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Harvard Affiliates Urge Geophysical Union to Drop Exxon Sponsorship

By Ifeoluwa T. Obayan, Crimson Staff Writer

Several Harvard students and professors co-signed a letter calling for the president of the American Geophysical Union to end all union sponsorship ties with ExxonMobil, joining more than 100 members of the organization and other geoscientists.

AGU, an association of thousands of geophysists from around the globe, currently receives Exxon sponsorship for its annual fall meetings. The multinational oil and gas company has been under investigation by the New York and California attorney generals for its climate change denial.

One of the letter’s signatories, Harvard earth and planetary sciences Ph.D. student Simon J. Lock, said that integrity, particularly in climate research, is crucial in the scientific community.

“Having a company that has been suspected of spreading misinformation makes our lives much more difficult and undermines the very core values that we have as scientists,” Lock said.

Earth and planetary sciences Ph.D. student Pattanun Achakulwisut said the push to end sponsorship ties with Exxon began when she and two other MIT students noticed that Exxon's sponsorship was visible at AGU’s conference in December 2015.

Achakulwisut, who published an opinion piece in the Guardian with the other two students about the Exxon sponsorship, said Exxon’s relationship with AGU is “a massive conflict of interest.”

Last year, AGU announced a new organizational support policy in which they prohibited the acceptance of “funding from organizational partners that promote and/or disseminate misinformation of science.”

Achakulwisut said she thinks the Exxon sponsorship violates this policy and hopes her opinion piece will encourage AGU to drop it.

Since the release of the letter, AGU president Margaret Leinen updated a previously response to the sponsorship issue in a blog post. In the post, Leinen said she welcomed questions over the Exxon sponsorship, promising to raise the topic at AGU’s April board meeting following consultation with "various member constituencies as well other stakeholders."

Exxon recently told The Guardian that it did not suppress climate change research.

Achakulwisut said she appreciated Leinen's blog post but wants closer scrutiny.

“We’re glad to see that they’ve committed to bring up this issue at their meeting, [but] I would like to see AGU look past Exxon’s public statements and actually focus on what [they are] still doing,” Achakulwisut said.

Lock said it was important to raise Exxon’s involvement with AGU as a public issue because AGU represents the views of geoscientists and is a large publisher of science journals.

“It doesn’t matter if Exxon is confirmed or cleared of being involved in misinformation; the public perception that they have some influence on what we produce as scientists is a huge problem,” Lock said.

—Staff writer Ifeoluwa T. Obayan can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @itobayan.

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