William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

The Economic Fallacy, Greenpeace, David Suzuki, And Global Warming

“You can’t believe what that guy says. He research was funded by Greenpeace!”

The person uttering this sentence has committed the economic fallacy, which is the belief that the truth of research depends on how that research was obtained or who funded it. More specifically, the economic fallacy says results are false because they were obtained using money from a source known or suspected to be slimy, or is otherwise just plain unlikeable.

Greenpeace and its funders have repeatedly shown themselves to be unlikeable. Greenpeace’s press releases and fund-raising literature, for example, are filled with obfuscations, prevarications, wild speculations, half truths, and worse. Extremely unlikeable behavior. But that does not mean that the research Greenpeace releases is automatically false.

Nor does it imply that the research of the many scientists or organizations Greenpeace funds and supports is automatically false. To say that it is to commit the economic fallacy.

The economic fallacy also rears its illogical head if we consider that Greenpeace’s results must be false because they receive funding from Big Oil and other large corporations. Because we dislike these corporations does not mean that Greenpeace’s results, or again the results from the groups and scientists Greenpeace itself funds, are false because of this funding.

Greenpeace also receives a lot of money from actors and other glitterati, plus a bundle from people and organizations of the far, far left. Again, just because this is so does not mean that was Greenpeace says is false.

The tiresome truth is that each claim Greenpeace or its sponsored scientists and organizations makes must be checked for its veracity. Each and every one, each and every time. None can be dismissed because we dislike the source of funding.

Now just think: if the economic fallacy were not a fallacy, then how could we trust any results? After all, each scientist is funded by someone (even if that someone is himself). How can we be sure that this someone did not dictate the results? All humans are fallible and disagreeable in some way, so if there were no economic fallacy, we could claim any new result is false just by identifying what is disagreeable about someone. And that, dear readers, would take very little effort. David Suzuki

All this is so elementary that it is scarcely worth writing about. Yet despite its trivial nature, we still find many people who should know better committing the economic fallacy. And not just committing it, but trumpeting it as if they had just discovered a shocking secret. What can we say about such people except that they let their desires overwhelm their reason?

David Suzuki is one of these people and Greenpeace itself is one of these organizations. Greenpeace commits the economic fallacy so often that you would think they invented it. It is also lucrative for them: they employ it routinely for innuendo-based fund raising.

But finding David Suzuki among the philosophically ignorant is more of a surprise. He was, once, a legitimate professor, in the genetics department of the University of British Columbia. No doubt the sources of funding for his research were impeccable (no drug companies, Davey, old son?).

He has since retired and transmogrified himself into an “environmental activist“, and started his own foundation…which, you will be pleased to learn, accepts donations. Sure, these are used to produce only what is true; right, Dave?

Anyway, yesterday our man, or a coterie of his flacks, managed to get a piece in CNews (at Canoe.ca), which, using information from Greenpeace, “accused” Harvard’s Willie Soon of accepting money from, inter alia, the Koch brothers and Exxon.

Willie Soon is a physicist who investigates the interaction of the sun with the Earth’s climate. Just like other climatologists1, Soon’s research is funded externally. Just as is Greenpeace’s and Suzuki’s. Thus, Suzuki’s big revelation is that both he, Soon, and Greenpeace have accepted funding from outside sources.

This is not exactly a stop-the-presses moment; but that Suzuki’s thinks it is fills me with sadness. To see a once-bright man sink so low! Yet still worse was to come. Not only did old Suzuki not attempt to refute any of Willie’s work (that he did not is what makes his argument the economic fallacy), but Suzuki went on to prove that he (Suzuki) is not only philosophically, but also linguistically challenged.

Yes, dear readers, Suzuki (and his flacks) threw the D-word at Willie. They called him a denier. This word used in the context of global warming does not take its plain English meaning. Instead, its definition is more akin to disagreer, i.e. one who disagrees with the speaker. That is, Suzuki discovered that Soon disagreed with him about climate change and (stupidly) called him a “denier.”

Such is the depth of ignorance to which debates over global warming have sunk. Sorry to hear about your diminution in reasoning power, David. Good luck with your fund raising.


1Lest you find the temptation to commit the economic fallacy yourself, let me inform you that I have not received any money ever for my work in climatology and meteorology—except for the graduate stipend I received while a student at Cornell and a one-time speaking fee four years ago to repeat a talk that I gave at an annual American Meteorology Society meeting. All papers and other work since graduate school have been paid for out of my own pocket. Nor have I received any money ever from any oil company or affiliate, or any company related to Koch Industries. Why, I might just be the most economically pure researcher in the entire world!


  1. Research is not corrupted because its funding comes from a corrupt source, but money is always has the potential to be corrupting.

    I had a professor who did some research that a corporate sponsor paid for. When he came to a result that did not support the funder’s PoV, they managed to keep the results from seeing the light of day.

    More likely though, is that the grantor will shop for his scientist. They give money to people who’s previous research supports the grantor’s prejudice. This also gives research institutions an incentive to publish research that will not offend its donors, or even better will draw larger grants from existing sources.

    The process is already politicized. It doesn’t matter if the money comes from a corporation, an NGO, a “charitable” institution or the Federal Government, there is a taint.

  2. Is “You can’t believe what that guy says. He research was funded by Greenpeace!” truly a fallacy? My belief in what you or anyone else says has nothing to do with the truthfulness of what is said. If I don’t believe it means I give it little weight. It doesn’t mean the words are lies.

    Unfortunately, when Greenpeace et al. use the Big Oil slur, they are right. Big Oil isn’t likely to fund anyone who will say hurtful things about Big Oil. However, it’s a two-way street. The same view can be applied to Greenpeace. In a court of law this would be evidence supporting (or not) credibility or, at the least, objectivity.

    Back on the farm we had a saying: if you roll around with pigs you tend to smell like them — except we didn’t use the word “pigs”.

  3. “He was, once, a legitimate professor.” Well, wasn’t Hansen once a legitimate astronomer before he got into the chicken little business? I have never understood why anybody would try to calculate the average global temperature. Temperature is an intensive parameter and it does not scale, so how can you average it?

  4. Person of Choler

    14 July 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Mark Twain had something, perhaps tangential, to say on the subject of beliefs and funding (or in this case, corn pone as a proxy for funding).


  5. GoneWithTheWind

    14 July 2011 at 1:08 pm

    The “Fallacy fallacy” is that by finding a possible “fallacy” we “prove” the statement incorrect. It may be incorrect with or without the fallacy. It may be correct with or without the fallacy. The burden of proof should be no higher or lower because someone can cite a fallacy. I do agree it is a valid arguement to make but I don’t agree it is either “proof” or conclusive. Once you state that there is a fallacy you must still prove it is true not accept it as gospel. Yes I have used the fallacy arguement in debates but I always knew I was not on solid ground and depended on my opponents acquiescence to win the arguement.

  6. If i was a big-oil funder, I would fund research on anything that might be threatening to the industry, with a view toward the possibility that more research might identify, qualify and quantify the threat sooner and thus provide more time to figure out what to do about it.

    It seems so naive for the warmists not to notice that some of the energy companies have done exactly that.

  7. “Why, I might just be the most economically pure researcher in the entire world!”

    Let me see if I can turn the Economic Fallacy inside out: “Why should we listen to some guy who can’t get anyone to bankroll his cockamamie ideas?”

    I dunno about you, but I’d rather be Paid than Pure.

  8. Every time I hear someone saying “You can’t trust this research because X funded it,” I can’t help but think “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”

    If the first thing you think is that someone’s research is tainted due to their source of funding, what does that say about you?

  9. http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=290513

    Feb 7, 2008

    “David Suzuki has called for political leaders to be thrown in jail for ignoring the science behind climate change.

    At a Montreal conference last Thursday, the prominent scientist, broadcaster and Order of Canada recipient exhorted a packed house of 600 to hold politicians legally accountable for what he called an intergenerational crime. Though a spokesman said yesterday the call for imprisonment was not meant to be taken literally, Dr. Suzuki reportedly made similar remarks in an address at the University of Toronto last month.”

    Suzuki spent part of his early years in a BC internment camp for Japanese during WWII.

    I think he just wants revenge.

  10. Its too bad this data is not current, but you get an idea of where Greenpeaces money come from …

    Guilt ridden capitalists foundations, not individuals.

    Turner Foundation $1,390,000.00 1996 – 2001
    Rockefeller Brothers Fund $1,080,000.00 1997 – 2005
    John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundati $841,365.00 1997 – 2002
    V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation $456,000.00 2002 – 2003
    David & Lucile Packard Foundation $450,000.00 2000 – 2000
    Blue Moon Fund $370,000. 1998 – 2002
    Trust for Mutual Understanding $316,000.00 1995 – 2004
    Marisla Foundation $250,000.00 2001 – 2004
    Charles Stewart Mott Foundation $249,000.00 1999 – 2002
    Wallace Global Fund $245,000.00 1999 – 2002
    Wilburforce Foundation $226,900.00 2000 – 2005
    Scherman Foundation $200,000.00 2001 – 2005
    Lannan Foundation $200,000.00 1995 – 1996
    Joyce Foundation $200,000.00 1993 – 1997
    Nathan Cummings Foundation $152,000.00 1990 – 2003
    Columbia Foundation $150,000.00 2000 – 2001
    Rex Foundation $116,796.00 1984 – 1995
    Firedoll Foundation $115,000.00 2000 – 2005
    Panaphil Foundation $115,000.00 1998 – 2005
    Rockefeller Family Fund $115,000.00 2002 – 2005


  11. Let me say that I stand to gain financially if large companies subscribe to the Global Warming doctrine, yet that does not inhibit me from being a sceptic.

  12. In a perfect world with infinite time and money, this would be a useful insight.

    But here, we don’t have the time or money to replicate or even evaluate every ‘scientific’ study.

    We need to take the veracity of most science on faith, on the trust of the methods and people doing the science.

    So, whilst it is correct to say that the source of funding does not make a study wrong, it is more correct to understand the statements as saying the study is not trust-worthy.

  13. While it might be wrong to judge science by who funds it it isn’t wrong to judge a source by prior record. Based on their prior record I judge anything Greenpeace says to be false until proven otherwise. And lacking the near infinite time that would be required to carefully research the misinformation that spews out of progressive outfits of their sort it is easier to just ignore them once you figure out which organizations and people are of the progressive bent. Lying is considered a legitimate tactic in their religion/worldview.

  14. Noblesse Oblige

    15 July 2011 at 12:28 am

    Sorry but we are all Bayesians now. P(Valid Research Result|Greenpeace funding) << 1. Not zero, but << 1.

  15. He was, once, a legitimate professor, in the genetics department of the University of British Columbia. [...] He has since retired and transmogrified himself into an “environmental activist“

    Ignoring the “legitimate” qualifier, he was a professor at UBC from 1963 to his retirement in 2001 and he still is Professor Emeritus there.

    The part that needs correcting is any hint that he only became an environmental activist after he retired. He was a leading environmental activist all the way back to when he was a hippy in the sixties. His biographical movie “Force of Nature” makes the point that his whole career path was determined by the environment, since he loved to play in the swamps since he was an outcast. Because of Pearl Harbor, he grew up in an Japanese internment camp. He did not speak Japanese. The parts of this movie about Suzuki’s history are fascinating, no matter what you might think of Suzuki’s activist causes.

    One thing you can be sure of is that nobody is paying Suzuki to say things he doesn’t believe. He totally believes them. I do not understand how smart people can be so wrong sometimes, so unwilling to doubt their beliefs, to be skeptical. Which comes back to the point about being a legitimate prof. When did he stop being a legitimate scientist?

  16. “One thing you can be sure of is that nobody is paying Suzuki to say things he doesn’t believe.”

    I don’t think you can be sure of that. I’ll go as far as admitting his “environmental saviour” routine has been very lucrative for him and he’s been doing it a long time.

    His recent attack on natural gas shows him to be less than honest.

  17. I have more doubts about the pope’s faith than Suzuki’s, but “be sure of” is an exaggeration if taken literally. His stance has been very lucrative in terms of fame also, and fame provides even more influence. I didn’t say anything about honesty, other than doubts about his intellectual/scientific honesty. No doubt (?) he thinks the cause is more important.

  18. Grassrootbeer

    15 July 2011 at 3:00 pm

    I feel that you’re not presenting the funding conflict accurately. The complaint here isn’t that “Exxon and Southern Co are bad, so getting money from them to do research means it’s wrong.”

    Rather, here’s the conflict of interest (points lifted from Greenpeace’s study):

    –For Dr. Soon to ONLY recieve new grants from notably massive oil and coal companies since 2002, whose own internal memos have shown a coordinated effort to reposition global warming as theory and not fact in the public mind, and

    –For Dr. Soon’s results to be heavily criticized by climate scientists who actually study climate in the field and actually have relevant credentials and actually pass the peer-review process when publishing their findings, all of which Dr. Soon does not, and

    –For Dr. Soon’s conclusions to then match the business-motivated opinions of his research financiers, and

    –For Dr. Soon to email PR people and strategists at Exxon to discuss ways to undermine an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report before its release.

    Therefore, I would say Mr. Suzuki didn’t respond to Soon’s flawed findings because Soon’s opinions are irrelevant. Actual climate scientists at RealClimate recently pointed out that Soon knowingly used flawed methodology in his industry-funded study that just happened to find no threat posed to polar bears by rising average global temperatures, against the conclusions of far more credible research:

    And a couple errors in your blog:

    –Willie Soon is a not a physicist, but an astrophysicist. Either way, his training and specialization are not in the climate field, and you can find communication between Soon and other scientists who reviewed his material for potential publication and responded with numerous specific reasons why his work did not merit publishing.

    –He isn’t “Harvard’s” but works for Smithsonian in a building on Harvard’s campus. A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed written by Soon and another recognized industry consultant/apologist (Paul Driessen) did not make this clear in any way.

  19. The economic fallacy is another name for discrediting the work because of the special interests prejudiced of the source of funding, i.e. Grassrootsbeer’s points about Dr. Soon’s research. Obviously the point made is that he couldn’t get support from acceptable sources of grants because he is not a climate scientist. Another side of the economic fallacy is that governmental sources of research dollars are the only trustworthy sources and money from the business world is tainted. I have my own opinion about the trustworthiness of governmental sources that fund climate research. Are the processes used to select awardees unbiased? Are review committees balanced? If the government is promoting an idea to tax carbon would they support research that negates the effect of CO2 on the climate? The fallacy with the use of an economic criterion to justify the credibility of the research results is that there no proof that a funding source is unbiased because the activities associated with evaluating a proposal for research support is performed by people who have their own self interests in mind. Thus we have two camps who believe that the other side’s research is tainted by who funds it because they believe our sources are unquestionable honest. When I was a child we called this “name calling” Where are the adults?

  20. Briggs

    15 July 2011 at 5:40 pm


    So we should be suspicious of all Greenpeace does and says because of their dicey and ideological funding sources?

    Not only have you failed to demonstrate that Willie’s work is flawed, thus buying into the economic fallacy fully, but you’ve invoked, as icing on the cake, the appeal to authority fallacy, by implying his work is false because he is a mere “astrophysicist” and not a “physicist” (a distinction only a pedant could love) nor a genuine “climatologist.”

    Which leads me to ask: are you a genuine trained climatologist? If so, then I invite you to show (via a guest post if you like) how Willie’s work is false. If not, then I ask you to abide by your own rules and keep quiet.

  21. 1) I think its good Soon is not a climate scientist, because climate scientists have been irredeemably corrupted by the billions of money thrown at them and their stupid ideas by corrupt governments.

    2) RealClimate are notorious for lying about climate, they are funded by NASA employees blogging on company time, and they censor anyone who does not worship at there church of AGW.

    3) IPCC publishes Greenpeace propaganda reports despite Greenpeace Germany (the mother company) actually selling state subsidized electricity to companies and homes.



    “The [IPCC] full report shows where the number came from, and that’s why its publication sparked a fuss. One of the report’s 11 chapters is an analysis of 164 previously published scenarios looking at the energy mix over the next four decades under various assumptions. The scenario which had the highest penetration of renewables put the total at 77% by 2050. The research involved was done by the German space-research institute, which has long worked on energy analysis, too; its experts were commissioned to do the work by Greenpeace, and a Greenpeace staff member with an engineering background, Sven Teske, was the scenario’s lead author when it was published in a couple of different forms in peer-reviewed journals. It has also been published, in bigger, glossier format, by Greenpeace itself under the grating and uncharacteristically fence-sitting title Energy [R]evolution.”

  22. Based on their prior record I judge anything Greenpeace says to be false until proven otherwise. And lacking the near infinite time that would be required to carefully research the misinformation that spews out of progressive outfits of their sort it is easier to just ignore them once you figure out which organizations and people are of the progressive bent.

    Or to put it another way, a lie is halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get it’s boots on.

  23. William,

    I was about to post a response to grassrootsbeer, when I read your adequate response. Obviously, someone who cites Realclimate as the epitome of climate science is showing his true colors. As a beer drinker, I am nevertheless intrigued by his choice of username.

Comments are closed.

© 2014 William M. Briggs

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑