How an ExxonMobil-Funded Think Tank Took Over a Scientific Journal

This epic history series post reveals how the ExxonMobil-funded International Policy Network think tank took over a scientific publication as “guest editor”.

The real coup de grâce for Julian Morris came in 2005, when he persuaded his friend and fellow sceptic, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, (pictured) to allow staff at his UK think tank, the International Policy Network (IPN) to “guest edit” her Energy and Environment journal.

This was startling: a free market think tank, funded by an oil company that was actively engaged in attacking climate science to protect its own financial interests, had taken over a scientific publication.

Boehmer-Christiansen, speaking to me, claimed she had no idea Morris was bankrolled by ExxonMobil when she agreed to hand over control of the journal. Energy and Environment was, however, known for publishing papers written by climate change sceptics.

Research Funding

She said: “He broadened our perspective quite a lot… He was doing a PhD; he visited me once in London and we had a long discussion which might have included me doing the supervising or something… I have been to his office when it was near Covent Garden when he did edit this special issue.”

Asked if she knew at that time that the IPN was funded by ExxonMobil, she said: “I would not have been aware of it at the time; all I knew was that he was very much in favour of free markets… I totally wasn’t aware of it.”

She added: “In America, and to some extent in Germany, the funding of research by big corporations and industry foundations is the main source of income.

As long as it is declared, then people can make up their own minds. I don’t know to what extent it influences their positions; I think it is the other way round. You have a position and then the people who endorse this might give you money.”

Asked whether in the future she would ask contributors to Energy and Environment to declare funding, she responded: “Honestly, I have never thought of that… We did publish some very interesting, strange stuff on the latest state in nuclear. I must say, it hadn’t occurred to me to ask whether… the nuclear industry had funded it. It is something one could consider and think about.”

She also confirmed that she had received a small benefit from a fossil fuel company once: a flight paid by an Australian mining company.

Economic Agenda

Boehmer-Christiansen noted that she did eventually grow apart from Morris and other fevered supporters of the free market because she was concerned their ideological position could distort their approach to the science.

I got a little bit worried [that] the economic right were trying to capture the whole issue and I think this is becoming a problem for them,” she said.

[In America] I have been to a conference full of Tea Party people [looking] to an extreme, politically, economically right wing solution, or agenda. It hasn’t done the science any good. I think I have distanced myself a little from the think tanks, which are primarily about right wing economics.”

Boehmer-Christiansen explained how her thinking came in part due to a series of meetings with Morris and his wife Kendra Okonski: “I came to the conclusion that their own personal agenda was more of an economic one. I am still a member of the British Labour Party and have been brought up a Communist. I can’t quite be anti-state in all circumstances, you know.”

Next time, we continue with the sceptics’ hunt for any evidence that Mann had manipulated science in producing his hockey stick graph.


Photo: Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen speaking at Heartland Climate Conference via YouTube screengrab