Alberta's Talisman Energy, Canada's Climate Change Skeptics & the Stolen CRU E-Mails

In the beginning: Friends of Science, Talisman Energy and the de Freitas brothers

Deep Climate | December 2, 2009

Here is the first of an occasional series that will look back at the origins of various major players among Canada’s climate contrarians. And, quite appropriately, the honour of inauguration belongs to none other than our old, um, acquaintances, FRIENDS OF SCIENCE.

For the first time, we can confirm both financial and logistical support from an Albertan oil company, Talisman Energy, along with circumstantial evidence of  the early involvement of a second, Imperial Oil (ExxonMobil’s Canadian subsidiary). We’ll also look at the key roles played by the de Freitas brothers, geologist Tim and climate skeptic Chris. And the story leads right to the heart of a key controversy reignited by the stolen CRU emails, namely the ongoing perversion of the scientific peer review system by “skeptic” scientists.

 The Friends of Science Society was founded in 2002 by a group of active and retired Calgary geologists and engineers, with a website operating from at least October 2002. From the beginning, opposition to Kyoto was front and centre:

Welcome to the Friends of Science website, a critical scientific assessment that challenges the premises of the Kyoto Protocol, and presents causes for climate change that are more plausible than carbon dioxide.

As related in the University of Calgary newspaper the Gauntlet, the group’s early inspiration came from Dr. Chris de Freitas of the University of Auckland.

“In the late ’90s we had a visit from Dr. Chris de Freitas–he came and spoke to the Geological Society twice,” said Friends of Science vice-president Eric Loughead. “He was an expert with respect to the IPCC and in both cases he was very critical of what was being said about the role of carbon dioxide in global warming. We all left the luncheon speeches all shaking our heads that this silliness was going on.”

De Freitas became one of four initial Friends of Science “professional contacts”. The local connection had came through his brother Tim de Freitas, who worked for Imperial Oil and then Talisman Energy, and served as editor of the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists Bulletin.

In June 2002, Tim de Freitas published a controversial paper by his brother Chris entitled Are observed changes in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere really dangerous?

As noted in the CSPG’s 2002-3 report of activities (see PDF at p. 27), Tim de Freitas had recused himself from consideration of the paper, but had it reviewed by two prominent “skeptics”, Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and political scientist Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, editor of the social science journal Energy and Environment. Boehmer-Christiansen was erroneously described by the CSPG as a “climate scientist at the University of Hull”. (She later went on to infamy for rushing Steve McIntyre and Ross McKitrick’s first paper into print without even bothering with peer review).

A trio of founding Friends of Science members, Arthur M. Patterson, Albert Jacobs and David Barss, created much of the material on the group’s website. The three also fashioned a global warming policy statement for the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists, which was duly approved in January 2003. The CSPG position  echoed many of the same assertions as the de Freitas article, which was  prominently displayed on the  CSPG website. The article was also one of only two featured on the Talisman website “newsroom” page until 2006.

It appears the connection to APCO Worldwide also came in 2002, at least by the time of the November 2002 APCO Ottawa press event, “Kyoto’s Fatal Flaws Revealed,” sponsored by Imperial Oil and Talisman Energy, among others.The event was organized by APCO consultant Tom Harris, who later produced the Friends’ first major project, the 2005 video Climate Catastrophe Cancelled.

Although the event announcement made no formal mention of Friends of Science, the group and its website were apparently publicized at that event. Two of the Friends’ other “professional contacts,” Tim Ball and Tim Patterson, were present, and the fourth, Ross McKitrick, was on the availability list. And Friends of Science spokesperson Albert Jacobs referred to the event as the “Friends’ first Ottawa press conference”, according to Charles Montgomery’s groundbreaking Globe and Mail expose.

Last year, I communicated with Talisman Energy and Imperial Oil, in search of background information for my independent report (nearing completion) on the funding of Friends of Science via Professor Barry Cooper’s  “climate research” fund at the University of Calgary.

1. What was the value of contracted services supplied to Talisman by APCO Worldwide in the period 2002-2004? What services were provided? Please provide as many details as possible.

2. Was any monetary contribution or other support given directly or indirectly by Talisman to FoS at any time? If so, please give details.

3. Was there any direct or indirect monetary contribution to FoS from any officers of Talisman (including CEO James Buckee)? Again, if so, please provide available details.

4. What was the position and main activities of Tim de Freitas at Talisman in the period 2002-2004? Was the editorship of the CSPG Bulletin considered a part of his duties, or was it “extra-cirricular”?  Was de Freitas given part-time leave, whether paid or unpaid, for this purpose? Please provide all relevant details.

5. Who approved the posting (up until at least March, 2006) on the Talisman website of the article by FoS scientifc advisor Chris de Freitas, entitled “Are observed changes in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere really dangerous?”  and originally published in the June 2002 issue of the Bulletin of Canadian Petroleum Geology? Were officers of Talisman (including CEO Buckee) aware of the posting?

According to official spokesperson Dave Mann, Talisman may have donated “small amounts” to Friends of Science at the request of then-CEO James Buckee, but the total and timing of Talisman donations is not known.

As mentioned in my previous email, if contributions to the friends of science or any group were significant or longstanding, then they would have crossed my desk, but this wasn’t the case.

As you well know, our previous CEO Jim Buckee was skeptical of the science behind global warming. From talking to people who handle Talisman’s donations requests, some small amounts of funding were requested by Jim, in addition, groups knowing Jim’s views could have approached us for support. Similarly we would have considered and funded requests for groups with opposing views.

According to Friends president Douglas Leahey, as related to the National Post’s Peter Foster, the organization was indeed “given money several years ago by Jim Buckee, when he ran Talisman Energy, to produce a video”.

Buckee, who often expressed “skeptic” views of climate change, left the company in 2006. The present official views of Talisman appear to be more in line with the mainstream scientific consensus, as do those of current CEO John Manzoni, judging from the latest corporate responsibility report (p.12-14) and the company’s full response to the Carbon Disclosure Project.

However, Talisman has so far ignored requests for other information, including further details of its donations, its relationship with APCO Worldwide, and the exact role of gologist Tim de Freitas in 2002-2003.

As for Imperial Oil, that company has refused to divulge any information whatsoever on the matter, despite repeated requests.

Of course, the rest is history, although perhaps not as well known as it should be. Friends of Science went on to become  a well-oiled propaganda machine, so to speak, with major projects run by Harris  and Morten Paulsen (ex-Fleishman-Hillard). And after a hiatus brought about by closure of Barry Cooper’s “research” conduit at the University of Calgary, Friends of Science has returned with a vengeance. The run up to Copenhagen has seen a cross-Canada tour from contrarian Lord Chrisopher Monckton, as well as a deceptive national radio ad campaign.

Chris de Freitas has also gone on to bigger, if not better, things. Indeed, the story of the de Freitas brothers and the CSPG Bulletin has a feeling of “deja vu all over again”. And here’s where the story of Friends of Science intersects with the hacked CRU emails.

In the CRU correspondence, there are emails bemoaning the publication of sub-standard papers at the journal Climate Research in 2003 and discussing various responses. Of course, we now know that the scientists had every reason to be alarmed.

It’s almost as if the earlier de Freitas CSPG paper served as a blueprint for what was to come at Climate Research. The formula is simple: find a journal with weak leadership and a complaisant editor, and a policy that enables the selection of sympathetic reviewers. Or even better – get a skeptic installed as editor and get as much anti-AGW pseudo-science published as possible.

That’s what happened at Climate Research, where rogue editor Chris de Freitas greenlighted a series of flawed papers. As related by Chris Mooney, matters came to a head when newly installed editor-in-chief  Hans von Storch wanted to revamp journal policies and run an editorial repudiating a particularly flawed de Freitas-edited article by Sallie Baliunas and Willie Soon (who had reviewed the earlier de Freitas paper). Publisher Otto van Keine refused, and von Storch promptly resigned.  Four other editors followed suit.

The article’s controversial finding:

Across the world, many records reveal that the 20th century is probably not the warmest nor a uniquely extreme climatic period of the last millennium.

But the response in EOS by Mann et al provided a devastating critique of Soon and Baliunas’s methodology, which failed to follow long accepted and elementary principles of paleoclimatology such as the use of decadally resolved (or finer) proxies or accounting for opposing simultaneous regional trends within a larger hemispheric context.

In a telling retrospective, von Storch ruefully said that the situation at the journal turned out to have been more troublesome  than he could have imagined.

The review process had utterly failed; important questions have not been asked, as was documented by a comment in EOS by Mann and several coauthors. (The problem is not whether the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than the 20th century, or if Mann’s hockey stick is realistic; the problem is that the methodological basis for such a conclusion was simply not given.) It was not the first time that the process had failed, but it was the most severe case. However, my authority as Editor-in-Chief did obviously not cover the publication of an editorial spelling out the problem. The publisher declined the publication, and I cancelled my task as Editor-in-Chief immediately on 28 July 2003.

I withdrew also as editor because I learned during the conflict that CR editors used different scales for judging the validity of an article. Some editors considered the problem of the Soon & Baliunas paper as merely a problem of “opinion”, while it was really a problem of severe methodological flaws. Thus, I decided that I had to disconnect from that journal, which I had served proudly for about 10 years. [Emphasis added]

The whole affair points up other worrisome aspects of “skeptic” science. On the scientific front, Mann and his co-authors responded so convincingly to Soon and Baliunas’s nonsense that even a severe “hockey stick” critic like von Storch had to admit that the paper was worthless.

But it all came way too late. For on the public relations and political front, publication of Soon and Baliunas had already proved disastrous. Chris Mooney picks up the story:

Conservative politicians in the U.S., who oppose forced restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions, lionized the study. Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe called it literally paradigm shifting. The Bush administration attempted to edit an Environmental Protection Agency report’s discussion of climate change in order to include reference to the Soon and Baliunas work.

Even more troubling are the principals’ ties to oil industry funded astroturf  groups and think tanks, which appear not to have been well understood at the time. As mentioned above, Chris de Freitas was, and remains, a charter “advisor” to Friends of Science. Surely such an association with an astroturf group tied to the Alberta oil patch from its very inception is an egregious conflict of interest for an editor of a scholarly journal.

As for Sallie Baliunas, she went on to a starring role in the Friends of Science 2005 video, Climate Catstrophe Cancelled, produced and promoted by APCO Worldwide. And she has been on the Friends’ scientific advisory board ever since. Her other affiliations include the Marshall Institute and the Greening Earth Society.

The formula established back in 2002 and 2003 has been refined over the years. A particularly outrageous example involved the return of Chris de Freitas to the peer-reviewed literature. McLean et al 2009, on which de Freitas was “communicating” author, was the subject of a devastating critical comment by Foster et al. , which was submitted more than three months ago, but has yet to be published:

The suggestion in their [McLean et al] conclusions that ENSO may be a major contributor to recent trends in global temperature is not supported by their analysis or any physical theory presented in that paper, especially as the analysis method itself eliminates the influence of trends on the purported correlations.

But, again the most disturbing aspect of this paper was not its flawed science. Rather, it was the alacrity with which the authors co-operated with the intellectually dishonest public relations campaign organized by Tom Harris’s International Climate Science Coalition and its Australian and New Zealand affiliates. The authors even lent their names to a press release that made the outrageous and wholly unsupported claim that their paper demonstrated that “Nature, not Man, is Responsible for Global Warming”. At the same time, information emerged tying the Climate Science Coalition affiliates to industrialist Alan Gibbs, one of New Zealand’s wealthiest industrialists and a major backer and influence on the right-wing ACT New Zealand political party.

Other deeply flawed papers also appearing in Journal of Geophysical Research (Atmospheres) this year include Lindzen and Choi on climate sensitivity, and Klotzbach et al on discrepancies between the surface and tropospheric record.

While there is no evidence yet of a rogue contrarian editor at JGR, as there was at Climate Research, the recent pattern is sufficiently disturbing that scientists like James Annan are calling for more transparency and rigour in the editing and peer review process at the American Geophysical Union family of journals.

Meanwhile, in the topsy-turvy world of “climategate”, scientists who drew attention to shoddy “skeptic” science, and its promotion by dubious interests, are vilified as “gatekeepers” blocking those with whom they disagree, even by George Monbiot of all people. Yet the real villains like Marc Morano and Tom Harris and their fossil fuel industry backers continue to get a free pass in the  mainstream press. That’s the real scandal here.

[Correction: As two readers pointed out very quickly, the title of the original McLean et al 2009 press release was "Nature, not Man, is Responsible for Global Warming" (not the reverse as I mistakenly wrote).]

[N.B. I expect this post to generate some comment. I will endeavour to keep everyone on topic. In particular, discussion of the CRU emails will be limited to the exchanges about the peer-review system. ]

One Response to “Alberta's Talisman Energy, Canada's Climate Change Skeptics & the Stolen CRU E-Mails”

Lyle Courtsal

Thank you for publishing once again on the funding connections between big oil and global warming “skeptics”. We had our very own paid liar here in the US receiving a total of $1,000,000 over a period of years. There’s lies, damn lies, statistics, and corporate funded studies methodologically tainted to produce the outcome desired by the funders. Hey, are the Solomon islands underwater yet?

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