Tonight, I was a little surprised to read the following tweets from Marc Lee, Senior Economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), and Co-Director of the Climate Justice Project:
As I wrote here, I expect and welcome the conversation with respect to the impact of accepting this position on my objectivity and ability to comment on energy policy without bias related to the professorship. I do, as Mr. Lee noted, also own Enbridge shares – you can see that and all of my other stock holdings here.
I welcome the conversation, but conversations must be a dialogue not a monologue. I had a brief exchange with Mr. Lee following his initial comments, but feel the need to add a little more here. I am pleased that Mr. Lee is one of a few publicly-engaged economists who has provided on online conflict of interest disclosure of his own. However, this disclosure does not extend to his employer, the CCPA. When asked whether the CCPA published their financial supporters, Mr. Lee replied that the CCPA publishes financials by donor category, but that donors are not individually listed, to respect their privacy.
Mr Lee claims that I have lost credibility and am biased both because I own stock in Enbridge (which I publicly disclose) and because I receive a salary premium from the University of Alberta which is financed by a donation from Enbridge (also acknowledged publicly). Are we to believe that Mr. Lee’s own organization, which relies on (unpublished) membership and donor financing is not skewed by conflicts of interests? We must take their word for it because they want to respect their donors’ privacy. My employment contract and the University’s policy for donation acceptance (PDF) clearly protect the academic freedom which underpins my ability to speak on areas of my expertise without fear of reprisal. So far as I can tell, the CCPA publishes no such documents or makes no such guarantees.
Here are my questions to the CCPA:
1) Will you publish your donor list?
2) Will you state that your employees engaging in public commentary, including but not limited to Mr. Lee, are not bound in any way by the wishes of your donors in terms of that public commentary?
3) Will you state that your research agenda is not influenced by the wishes of your major donors or member organizations?
I have published my sources of financing, my faculty agreement clearly protects my academic freedom, and I can say confidently that my Enbridge Professorship does not influence my research agenda. I hope you can say the same. If not, what should we conclude about your organization’s credibility and objectivity?
I hope either Mr. Lee or a representative from the CCPA will see fit to respond.