My analysis seems to have bounced off of Hubski's indignation without leaving much of a mark. Suppose we try a thought experiment. How well does the shoe fit on the other foot?
Using a fake name and false pretenses, an investigator contacts an Ivy League professor with a long history of warning about the dangers of climate change. The investigator tells her that he represents General Electric, which is introducing a new model of turbine to be used in wind generators. Concerned that government subsidies for renewable energy might expire, GE seeks a briefing describing the virtues of wind energy.
The professor responds by sending a paper produced by an advocacy group she founded, the Green Coalition, as well as a copy of testimony she provided to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission as an expert on the costs of CO2 emissions. She writes "I would be glad to try to help if my views, outlined in the attachments, are in line with those of your client."
The investigator replies, saying that "It certainly sounds like you and our client are on the same page." However, he is concerned about whether source funding must be declared when research is published.
The professor describes her work on climate change as a "labor of love" for which she does not receive external funding. She suggests that any fee could be directed toward her advocacy group. She also adds a detailed statement of her position, including specific points that are adversarial to wind energy, to avoid any misunderstanding:
To be sure your client is not misled on my views, it is clear there are very real dangers and harms associated with wind energy. Construction and maintenance of wind turbines leads to the death and injury of workers. The turbines are considered unsightly by some and represent a serious threat to many bird species. When lifetime costs of manufacture, installation, and maintenance are included, other green alternatives may be more cost effective. Nevertheless, wind energy represents an important option in the goal to mitigate climate change.
The investigator assures her that GE is "completely comfortable with your views" and mentions that a "peer review process" would "certainly be of interest to our client," asking how that could work, and asks for more details about concealing GE's funding for the work.
The professor explains what academic peer review means and warns that seeking publication in an a scientific journal will introduce delay and may require significant editing. She provides information on fees she received for earlier work, and says she doesn't think it would be a problem to state that "The author received no financial compensation for this essay," and that she is pretty sure a donation to the Green Coalition need not be made public, though it would be reported to the IRS.
The investigator makes further inquiries about peer review and anonymous payment.
Is this still a scandal? Is there anything here to show that you can "pay an academic to say whatever you want him to"?
thenewgreen, you lost your faith in studies, and I applaud your skepticism, but the critics can't always be trusted either.
(This is a retelling of the Happer correspondence; I see no reference to the Clemente correspondence. All quotes except the long one about the dangers of wind energy are verbatim from the actual sting.)