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

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"Friends of Science" billboard in Calgary

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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 De Souza, who has since been laid off by Postmedia News in a cost-cutting measure, reported that 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, 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.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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