An Arizona State University scientist said he is “shocked” to be among seven researchers at the center of a probe by an Arizona congressman over funding for their climate-change research.
U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., wrote letters to seven universities last month, saying he has concerns about issues of potential conflicts of interest and failure to disclose corporate funding sources related to climate research. The issues were raised in a New York Times article.
Grijalva is seeking records on external funding going to Robert Balling Jr., a professor in ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. The request also seeks drafts of any testimony Balling prepared for a government body or agency and correspondence surrounding his testimony and funding dating back to 2007.
The congressman sent the letters in his role as the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources. He wrote in the Feb. 24 letters that “my colleagues and I cannot perform our duties if research or testimony provided to us is influenced by undisclosed financial relationships.”
Balling, in an interview with The Arizona Republic, said there is “absolutely no truth” to the suggestion he failed to disclose funding sources.
“I have zero concerns,” he said. “I know what’s there.”
ASU President Michael Crow, in a written response to Grijalva last week, said the university will comply with the public-records request. However, Crow said he has “personal concerns” about the manner in which Grijalva is proceeding.
“I strongly urge you and your colleagues to be aware of and to consider the principals of academic freedom as you continue your pursuit of documents and information from universities and individual faculty members,” Crow wrote in the letter.
Crow said the university’s policy on academic freedom gives researchers the right to search for truth and knowledge without obstruction or restraint.
The American Meteorological Society has also weighed in with a letter to Grijalva. Singling out specific researchers based on a perspective they have expressed “sends a chilling message to all academic researchers,” the society said.
The records request is the latest controversy to erupt in the contentious field of climate change. Climate scientist Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon, who works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, has been criticized recently over allegations he accepted grants from fossil-fuel companies and didn’t disclose all the corporate funding.
Soon has called the attacks a “shameless attempt to silence my scientific research and writing.”
The same week Grijalva’s letter went out, three other Democratic senators sent letters to 100 fossil-fuel companies, trade groups and other organizations. The letters sought to determine whether they are funding climate-change studies and whether the funded scientists failed to disclose their funding sources in scientific publications or in testimony to legislators.
Grijalva’s letter went to scientists at the University of Delaware, the University of Alabama, Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Colorado and Pepperdine University, as well as ASU.
The ASU letter says that, according to a 2012 news article and other sources, Balling as recently as 2012 was receiving $1,000 monthly from the Heartland Institute, “a group funded in part by Altria and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation that once proposed to teach children that climate change is a hoax — despite Balling’s claims that he had not been involved with the organization since 2008.”
Balling said the claim keeps resurfacing but is false. He said that around 2008 he went to New York City for a meeting with the Heartland Institute and received an honorarium of $1,000.
“I’ve never seen a dime (from them) since,” he said.
Balling, 62, has worked at ASU for 30 years. He has written four books on climate change. His 1992 book, “The Heated Debate: Greenhouse Predictions Versus Climate Reality,” explored the position that global warming will be moderate rather than catastrophic.
“Any time you write an argument against the popular vision, you are branded,” he said.
In the past, while he was director of the Laboratory of Climatology at ASU, funding sources included money from fossil-fuel companies, among other sources, Balling said. He added that he properly disclosed the funding and that researchers often seek funding from a variety of sources.
Since 2004, he has been involved in and now runs a master’s degree program in geographic-information systems at ASU, which he describes as a “breath of fresh air” compared to tense climatology meetings.
A spokesman for Grijalva directed questions to the House Committee on Natural Resources, which issued a statement that the committee continues to pursue information that sheds light on financial conflicts of interest in the preparation of testimony and policy recommendations to lawmakers.
“We look forward to productive conversations with the recipients of our letters about getting the information we need. … We have every expectation of full and fair disclosure,” the statement said.
Balling said the committee is welcome to any documents he has.
“It’s a free country, if these guys want to investigate it. I would freely release anything I have. But they better get ready to be bored because there’s not much to see.”