“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.
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!