Fred Singer – 'Granddaddy of Fake Science' – Retires as SEPP President


Dr Fred Singer has announced his plans to retire as president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) after 25 years at the helm as one of his generation’s most influential climate deniers.

But it might be premature to breathe a sigh of relief just yet. After all, Frederick Seitz continued to serve as SEPP president for two years after he died according to tax records filed by Singer.

While the doctor of denial may have celebrated his 90th birthday this September, it doesn’t seem he’s about to slow down. His ties with SEPP – which argues against the existence of climate change – will not be severed any time soon. He plans to continue as chairman of the board “for as long as possible”.

So, in honour of his retirement as SEPP president, DeSmog UK takes a look back at the “granddaddy of fake science”, as Rolling Stone magazine has called him, and his relentless attempts to debunk global warming.

Against science

Singer was aware of the science of climate change from as early as 1968. It could all have been very different. He was undeniably a skilled rocket scientist with outstanding credentials.

While serving in the US Navy during the Second World War he designed computer technology to help ships avoid mines. He then designed instruments for satellites and produced the first calculation of methane increases caused by human activity.

It was during the 1970s and ‘80s, within the community of Koch funders and funded think tanks in Virginia, that his scepticism started to percolate.

Singer first began attacking the health science and harmful effects of tobacco when working alongside fellow physicist and cold-warrior Frederick Seitz.

He then moved on to attack ozone science and was among the first to challenge the science of acid rain, which he did during his time as professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia. By 1989 he had become increasingly interested in questioning the emerging science of climate change.

But even climate deniers are divided about Singer’s contribution to the science. Fellow sceptic Jack Barrett, whom Singer has occasionally consulted, describes the scientist as a “sad case”.

He appreciates the science but he is somehow against it,” Barrett says.

Things moved quickly after this. Singer wasted no time in setting up SEPP in 1990, and four short years later he retired from the university to become a professor at the Institute of Humane Studies (IHS), a hardline neoliberal think tank funded by the oil billionaire Charles Koch.

Extensive Ties

Over the next half-century, Singer’s time at SEPP was continually fraught with controversy.

Both Singer and SEPP have extensive ties to fossil fuels. While engaged in activities denying the existence of man-made climate change, SEPP has received funding from numerous oil companies including Shell, Uniroyal and ARCO as well as USD$20,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998.

Singer himself has worked for at least 11 ExxonMobil-funded think tanks, including The Heritage Foundation. Yet he has famously flip-flopped between admitting and denying such funding, even going so far as to say the claims are an “absurd invention”.

In a February 2001 letter to The Washington Post, Singer denied receiving funding from the oil industry, except for some consulting work 20 years prior. This is despite acknowledging on the television programme Nightline in 1994 that he had received such funding.

Singer instead claimed that his connection to oil during the 1990s was more food than fossil while he worked “as a Wesson Fellow at the Hoover Institution; Wesson money derives from salad oil”.

His claims would hold more water, however, if he had not been employed by SEPP throughout this time, as well as being on a $5,000-a-month retainer from the oil- and Koch-funded Heartland Institute to spread disinformation about climate change.

As James Hoggan writes: “Singer has taken the amnesia defence: he says he gets so many cheques that he can’t remember who they’re all from.”

But it’s not just where he gets his money from but how he uses it that has proved questionable.

Misinformation campaign

One year into his professorship at the IHS, Singer and SEPP assisted in setting up the Leipzeg Declaration, stating there is no scientific consensus on climate change.

But an investigation into the Declaration by a Danish journalist a couple years later revealed that of the 33 European listed signatories, four could not be located, 12 denied ever having signed and some had not even heard of it before.

Among the some-80 signatories in total, 25 were weathermen and the list of those who confirmed they had signed included a medical doctor, a nuclear scientist and an expert on flying insects – not exactly an overwhelming slew of established climate scientists.

When confronted with these facts, Singer removed many from the list, but other names were subsequently added to make a total of more than 100 signatories, many of whom did not state whether they had any ongoing research links in climate science.

This would not be the only time Singer was challenged during his misinformation campaign.

Justin Lancaster, a student of the late-climate scientist Dr Roger Revelle, publicly criticised Singer for misappropriating Revelle’s work in 1991 in what has become one of the most controversial episodes in climate science.

In the now-infamous Cosmos article, Singer listed Revelle as a second author to an article directly contradicting Revelle’s scientific opinion that anthropogenic climate change was happening. But Lancaster’s claims that Singer leveraged the aging academic’s health problems to discredit climate science were swiftly silenced with a SLAPP lawsuit.

Incorrect again

Not only did Singer use an academic who was nearing the end of his life in an effort to debunk global warming, but later he would also use a friend’s death in his personal pursuit of wealth.

According to a DeSmogBlog investigation, Singer committed perjury in his tax filings to the IRS, the US government agency responsible for tax collection, by claiming that the climate denying physicist Fred Seitz continued to chair the tax-protected SEPP for two years after Seitz’s death in 2008.

It was around this time that Singer was also spreading misinformation on the state of the world’s glaciers. In a 2005 Guardian column, George Monbiot revealed a letter by UK climate sceptic David Bellamy, which claimed that 555 of all 625 glaciers under observation by the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich have been growing since 1980.

When Monbiot phoned the World Glacier Monitoring Service they bluntly replied saying this claim was “complete bullshit”. As it turned out, this claim stemmed from the SEPP website. Eventually, Singer conceded the information “appears to be incorrect” and claimed to update the webpage.

Despite this, Singer’s ‘science’ has been featured in numerous papers questioning global warming and he is a regular speaker at the annual Heartland Institute’s International Conference on Climate Change.

Singer has even appeared in a documentary entitled “The Great Global Warming Swindle”. The 2007 film, which portrays global warming as a hoax, also includes notorious British climate sceptic Lord Nigel Lawson among several other prominent deniers.

But it’s not just deniers that feature Singer. He has also appeared in the New York Times, New Republic and the Washington Post and has given lectures on global warming at well-known universities such as Berkeley in California, Stanford and Imperial College London.

It seems, then, that the aging scientist will continue to wage his war against science; not even retirement – and certainly not being proved wrong – will slow him down.


Photo: via Creative Commons

Kyla is a freelance writer and editor with work appearing in the New York Times, National Geographic, HuffPost, Mother Jones, and Outside. She is also a member of the Society for Environmental Journalists.

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