Joaquin Goquiolay, a senior majoring in economics, previously worked for the Regulatory Studies Center.
Last week, Eric Teller published an op-ed calling for a ban on research funding from Exxon-Mobil. He asserts that GW’s Regulatory Studies Center, a major recipient of Exxon funds, diminishes GW’s credibility as a leader in urban sustainability. While the objections against the fossil fuel industry are just, the op-ed makes a poor case for targeting regulatory research.
The piece never gets to the bottom of why the RSC should stop accepting Exxon funding. We are left without any evidence pointing to violations of academic integrity by the RSC nor their denial of climate change. Instead, Teller goes after the center’s director, Susan Dudley, a well-published Massachusetts Institute of Technology alumna and GW professor.
The documents used in the op-ed to discredit Dudley’s research do not support Teller’s allegations. First, the 2008 Washington Post article does not back the claim that Dudley criticized the EPA for deeming CO2 as dangerous. Instead, it recounts how she conducted meetings for an EPA task-force, who at the time drafted a memo calling for reductions in emissions. Second, Dudley’s supposed “smog prevents skin cancer” statement is incorrect. The 1997 testimony clearly shows her reiterating a widely accepted fact that the reduction in ozone will increase malignant “skin cancers and cataracts.”
Interestingly, Teller’s allegations against Dudley are identical to those found in a poorly-cited Wikipedia article.
The op-ed ridicules the RSC’s claim regarding “politicized science.” But by dismissing this critique, Teller misses a fundamental point about policymaking: different groups, like policymakers, scientists and environmentalists, must coordinate to serve divergent interests. This is more than just scientists holding too much sway. For the regulatory research community, the “scientization” of policy represents a balancing of interests that demands serious analysis. In fact, the hyperlink shows the RSC encouraging practices like data robustness tests and peer review that enable policy makers and scientists to avoid partisan misuse of scientific facts.
Teller hyperlinks a document revealing our University as being a major recipient of Exxon funding alongside other “climate-denying organizations,” suggesting that the groups identified on this list serve the anti-climate agenda. But this is false. Most of the recipients represent the world’s best and most progressive scholarship, including those of Harvard University, Stanford University and GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs. In any case, a large share of the $6 million are being directed toward highly productive enterprises.
In fairness, let’s assume that Teller’s claims against the RSC are valid. That then proposes the question of whether the University is therefore obliged to bar programs with controversial donors.
If so, then GW would have to terminate their contracts with the Confucius Institute, the Elliott School’s Middle East Policy Forum and the Gelman Library’s Middle East and North Africa Research Center. These in-house institutes receive funding from the autocratic governments of China and Kuwait, who are known to have suppressed academic freedom and human rights.
But let’s face it, these institutes, including the RSC, will continue to exist since they add value to our university in the form of study abroad scholarships, research and access to primary sources. It is difficult to make a case in favor of government or corporate wrongdoings, but even more difficult to justify withholding these resources from researchers and students.
In an era of “fake-news” surrounding climate change, GW should be the vanguard of the sustainability movement. For our University, green initiatives and student activism speak far louder to the movement than subjecting our research initiatives to funding cuts. Teller, a gifted orator, and his crusade against environmental untruths are worthy of our attention. But with his great power for leadership, comes an even larger responsibility to uphold the spirit of objective debate.