Don’t let any ‘celebrities’ tell you different, we’ve got friends of science here in Alberta

Posted on June 02, 2014, 12:33 am
6 mins

Don’t worry: you have absolutely nothing to do with the apocalypse. You might as well mine more bitumen while you wait for it. Below: Barry Cooper; another version of the Friends of Science billboard; yet another great billboard supporting democracy and the people. Billboard photos found on the Internet.

Alberta’s “Friends of Science” are friends of science like North Korea is a democratic people’s republic.

But to give credit where credit is due, both the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Friends of Science do great billboards.

One such is causing a buzz in Calgary right now, demonstrating the scientific principle that money used to buy outdoor advertising is usually well spent, as long as the print’s big enough for an old geezer like me to read while driving by at a 110 kilometres per hour or faster while fumbling to put on his glasses.

The Friends of Science billboard, which seems to have popped up at a couple of locations in Calgary, makes the claim that anything we do on this planet has little to do with climate change because the Sun is a lot bigger than the Earth.

In fact, the words “Earth to scale” are so small that I can’t read ’em without slowing down, and then all the petroleum-guzzling drivers in their giant pickup trucks honk at me and give me the bird as they swerve around my self-righteous little car. But the message is pretty clear: we can dig up those Bitumen Sands just as fast as we like and not lose any sleep about it – and anyone who says otherwise is a … celebrity.

This argument, as an alert commentator on the Internet pointed out, is a little like saying there’s less poverty in India than in Canada because rupees weigh less than Loonies. But, whatever, we can leave the science stuff to the real scientists, most of whom by the sound of it are not Friends of Science.

Actually, as an aside, we should always be careful with messages that come from groups labeled “friends of…” and the like. More often than not they are not friends of what they say they are, although I say this with apologies and with the knowledge that the Friends of Medicare are friends of medicare. For a case in point, just consider all the things advocated by the Friends of the Workingman at the so-called “Fairness For Workers” anti-union lobby.

Moving to the realm of political science, the Friends of Science turn out to be an interesting group, another part of the extensive, intricate and well-funded network of loony-right front groups, which inevitably seem, like the cabal around our prime minister, to be linked back to the Friends of Scholarship at the University of Calgary’s so-called “Calgary School.”

Lots of credible information about the Friends of Science is only a Google search away on the Internet. Like the fact it was founded by a bunch of retired oil industry types and while, like many such groups, it claims to be funded from small donations by citizens it seems in fact to be generously and secretively bankrolled by flow-through donor-directed “research funds” like those once connected to a right-wing political scientist at the University of Calgary.

“The ‘research’ funds were set up at the university in 2004 by Barry Cooper, a political science professor, in partnership with an anti-Kyoto Protocol group calling itself the Friends of Science,” wrote Ottawa environmental journalist Mike De Souza in 2011. They were used, he reported, in “a sophisticated international marketing and lobbying effort to discredit scientific evidence linking human activity to climate change.”

The so-called Science Education Fund accepted monies from Alberta oil and gas companies, foundations and individuals and then passed it on to groups like Friends of Science.

The hard-working Mr. De Souza, who has since been laid off by Postmedia News in a cost-cutting measure, reported that Dr. Cooper’s effort also involved public relations firms like APCO Worldwide, Morten Paulsen Consulting and Fleishman-Hillard Canada.

Through his charter membership in the Calgary School, Dr. Cooper is closely associated with other far right ideologues and political figures such as Tom Flanagan, Rainer Knopff, Ted Morton, David Bercuson and, of course, Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The publicly supported Calgary School is the “Inner Station” at the head of the vast river of Astroturf, spin and often-fabricated research that flows from Calgary through myriad groups like the Fraser Institute to the Prime Minister’s Office and on out into Canadian public discourse.

In other words, it is the inspiration of and source for an immense stream of bogus science done in the cause of making rich people richer, undermining democracy and electing ultra-right-wing political parties. Plus great billboards.

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13 Comments to: Don’t let any ‘celebrities’ tell you different, we’ve got friends of science here in Alberta

  1. Sam Gunsch

    June 2nd, 2014

    re: “undermining democracy” and AB’s corporatist joint-venture approach at U of Calgary

    Related details here:

    excerpt: “Follow the Money, Part 3 — Big Oil and Calgary’s School of Public Policy

    If it disseminates pro-free market studies like a right-wing think tank, and if it courts Big Oil money like a right-wing think tank, and if it recruits conservative scholars like a right-wing think tank, then it probably is a right-wing think tank.

    Except it’s a graduate school within an accredited public university.”

    And here Redford funding of Calgary School:

    excerpt: “In March, 2012, just days after a provincial election was called, the government awarded a secret $500,000 grant to the U of C School of Public Policy and a $1-million grant to the U of C Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy. As reported in today’s Calgary Herald, there was no record of an announcement of either grant.”

  2. Sam Gunsch

    June 2nd, 2014

    re: Friends of Science allies:
    i.e. Harper/Cndpoli/abpoli mainstream skepticism of the need to act soon on climate AND science be damned…going all in on petro-economy

    excerpt: “Ottawa may consider climate change to be a hoax, but the rest of the world doesn’t.”
    Jeff Rubin in today’s G&M

    conclusion excerpt: “Maybe it’s time the Harper government started thinking about Plan B.”

  3. Athabascan

    June 2nd, 2014

    David, you are doing the entire real scientific community a disservice by referring to these characters as scientists.

    You can call them right-wing political analyst if you want, but they are decidedly not scientist by any stretch. Calling politics a science is akin to calling economic a science. Moreover, it lends gravitas where none is deserved or earned.

    Words do make a difference.

    • V. Jobson

      June 3rd, 2014

      “Political science” is the name of their discipline, though I’m old-fashioned enough to distinguish between social sciences like political science and economics and what I consider to be real science which might be called hard sciences.

      Lately some economists seem to consider themselves to be scientists and get insulted if you say they aren’t. It’s all those statistics everybody uses nowadays. They didn’t have such things when I was a student. Fap, harrumph!

    • June 3rd, 2014

      With respect, Athabascan, you’re not paying attention. It is absolutely clear that this article never refers to the so-called “Friends of Science” as scientists or makes that claim on their behalf. Au contraire, it states unequivocally that their deceptive name notwithstanding, they are not friends of science. Can’t be much clearer than that. As for calling political scientists by the name they have chosen for their discipline, about which there is very little scientific, there’s not much I can do about that except mock their more preposterous conclusions. They are, at least political, as this little exegesis of some of the activities of the Calgary School amply demonstrates.

      • Athabascan

        June 3rd, 2014

        You are correct in that the purpose of your article is to point out the hypocrisy of the name of the group. This you did very effectively.

        I should have been more specific in stating my objection. The words political scientist do appear in your article, and that is what’s objectionable. the notion that a political analyst/academic is a “scientist” is laughable at best.

        The article is good, as always, and the points therein are well argued.

      • Lars

        June 3rd, 2014

        Actually, “scientist” as a term for an Enlightenment scholar who participates in the methodological naturalist research program as a means of discovering the attributes of the natural world is a relatively recent coining – until the 1830s or so, people who would today be described as scientists were known as “natural philosophers”. The old use of “science”, from which “political science” is derived, used the word in its original sense, to refer to an organized body of knowledge and techniques – thus, we can still refer to boxing as the “sweet science”, since it has rules about gouging, biting, hitting one another in the crotch etc.
        That said, the University of Calgary should make a clean breast of things and change the name of the Department of Political Science to the Department of Cryptofascist Studies.

        • Athabascan

          June 4th, 2014

          Sure. Let’s return to the days of yore when bloodletting was considered medical science, and typhoid was believed to be spread through noxious smell.

          Science is based on empirical research and proof. that’s not economics or politics.

          • Bill

            June 7th, 2014

            “Political science” and “social science” are real things… you’ve never heard those terms before? Or do you try to pretend they don’t exist because you don’t like them?

            You can read more on how your definition of “science” is incorrect at

        • V. Jobson

          June 6th, 2014

          A few years ago I talked to a poli-sci student at a U of C display and he said they were’t all like the “Calgary School”. I hope the Poli-Sci Dept still has some variety for the sake of the students.

  4. matthew

    June 6th, 2014

    False advertising and fraud.


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