Ross Gelbspan and The Heat is On

Every year the U.S. government spends some $2 billion in tax dollars on global warming and related research. Foreign governments spend billions more. Many millions are frittered away by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and assorted international bureaucrats. Here in Washington, D.C., a recent survey of just the 12 largest environmental pressure groups found that they had a combined annual financial clout of over $600 million (and there are hundreds of environmental groups).

If all of that money, and all of that manpower, can't make a case for global warming, maybe there's a reason. Maybe there isn't much of a case to be made. (See Science, May 16, 1997, "Greenhouse Forecasting Still Cloudy," by Richard Kerr.)

Still, environmental activists and their allies in government think they can keep their agenda on course by taking frequent pot-shots at scientists who insist on pointing out the obvious. Given the effectiveness of The Science & Environmental Policy Project in spearheading a veritable chorus of dissent, it's not surprising that SEPP takes more than its share of the flak.

This spring, SEPP and its president, Dr. S. Fred Singer, again came under attack--this time in The Heat is On, a book full of specious science and equally specious conspiracy theories by retired Boston Globe journalist Ross Gelbspan. The allegations, at this point, are a bit shopworn, but this time at least the author is interesting.

Mr. Gelbspan, for example, claims to be a "Pulitzer Prize winning journalist." He is not. Press releases distributed by Fenton Communications (the PR firm that sold "60 Minutes" on an unfounded Alar scare), Greenpeace, Sustainable Minnesota, and other groups, newsletters such as Environment Writer, which is distributed to journalists, and Gelbspan's own biography, refer to him as a "Pulitzer Prize winning journalist" for a series of articles that appeared in the Boston Globe in 1984. The Pulitzer Prize Board, however, does not list him as a winner for any year or at any newspaper, and an Internet search of previous winners of Pulitzer Prizes fails to turn up his name. We contacted Ross Gelbspan by telephone and asked if he could fax a copy of his Pulitzer Prize citation. He admitted he has none.

Mr. Gelbspan now downplays an earlier book he wrote, which has developed a very curious following. In 1991, Gelbspan published Break-ins, Death Threats and the FBI: The Covert War Against the Central America Movement. It is apparently his only other book. Break-ins is not mentioned on the bookjacket of his latest work, nor is it mentioned in the press releases by Fenton Communications, Greenpeace, and the other groups. You can find it, however, all over the Internet, where it's listed alongside publications with titles like "The G-Men Wore Jack Boots," "The CIA on Campus," "Disinformation as News Fit To Print," and articles that offer advice on what to do if you think you're under surveillance.

A library search located a book review by Gerry O'Sullivan of Break-ins, Death Threats and the FBI, which appeared in The Humanist (Vol. 51, Nov/Dec 1991, pp. 33-34). Here is the complete text of the abstract of that review, as it appeared on-line.

"Ross Gelbspan's book Break-ins, Death Threats, and the FBI:The Covert War Against the Central America Movement, is a must-read for anyone who is worried about civil liberties in America. Gelbspan, who spent more than 6 years investigating Reagan-era harassment of political dissidents, concludes that the FBI and the CIA, working with a network of paid informants and right-wing think tanks, pursued an illegal and sustained assault against people who were critical of U.S. foreign policy. Claiming that it was combating terrorism, the FBI opened some 10,000 investigations of U.S. citizens engaged in peaceful protest, and it attacked activist organizations like the U.S. Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador. The author asserts that during the Reagan years there was a virtual media blackout on the subject of domestic political surveillance. He is now convinced that the FBI and the CIA are seeking new enemies, most likely in the environmental movement."

Those who have read both of Gelbspan's books will note that the conspiracy plot is virtually identical, only the names of the organizations have been changed.

The most glaring problem with Gelbspan's latest work is that in spinning his tale he failed to conduct even the most basic research. He rehashes all of the tired old allegations involving giant oil corporations, mysterious Middle East agents, grassroots property-rights groups, and coal conglomerates--and then, in hushed tones, exposes as the ringleaders a half-dozen college professors.

(We have yet to catch a glimpse of Gelbspan here at SEPP. In gathering material for his book, he never visited our offices, spoke to no one on staff, and never contacted Fred Singer for an interview to cover point-by-point the claims he later made in his book. He has had no contact with the Project whatsoever. But hey, why spoil a good story?)

The facts, of course, are not nearly so exciting. The Science & Environmental Policy Project began in 1990 as a research effort for a book Dr. Singer was writing on global warming. The Project was initially underwritten by a $55,000 grant from the Bradley Foundation, and over the years, support for the Project has come from a half dozen other foundations. SEPP has performed a limited amount of contractual research for the Commonwealth of Virginia and non-profit organizations. Support from corporations and individuals has been minor. Unlike many environmental activist organizations, the Project receives no funding from the Environmental Protection Agency or other federal agencies.

Though still a small Project (annual budget in the $100,000 range) SEPP accomplishes a great deal because its officers, Board members, and cooperating scientists work pro bono and receive no compensation; many on staff are college research fellows, and we make every penny count.

Gelbspan writes that Fred Singer "stands out for being consistently forthcoming about his funding by large oil interests" and that he did not apologize "for his funding from Exxon, Shell, ARCO, Unocal, and Sun Oil."

No need to apologize. Dr. Singer consulted for those companies during the oil crisis 15-20 years ago, a period when he was writing articles on energy pricing and pulling material together for a book (Free Market Energy, published in 1984). These five oil companies appear on Singer's résumé under consulting/energy crisis. None of them has given any financial support to the Project, save one. For the past three years, Exxon has sent an annual, no-strings, $5,000 donation. We are happy to get it.

Gelbspan mentions a $95,000 SEPP funding proposal. Non-profits make many funding proposals--to individuals, corporations, and foundations. Most--like that one--are turned down, so we don't quite understand his point.

Finally, Gelbspan tries to revive that dead horse about funding from the Unification Church, something, he says darkly, Fred Singer has "never bothered to deny." In fact, The Science & Environmental Policy Project has never been funded by the Unification Church.

The basis for this old rumor, apparently, is that Dr. Singer served for several years on the advisory board of The World & I magazine, a general interest monthly published by the Washington Times Corporation and sold at Crown Books and other stores. A lot of important people have written by-lined articles for The World & I; among them Bill Clinton (Nov. 1992), historian Arthur Schlesinger (April 1992), abortion-rights activist Kate Michelman (Oct. 1989), novelist Umberto Eco (Dec. 1988), New York City Mayor Ed Koch (Sept. 1987), and Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), to name a few. Dr. Singer's only compensation, however, was a nice luncheon and a free subscription to the magazine (retail value $110 a year).

Along with Prof. F. Sherwood Rowland (of CFC/ozone fame), Prof. Ralph Cicerone of the University of California-Irvine, Dr. William Kellogg of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and hundreds of other scientists, Dr. Singer occasionally, over the years, presented scientific papers at the annual meeting of the International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences (ICUS), which is underwritten by the Unification Church. At the conclusion of three of those meetings, Dr. Singer was asked to edit the scientific papers into a book and was paid a small fee to do so. The result was Global Climate Change (1989), The Ocean in Human Affairs (1990), and The Universe and Its Origins (1990). The papers presented at the ICUS meeting by Prof. Rowland, Dr. Kellogg, and Prof. Cicerone appear in Global Climate Change as Chapter 7, Chapter 2, and Chapter 6 respectively.

We might mention here that in 1990, then-Senator Albert Gore spoke at the annual American Leadership Conference--which also receives support from the Unification Church--and accepted an honorarium. (Is that "funding"?) But perhaps that's beside the point. The Washington Times and The World & I are well respected publications. The International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences brought together top-rated scientists with widely divergent points of view. And in fairness to members of the Unification Church, their beliefs and religious rituals--to an outsider--appear no more odd than those of Catholicism, Mormonism, Christian Science (which also produces an outstanding newspaper), and many other faiths.

What Ross Gelbspan has confirmed in The Heat is On is not some multimillion-dollar global conspiracy but his ignorance of the issues and the inadequacy of his own skills as a reporter.

See also Industry and Environment for information on who is receiving the proceeds of Mr. Gelbspan's multi-million dollar global conspiracy, and Climate Scientists Warn That Actions Based On Unverified Models Is Premature.

For more information, see Pulitzer Prize Board Nixes Gelbspan Claim.



Go to the Controversies Index

Home ¦ Press Releases ¦ Key Issues ¦