Former RSF visiting scholar Douglas Almond (Columbia University) has authored a paper with Xinming Du (Columbia University) and Anna Papp (Columbia University) in Nature Climate Change on if and how funding sources impact the policy positions of university-based energy centers – institutions that conduct research on energy technologies.
Almond and his colleagues draw on text analysis of over one million sentences in reports by 26 academic energy centers in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom to determine if there is a relationship between funding sources and sentiments towards natural gas. They find that reports by university-based energy centers that were heavily dependent on funding by fossil fuel companies were significantly more positive about natural gas than centers that were not. Reports by centers less dependent on fossil fuel were more positive toward solar and hydro power than natural gas.
These findings are noteworthy as university-based energy centers are increasingly influential in policy discussions on the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. In fact, reports from academic energy centers have been the focus of U.S. Senate Committee hearings and cited in U.S. House Resolutions. Undue positivity in these reports towards natural gas – which is responsible for about a 30% of the increase in global temperature – can therefore stymie efforts to combat climate change.
Almond and his colleagues note that many academic energy centers had little or no data on donations. Consequently, the full reach of the fossil fuel industry’s influence on energy research cannot be fully assessed. The authors argue that energy centers must disclose their funders, particularly donations from the fossil fuel industry, in order to truly assess for objectivity.