she says spoke at the conference. One, Dr Fred Goldberg, didn’t even speak at the conference and doesn’t appear in the program. Oops, that must have been cut and pasted from some other left-wingnut website talking about some other conference. Mistakes do happen when you’re in attack mode.

Beder’s second victim, Dr Willie Soon, is an astrophysicist with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (not mentioned) and the author of more than 20 articles in peer-reviewed climate journals (not mentioned) that challenge the notion - put forward in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and in countless children’s books - that the warming of the second-half of the 20th century was “exceptional” or can only be explained by man-made greenhouse gases.

Dr Soon’s theses are shared by many, and perhaps even most, scientists who study astrophysics (not mentioned). For an excellent overview of the latest peer-reviewed scholarship on this area, take a look at Chapter 5 of Climate Change Reconsidered, the latest publication of the evil Heartland Institute.

Ms Beder is all upset about Dr Soon accepting corporate dollars to support his research, but she supplies no evidence that such support was ever improper or influenced his research. In truth, Dr Soon turned to corporate funders only after government agencies repeatedly turned down his requests because he wouldn’t promise that his results would support the government’s preferred conclusion - that global warming is a man-made disaster that requires higher taxes and more government power to solve.

Ms Beder, whose work on climate has never appeared in a peer-reviewed journal, dismisses Dr Soon’s life-long scholarly work, and that of scores of other equally distinguished scientists, by citing a website aimed at children. Which perhaps is entirely appropriate, since Ms Beder’s commentary never rises to the level of adult conversation.

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About the Author

Joseph Bast is president and CEO of The Heartland Institute, a national nonprofit research center located in Chicago, Illinois, United States. According to a recent telephone survey, among state elected officials The Heartland Institute is among the nation’s best-known and most highly regarded “think tanks".

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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