Undercover Environmentalists Invade Science Conference

Published February 13, 2014

The annual convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) started today in Chicago and runs through February 17.

In addition to reinforcing the public’s widely held belief that scientists are unable to obtain dates for Valentine’s Day, a more insidious aspect of the conference is the presence of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), an environmental activist group masquerading as a legitimate (if loveless) scientific organization.

With all due apologies for the good-natured joke directed at the scientists attending the event, the presence of the UCS is no laughing matter.

A natural reaction upon seeing this group is a sponsor for the event may be “so what?”—but there are serious, negative implications to having a group at the conference whose agenda is more focused on soundbites than sound science.

Attending the conference lends them credibility by being seen at an event where real science is occurring. The phrase “guilt by association” can be turned on its head, and having this organization present at a legitimate scientific conference is akin to reputation-laundering.

Here are just a few examples where the UCS has failed to live up to its self-proclaimed “rigorous and independent” scientific standards, resulting in misleading and mischaracterized “science” better suited for fundraisers than fact sheets:

Hydraulic fracturing, aka “fracking”: The UCS knows fracking can be done in an environmentally responsible manner, which is why President Obama implicitly endorsed the game-changing technology in his State of the Union address, much to the ire of environmental groups. The problem is, the UCS donor base is so adamantly opposed to fossil fuels they refuse to endorse any use of them, even though natural gas—not wind and not solar—is a key reason the United States has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions to their lowest levels since 1994.

One UCS smear tactic against fracking is to imply fracking is unregulated and is dangerous to water supplies because it is exempt from provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. UCS doesn’t acknowledge the reason why fracking is exempt. The Clean Drinking Water Act was created to protect the water we drink, but fracking occurs thousands of feet below the surface (the average fracked well is 7,500 feet deep) and thousands of feet below the deepest sources of fresh water. A U.S. Department of Energy study confirms the chemical additives used in hydraulic fracturing stay thousands of feet underground and pose no threat at all to drinking water.

Global warming: Even though most of the country is in the clutches of the second “Arctic Vortex” of this winter season and there has not been any significant warming of the Earth for the past 16 years, the UCS continues to claim there is a “scientific consensus” a manmade global warming catastrophe is happening. The claim of a scientific consensus is blatantly untrue. A new report by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change Reconsidered 2- Physical Science (published by The Heartland Institute, where I work), shows current temperatures are well within the range of natural variation. Unlike reports by the global warming alarmists, CCR-2 bases its findings on observed evidence, not flawed computer models.

Antibiotics in agriculture: UCS caught the attention of the nation when it released its report Hogging It, a supposed exposé on the “overuse” of antibiotics in agriculture. The report was not based on “rigorous scientific analysis” but instead was an estimate, and not a very good one at that. A study by Kansas State University, using U.S. Department of Agriculture data, stated as little as 1.6 million pounds of antibiotics are used to produce pork, starkly less than the 10.3 million pounds the UCS claimed are used to put food on our tables.

A closer look at the UCS shows its claims of dedication to “rigorous and independent” science are false boasts. UCS is seemingly willing to put funds before facts whenever it’s convenient. The American Association for the Advancement of Science should disassociate itself from UCS lest it undermine its own credibility.

[Listen to Heartland’s Issac Orr and Jim Lakely discuss this topic in a recent edition of the Heartland Daily Podcast in the player above. Subscribe to the podcast at iTunes.]