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How Oil & Gas Funding Distorts Energy Research

Gizmodo: “Prominent energy centers at MIT, Stanford, and Columbia may be biased toward natural gas because of funding, a new study says Journalists like me often seek out academics for comment and insight on stories related to the energy transition, since these professors have often done in-depth research into various fuel sources and their impacts. The hope is that these sources are relatively unbiased; their loyalty is to the data. But a study published Thursday in Nature Climate Change found that prominent energy policy centers at top-tier universities that are funded by the fossil fuel industry may produce content more favorable to dirty energy than other, similar centers. This is concerning, because it’s not just journalists who seek the council of these academics—it’s policymakers, too. “Reports by fossil-funded [centers] are more favorable towards natural gas than towards renewable energy, while centers less dependent on fossil fuel industry funding show a pro-renewable energy preference,” Anna Papp, a PhD student in Sustainable Development at Columbia University and one of the authors of the paper, told Earther in an email. Academic centers focused on energy research have become an increasingly respected and important voice in energy policy conversations, as the U.S. and the world begin grinding the gears on the energy transition. Representatives from places like Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy and MIT’s Energy Initiative have testified in Congress and are often featured on television as experts; some of their reports have even been the subject of their own Congressional hearings. But several of the most prominent academic think tanks working on energy issues also have significant funding from the fossil fuel industry. Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy, for instance, lists its financial partnerships on its website, which include big fossil fuel names like BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Occidental Petroleum. (Full disclosure: While I was employed at a PR firm between 2014 and 2016, Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy was a client; I worked on some of their press needs and materials.) What’s more, much of the research and whitepapers produced by these centers does not undergo the peer review process that a scientific paper may receive…”

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