Matt Ridley Caught up in Dollars-for-Denial Scandal

Matt Ridley has become embroiled in the dollars-for-denial scandal currently engulfing a British climate denial think tank with his position on the advisory board of Sense About Science looking increasingly tenuous.

The Conservative member of the House of Lords and coal producer published articles in British and American publications ahead of the Paris climate negotiations aimed at challenging the science of climate change.

Viscount Ridley supported his arguments in at least one of these articles by referencing publications by Lord Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

He claimed the report had been “thoroughly peer reviewed” - the Times later ran a clarification after first describing the same report as “not peer reviewed.”

But an investigation by Greenpeace UK revealed that one member of the GWPF academic advisory council was willing to use the same committee to “peer review” a report praising carbon dioxide which he would write on behalf of a Middle Eastern oil company.

Strict Guidance

The revelation is hugely embarrassing for Ridley, who sits on the GWPF advisory council.

He is also currently an academic advisor for the UK charity Sense About Science, which has very strict guidance for any publication claiming to peer review its literature.

Max Goldman, from Sense About Science, told DeSmog UK that Ridley did not have a decision making role at the charity and said the future of the advisory board was already under review.

He said: “Matt was originally made a member due to his writing on biology and genetics, and he has not been involved in any of our work that touches on climate science, such as Making Sense of Uncertainty

I can't imagine we'd review his membership because it's not really a formal thing. Our board raised the role of the advisory council at a recent meeting so we will probably be reviewing its role and existence early next year.”

Asked whether he believed the GWPF had abused its own peer review process, he added: “The question implies that the GWPF have a standard independent peer review process to abuse. From what you say it doesn’t sound like they have that kind of process in the first place.

I’m not sure it's our place to advise them, but we encourage everyone to learn how peer review actually works. And we're always in favour of showing your workings and keeping the public informed.”

Lord Lawson, the founder and chairman of the GWPF, has defended claims that the GWPF peer reviews its reports.

Academic Magazines

He told the Independent his think tank has a “very thorough peer review process … in many ways better than the standard peer review system in most academic magazines.”

Dr Benny Peiser, a former sports scientist and director of the GWPF, tried to attack the peer review process of respected publications.

Peer review cannot only happen through peer-reviewed journals,” he said. “There have been reports of serious problems within the conventional peer-review process.”

Ridley penned an article for the Times newspaper in October this year based on a publication titled Carbon Dioxide - the Good News drafted at his behest and published by the GWPF.

He told his readers: “The report was thoroughly peer-reviewed, as was almost all the voluminous literature it cited (Full disclosure: I helped edit the report).”

This assertion appears to be at variance with comments made by Professor William Happer to the Greenpeace investigator, who he believed to be a representative of a Middle Eastern oil company looking to pay him to write a pro-carbon dioxide report.

Happer agreed to produce the document - asking for his fee to go to the CO2 Coalition in the US - and offered to get it “peer reviewed” by his colleagues on the advisory board of the GWPF in London.

He is recorded saying: “I know that the entire scientific advisory board of the Global Warming Policy Foundation was asked to submit comments on the first draft [of a paper]. I am also sure that most were too busy to respond.” 

He added: “I would be glad to ask for a similar review for the first drafts of anything I write for your client. Unless we decide to submit the piece to a regular journal, with all the complications of delay, possibly quixotic editors and reviewers that is the best we can do, and I think it would be fine to call it a peer review.”

The Times newspaper ran a news story on 12 October this year based on the same report championed by Lord Ridley. The article stated the report “has not been peer-reviewed.”

Financial Interest

However, a correction appeared less than a week later which added: “We stated that Indur Goklany’s report, Carbon Dioxide: The Good News, has not been peer reviewed. We should have said it has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.”

Professor Ross McKitrick, now chairman of the GWPF advisory counci which co-ordinates the so-called “peer review” process, wrote to the Times on 16 October telling the paper the report “underwent detailed, independent peer review prior to publication.”

He added: “Please amend your article accordingly.” McKitrick also lobbied the newspaper on Twitter.

The layers of contradiction have led to fevered speculation among journalists reporting the COP21 talks in Paris. They think Ridley may have demanded his own publication run a correction, reassuring readers that the paper had in fact been peer reviewed.

Adam Ramsay, from openDemocracy, an analysis website, said: “The Times appears to have undermined its own reporter by wrongly correcting an accurate article which informed its readers that the GWPF report was not, in fact, peer reviewed.

Senior staff at the newspaper need to investigate how this could have possibly happened, how editorial decisions are influenced.

“This is especially true when the people involved in writing about climate change have a direct financial interest in the mining of coal and the undermining of science.” 

Lord Ridley was in a previous career the chairman of Northern Rock when the mortgage lender was bailed out by the government after what a Parliamentary review found had been “reckless” business strategy