UCS: Anti-Science Advocacy Gone Wild

Published September 19, 2016

Despite the impression given by its name and the image the way in which the media portrays it, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is not a professional scientific organization; in fact, for a $25.00 donation, you can also become a “concerned scientist.”

Though founded in 1969 by faculty, including some scientists, and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, UCS’ mission from the beginning has never been the pursuit of knowledge through scientific discovery. It has instead pursued left-wing advocacy on technology, environmental, and energy issues—regardless of what the scientific data have shown.

Early Anti-War Focus

Growing out of Vietnam War protests on college campuses across the nation in the 1960s, UCS’ founding document states it was formed to “initiate a critical and continuing examination of governmental policy in areas where science and technology are of actual or potential significance” and to “devise means for turning research applications away from the present emphasis on military technology toward the solution of pressing environmental and social problems.”

In 1984, UCS sent popular science writer Carl Sagan on a 15-city tour to bolster Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale and his opposition to President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative. In 1988, UCS opposed research on what’s now called the “stealth bomber,” claiming it would make war with the Soviet Union more likely.

From humble beginnings, UCS has grown to become one of the most well-connected and influential pro-big-government, anti-free-market, left-wing advocacy organizations that has worked tirelessly to spread unscientific alarmism about genetically engineered foods, climate change, and other technology, environmental, and energy issues.

According to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) 990 forms, UCS’ annual reports, and the Foundation Source databank, UCS’ assets in 2014 topped $46.5 million, including $3.6 million in publicly traded securities. Its 2014 income was $26.5 million, and it received $11.1 million in foundation grants in 2013.

Green Foundations Back UCS Advocacy

Amongst its biggest supporters are a number of major left-wing foundations, many of which are featured on the LeftExposed website—a project of The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.

From 1998 through 2014, UCS received 1,294 grants totaling $97.6 million from 237 foundations. Most donors are members of the Environmental Grantmakers Association, a planning and organizing cartel for Big Green foundations. The donors who have given at least $1 million include: The Energy Foundation ($15.3 million), the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation ($6.2 million), John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation ($5.7 million), David and Lucile Packard Foundation ($3.6 million), and the Pew Memorial Trust ($1 million).

These foundations are among the crème de la crème of foundations funding anti-science, pro-regulation campaigns carried out by groups such as UCS. They actively work to limit logging, fossil-fuel development and use, the development and commercialization of genetically modified foods, and commercial fishing. The founders of many of the foundations making grants to UCS would likely be surprised and appalled at how their money is now being used. For instance, the Pew Charitable Trusts—of which the Pew Memorial Trust is a part—were founded by Sun Oil Company founder Joseph Newton Pew. The most active donor to the Pew Memorial Trust was J. Howard Pew, who lived from 1882–1971. Pew believed individual freedom was closely linked to political, religious, and “industrial freedom,” and until shortly after his death the Pew Trusts supported a variety of conservative think tanks.

UCS has worked hard within the past decade to develop an establishment-friendly image, keeping its tax-exempt procedures in accordance with all of the IRS’ rules and developing a reputation as a well-run nonprofit. Charity Navigator, an independent nonprofit organization that evaluates U.S. charities, gave UCS a four-star rating (out of a possible four stars) and an overall score of 91.19 out of 100 for keeping fundraising expenses and salaries low relative to overall income and revenue spent on operations. UCS spent $3.2 million on fundraising, $14.9 million on salaries, and reported spending just $43,135 on lobbying in 2014.

Connected to Political Establishment

UCS has influenced policy almost since its inception, and it has operated as a revolving door for government agencies and congressional offices. UCS employees have given testimony before the U.S. Senate on 453 occasions, despite the fact UCS has conducted little experimental science or independent research; UCS has instead concentrated on producing literature reviews highlighting scientific research that agrees with UCS’ political goals.

Nine UCS employees have served as members of 11 federal advisory committees from 2000 to 2015. One example is David Friedman, who served as a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ panel charged with reviewing and making recommendations concerning the nation’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards in 2007. Friedman was appointed to this important post despite having no advanced or technical degrees and having never served in an academic position. Friedman was also a well-known proponent of increasing fuel-economy standards, and his research on the topic was published almost exclusively by UCS and without peer review.

Friedman later left UCS to join the Obama administration’s Department of Energy as the acting assistant secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

UCS staff has also been involved in producing the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s (USGCRP) draft report. Of the 13 senior scientists who put together USGCRP’s January 2013 draft report, four have ties to the UCS, including the USGCRP Chair Jerry Melillo, a contributing author for UCS; Susanne Moser, a former UCS staff scientist; Andrew Rosenberg, a UCS director; and Donald Wuebbles, an author of UCS reports.

Additionally, Brendan Bell, a senior Washington, DC representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists, joined Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s (D-NJ) staff as a legislative assistant, serving Lautenberg in 2013, the year before Lautenberg died.

Controversial, Hypocritical Campaigns

UCS has recently involved itself in a number of controversial and hypocritical political campaigns. In 2012, UCS attempted to stigmatize General Electric (GE) for its corporate giving. UCS and its analysts used corporate data to “imply that General Electric executives were climate change hypocrites,” because GE has said it believes the “scientific consensus” is humans are causing dangerous climate change while also supporting some think tanks who have written skeptically concerning the causes and consequences of climate change, including the Reason Foundation, which UCS accused of “misrepresenting climate change science.”

The Reason Foundation showed UCS deliberately confused corporate matching funds given as a result of employees’ donations with direct donations made by GE. GE employees donated a total of $325 to the Reason Foundation, a sum GE matched as part of a matching gift program that gave little to no regard to which foundations the employees chose to give to. GE executives had given a total of $497,744 to environmentally conscious organizations, but UCS attacked it for giving the $325 in employee-matching grants to the Reason Foundation.

In 2015, with the publication of Freedom to Bully: How Laws Intended to Free Information Are Used to Harass Researchers, UCS began to call for restrictions on scientific sharing and public oversight of research. UCS’ report laments scientists at public universities, research institutes, and federal agencies are subjected to demands for information under a variety of state open-records laws and the 1967 federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which was designed to hold government agencies accountable by providing the public with access to records from any federal agency.

A foundational statement on UCS’ Center for Science and Democracy (CSD) website declares, “Knowledge is power, and when citizens and communities are denied access to scientific knowledge, they are effectively disempowered. For this reason, transparency, access to information, and the public’s right to know are pivotal issues for science and democracy.”

Seemingly contradicting this statement, Michael Halpern, CSD program manager and author of Freedom to Bully, says open-records laws should be amended to limit information available to the public, including limits on public access to e-mails between scientists, research notes, and primary data, telling the Associated Press, “We don’t want to work in an environment where every keystroke is subject to public records.”

Alarmingly, while UCS is calling for limits on the oversight of and access to scientific research, in 2013, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy appointed Francesca Grifo, who ran UCS’ scientific integrity efforts, to run EPA’s scientific integrity program.

Under Grifo’s management, UCS attempted to suppress scientific dissent. For instance, UCS attacked one congressman who expressed skepticism concerning climate change after he was allowed to serve as member of the House Science Committee. Additionally, UCS’ Sound Science Initiative attempted to discredit the Global Warming Petition Project, a statement signed by more than 31,000 scientists stating humans are not causing a global warming crisis. UCS said the Petition Project is “non-scientific” because it was allegedly motivated by certain “value positions.”

It appears for UCS the only legitimate views are those expressed by scientists who share UCS’ values.

UCS Goes After ‘Climate Deniers’

UCS was a leading force behind the proposed effort by the Justice Department and various Democratic Party state attorneys general to prosecute ExxonMobil, other fossil-fuel companies, researchers, and think tanks who have expressed doubts about the claim humans are driving dangerous climate change. UCS and the attorneys general have argued “climate deniers” could potentially be prosecuted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for allegedly engaging in fraud and criminal conspiracy. RICO was enacted in 1978 to help reduce organized crime, especially crimes related to the mob.

UCS conceived the strategy in conjunction with the three-person Climate Accountability Institute (CAI), which is run from a residence in Snowmass, Colorado. One of the three original CAI directors is climate alarmist Naomi Oreskes, author of Merchants of Doubt, and a new advisor is climate professor and “hockey-stick graph” inventor Michael Mann.

In 2012, in La Jolla, California, UCS and CAI co-sponsored a meeting of environmental activists and organization heads, titled “Establishing Accountability for Climate Change Damages: Lessons from Tobacco Control.”

The conference featured Richard Ayers, co-founder and current trustee of the National Resources Defense Council, who argued, “The RICO Act, which had been used effectively against the tobacco industry, could similarly be used to bring a lawsuit against carbon producers.” According to Ayers, charging fossil-fuel companies under RICO “would effectively change the subject to the campaign of deception practiced by the coal, gas, and oil companies.”

UCS’ efforts bore fruit when 18 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives directly cited UCS in a November 2015 letter requesting a formal investigation into ExxonMobil, among others, stating, “UCS uncovered many internal company documents confirming a massive coordinated campaign of deception conducted by the industry to deceive the public of climate science that even their own scientists confirmed.”

UCS’ efforts to constrain technology, capitalism, and the use of fossil fuels is grounded in leftist ideology, not science. Its efforts merit no media recognition or financial support.

Ron Arnold ([email protected]) is a free-enterprise activist, author, and commentator.