Balneus

Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Funding for Marohasy’s war on Nature should be declared

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-01-09


Jennifer Marohasy is metaphorically at war against Nature (see their Earth and Environment News), the highly respected scientific publishing house, not just the capital-N spelling commonly used by writers and speakers with Hellenistic tendencies, who capitalize the "N" in the same way theists capitalize the "G" in god.

If anyone reading this knows Marohasy (who was probably employed by the Institute of Public Affairs as an expert in controlling pests, the way the IPA views the bulk of the scientific community), could they please ask her to provide an answer to the following:

When has a minority view, funded by secretive backers, ever been proven correct beyond reasonable doubt when attempting to rebut years of articles published by the Nature Group?

It’s really that simple.  Marohasy as the smiling pleasant face of the IPA reminds me very much as the smiling pleasant faces of Big Pharma, selectively quoting small-picture data and spinning it, while attempting to bury other evidence… although Big Pharma is much more effective because it funds studies and then will not allow publication of results that question the utility of their products.

In the scientific community, especially for pharmacology, years of dodgy papers have forced the practice of authors to declare personal interests and funding sources in each paper.

She’ll probably respond "But those are academic journals, not journalism with a general public audience".

She would be right in a narrow sense, but not in the wider sense.  Has she looked at a newspaper recently, particularly the op-ed pieces in the opinion and business pages of reputable newspapers?  For example, you’ll see Kohler’s articles declaring his commercial interest in The Eureka Report, which provides paid-for advice to punters investors.

The IPA, her employer, will not declare its funding sources.  The declarations in editorial pages under Marohasy’s pieces merely state her personal funding, which is proximal, and cannot be traced back to the real funders.

Arguing that the "I work for the IPA" is about as useful in assessing root motivations as saying that a pedestrian died by being hit by a car, and not mentioning that the driver had a blood alcohol level six times the legal limit and the pedestrian was correctly using traffic lights.

I’ll admit that for less important issues, and as a private individual, Marohasy’s funding would not need to be declared.

If she was working for an organization that was not a good lobbyist (if only by proxy, I’m sure IPA backers take her articles to Canberra and won’t take articles from the Nature Group), then her source of funding would not need to be declared.

It’s worth having a quick look at the legal page for her site.  Despite the "My home page" bit in her banner (an interesting bit of perception management, her profession since 1997), the legal page is more detailed than found on many sites of large organizations.  Weird – or not.

It’s also jarring that her "About" page uses first person singular pronouns, while the legal pages use first person plural.

As the saying goes, "Who is this ‘we‘ Kemo-Sabe?"

And look at the name of the organization she helped establish: Australian Environmental Foundation.  I am reminded of many similarities again with Big Pharma, that create organizations and websites that discuss (and often promote) illnesses when there is commercial benefit to be had, while purporting to be grass-roots sites (except in very very small print in an obscure web page unlikely to be read).

I do not doubt her scientific credentials, nor her ability to marshall the data she needs to support her views, nor her skills as wordsmith, nor her ability to understand things outside her formal experience in biological control (hmmm…. filling biological niches to deny resources is one way of control, as is filling up discussion space as a means of social control).

She certainly has the right to employment as a perception manager.

She certainly has the right to express her opinion both in and outside her areas of greatest expertise, although informed by the way she learnt to think when an academic (I do it all the time).

But if making comments about politics, I’d declare any interests (there are none) by membership in a political party.  If discussing economics, I’d declare any financial interests (there are none).

So surely, to improve the credibility of her opinion in something she feels strongly about, she should push the IPA she works for to declare its funding sources.

The benefits are far wider than improvements to her own credibility – disclosure by the IPA would be a major win for the prospects of social and economic policy in Australia as well.


Notes

You can view more notes on, and quotes from, Jennifer Marohasy at Wikipedia and SourceWatch

It’s worth looking at the difference between the IPA’s About page which includes funding, and a similar page for another pro-private-enterprise thinking, the Centre for Independent Studies.

From the IPA comes a single line:

The IPA is funded by individual memberships and subscriptions, as well as philanthropic and corporate donors.

The CIS is much more forthcoming, and explicitly avers that funders do not direct their work:

CIS is funded by private sector donations-from individuals, companies and charitable trusts – as well as subscriptions and books sales.  ‘Independent’ in our name means:

  • we are politically non-partisan
  • our research is not directed by our supporters

There is a huge difference between Marohasy’s "blog" and that of Andrew Norton of the CIS, (indeed why I disagree with his free-enterprise ideals, and many of his conclusions, Andrew’s posts should never be dismissed out of hand).

The same arguments for disclosure apply to lefty think tanks, not just the righties.

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4 Responses to “Funding for Marohasy’s war on Nature should be declared”

  1. Grendel said

    The Australian Environmental Foundation has an annual conference in 2006 they listed these sponsors:
    http://www.aefweb.info/display/conference_sponsors.html

    and in 2007:
    http://www.aefweb.info/display/conference_sponsors_2007.html

    The promotional material for 2008 did not list sponsors.

  2. Dave Bath said

    Grendel…. thanks…. and the sponsors are EXACTLY the type who I’d expect. (How many times have people complained about the waste of water irrigating cotton? LOTS. As for Monsanto and Bayer…. Oh dear, the similarities with Big Pharma are closer than I thought.

    AEF is not the IPA though.

    (And don’t know why Askimet put you in the spam bucket….)

  3. Grendel said

    Posting links I’d guess. . .

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