In 2011 Google appointed 21 Google Science Communication Fellows (GSCF) – academics representing the cream of US climate-change science – and tasked them with exploring new ways of communicating the issue to the public. On Thursday, 17 of the GSCF did just that, and called out Google for its own failings in an open letter.
This public shaming of their sponsors was inspired not by Google's operational practices, they said, but by its political actions – specifically Mountain View's active support for Senator James Mountain "Jim" Inhofe (R-OK).
Last month, Google hosted a $2,500-a-plate fundraiser for the senator at a Washington DC lunch-spot, and the letter says this was "deeply troubling" to the GSCF team, given the Jim Inhofe's record.
"While we disagree on climate change policy, we share an interest with Senator Inhofe in the employees and data center we have in Oklahoma," a Google spokesman said at the time.
Inhofe is a very vocal member of the Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works, and is the author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. Although El Reg doesn't want to give away the plot (although one member of Vulture Annex has actually read it), let's just say he takes a somewhat skeptical view on the whole issue of man-made climate change.
"In 2002, I was alone in exposing the global-warming hysteria as a hoax," he writes, saying that the climate debate stems from the United Nations' wish to establish control over what kind of energy sources the US can use, and to "redistribute wealth."
In an interview last year to promote the book, Inhofe said that the evidence of the Bible showed that the idea of dangerous man-made climate change was wrong. In Genesis 8:22, God promised "as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night," he quoted.
"The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous," Inhofe told the Voice of Christian Youth America radio station.
The rebellious GSCF signatories said that they recognized that Google needs to work with people on both sides of the political and intellectual spectrum in order to operate and discuss the issues. Google's engagement with the Conservative Climate Coalition, for example, was strongly supported by the group.
But Senator Inhofe's unbending position was causing political gridlock on the issue that threatens progress on dealing with climate change, they said, and his ad hominem attacks of scientists made the Chocolate Factory giving him goodies for "short-term business priorities" was unethical.
"Such a strategy conflicts with the data-driven, problem solving culture that has enabled Google's business success and is arguably contrary to its corporate philosophy of 'Don't Be Evil'," they wrote in the letter, which was addressed to Google CEO Larry Page and his company cofounder Sergey Brin.
The letter states that Inhofe's position is part of a deliberate strategy to "promote dysfunction and paralysis," and to attack any scientist who disagrees with him. Under the circumstances, the letter's authors said they had no choice but to take this very public position.
"In the face of urgent threats like climate change, there are times where companies like Google must display moral leadership and carefully evaluate their political bedfellows," they conclude. "Google's support of Senator James Inhofe's re-election campaign is one of those moments."
The open letter is unlikely to pose any business or even political problems for Google. But it does highlight the problem with hiring people to do actual science – sometimes they find some inconvenient truths and don't like to keep quiet about them.
The UK government found this out when they hired Dr. David Nutt as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). His conclusion that government drug policy had little relation to the harmfulness of drugs (and particularly his statistically correct observation that horse-riding is more dangerous than taking Ecstasy) got him fired from his position.
Google hasn't responded to our requests for comment on the letter, but it's certainly a black eye for the firm – although it's not alone in facing problems with political bedfellows.
But such is the price of doing business in the US, it seems. ®