George C. Marshall Institute

George C. Marshall Institute
Not to be confused with the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies or The George C. Marshall Foundation
Logo of the George C. Marshall Institute.

The George C. Marshall Institute (GMI) is a politically conservative think tank established in 1984 in Washington, D.C. with a focus on scientific issues and public policy. In the 1980s, the Institute was engaged primarily in lobbying in support of the Strategic Defense Initiative.[1] Since the late 1980s, the Institute has put forward environmental skepticism views, and in particular has disputed mainstream scientific opinion on climate change, although it continues to be active on defense policy. The George C. Marshall Institute has been described by Newsweek as a "central cog in the denial machine."[2] The institute is named after the World War II military leader and statesman George C. Marshall.

Historian Naomi Oreskes states that the institute has, in order to resist and delay regulation, lobbied politically to create a false public perception of scientific uncertainty over the negative effects of second-hand smoke, the carcinogenic nature of tobacco smoking, the existence of acid rain, and on the evidence between CFCs and ozone depletion.[3]



The George C. Marshall Institute was founded in 1984 by Frederick Seitz (former President of the United States National Academy of Sciences), Robert Jastrow (founder of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies), and William Nierenberg (former director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography). The Institute's primary aim, initially, was to play a role in defense policy debates, defending Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or "Star Wars"). In particular, it sought to defend SDI "from attack by the Union of Concerned Scientists, and in particular by the equally prominent physicists Hans Bethe, Richard Garwin, and astronomer Carl Sagan."[1] The Institute argued that the Soviet Union was a military threat.[1] A 1987 article by Jastrow[4] argued that in five years the Soviet Union would be so powerful that it would be able to achieve world domination without firing a shot.[1] With the end of the Cold War in 1991, the Institute shifted from an emphasis on defense to a focus on environmental skepticism, including skepticism on issues of global warming.[1]

The Institute's shift to environmental skepticism began with the publication of a report on global warming by William Nierenberg. During the United States presidential election, 1988, George H. W. Bush had pledged to meet the "greenhouse effect with the White House effect."[1] Nierenberg's report, which blamed global warming on solar activity, had a large impact on the incoming Bush presidency, strengthening those in it opposed to environmental regulation.[1] In 1990 the Institute's founders (Jastrow, Nierenberg and Seitz) published a book on climate change.[5] The appointment of David Allan Bromley as presidential science advisor, however, saw Bush sign the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, despite some opposition from within his administration.[1]

In 1994, the Institute published a paper by its then chairman, Fredrick Seitz, titled Global warming and ozone hole controversies: A challenge to scientific judgment. Seitz questioned the view that CFCs "are the greatest threat to the ozone layer".[6] In the same paper, commenting on the dangers of secondary inhalation of tobacco smoke, he concluded "there is no good scientific evidence that passive inhalation is truly dangerous under normal circumstances."[7]

Global warming

Since 1989 GMI has been involved in what it terms "a critical examination of the scientific basis for global climate change policy." [8] The Institute was described as a "central cog in the denial machine" in a Newsweek cover story on global warming.[2]

In Requiem for a Species (2010), Clive Hamilton is critical of the Marshall Institute and contends that the conservative backlash against climate science was led by three prominent physicists -- Frederick Seitz, Robert Jastrow, and William Nierenberg, who founded the Institute in 1984. According to Hamilton, by the 1990s the Marshall Institute's main activity was attacking climate science.[9] Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway reach a similar conclusion in Merchants of Doubt (2010), where they identified a few contrarian scientists associated with conservative think-tanks who fought the scientific consensus and spread confusion and doubt about global warming.[10]

GMI is one of only a few conservative environmental-policy think tanks to have natural scientists on staff.[11] Noted skeptics Sallie Baliunas and (until his death in 2008) Frederick Seitz (a past President of the National Academy of Sciences from 1962–1969) have served on its Board of Directors. Patrick Michaels is a visiting scientist and Stephen McIntyre, Willie Soon and Ross McKitrick are "contributing writers".[12] Richard Lindzen served on the Institute's Science Advisory Board.[13]

In February 2005 GMI co-sponsored a Congressional briefing at which Senator James Inhofe praised Michael Crichton's novel State of Fear and attacked the "hockey stick graph".[14]

Conflict of interest

Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work,[15] was appointed executive director of GMI in September 2001.[16] He left the GMI after 5 months, saying that the institute was "fonder of some facts than others". He contended a conflict of interest in the funding of the institute,[17] In Shop Class as Soulcraft, he stated about the Institute:

...the trappings of scholarship were used to put a scientific cover on positions arrived at otherwise. These positions served various interests, ideological or material. For example, part of my job consisted of making arguments about global warming that just happened to coincide with the positions taken by the oil companies that funded the think tank.

—Matthew B. Crawford[15]

In 1998 Jeffrey Salmon, then executive director of GMI, helped develop the American Petroleum Institute's strategy of stressing the uncertainty of climate science.[14] William O'Keefe, the Institute's current CEO, was previously Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the American Petroleum Institute, and has also been on the Board of Directors of the U.S. Energy Association and Chairman of the Global Climate Coalition,[18] a business-led anti-climate change action group active between 1989 and 2002.

Funding sources

Between 1985 and 2001, the institute received $5.5m in funding from five foundations, including the Earhart Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation and Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.[19]

GMI used to restrict its funding sources to private foundations and individual donors, but in 1999, Salmon wrote that "Fifteen years of experience with a policy of refusing grants from industry has taught us that our reasons for adopting this restriction were both right and wrong. We were right about it costing us money. But we were wrong to think the policy would permit us to avoid the charge of being a corporate funded think-tank." He said that "the positions we had taken over the last decade and a-half were so crystal-clear that it would be absurd to claim that the Marshall Institute was tailoring its position to fit the needs of some corporate interest", and accordingly, "From now on the Marshall Institute will accept grants for general program support from corporate foundations and in some cases directly from corporations. The Board has also determined that before we accept a grant it must be clear to us that the corporate foundation or corporation offering us funding must have a prior record of supporting well-known environmental groups, or groups with a record of opposing the deployment of ballistic missile defenses."[20]

William O'Keefe, chief executive officer of the Marshall Institute, questions the methods used by advocates of new government restrictions to combat global warming.

  • "We have never said that global warming isn't real. No self-respecting think tank would accept money to support preconceived notions. We make sure what we are saying is both scientifically and analytically defensible." [21]

Exxon-Mobil was a funder of the GMI until it pulled funding from it and several similar organizations in 2008.[22] From 1998-2008, the institute received a total of $715,000 in funding from Exxon-Mobil.[23]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, 10 August 2010, "Distorting Science While Invoking Science", Science Progress
  2. ^ a b Begley, Sharon (August 13, 2007). "The Truth About Denial". Newsweek. Retrieved October 17, 2007. 
  3. ^ Oreskes, Naomi (2007). The American Denial of Global Warming (starting at 30:30 minutes into speech) (Speech). Retrieved 2008-2. 
  4. ^ Robert Jastrow, "America has Five Years Left!", National Review, Vol. 39, February 13, 1987
  5. ^ Robert Jastrow, William Aaron Nierenberg, Frederick Seitz, Scientific perspectives on the greenhouse problem, Marshall Press, 1990
  6. ^ "A Conversation with Dr. Frederick Seitz". The Marshall Institute. 1997-09-03. Retrieved 2010-09-28. 
  7. ^ Norbert Hirschhorn, Stella Aguinaga Bialous. "Second hand smoke and risk assessment: what was in it for the tobacco industry?", Tobacco Control 2001;10:375-382 doi:10.1136/tc.10.4.375
  8. ^ 'Climate Change' webpage of George C. Marshall Institute website, Accessed March 2, 2008.
  9. ^ Hamilton, Clive (2010). Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change. Earthscan. ISBN 9781849710817. 
  10. ^ Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway (2010). Merchants of Doubt, Bloomsbury Press, pp. 8-9.
  11. ^ Jacques, P.J.; Dunlap, R.E., and Freeman, M. (June 2008). "The organisation of denial: Conservative think tanks and environmental scepticism". Environmental Politics 17 (3): 349–385. doi:10.1080/09644010802055576. 
  12. ^ website Environmental Defense.
  13. ^ McCright & Dunlap (2003), Defeating Kyoto: The Conservative Movement’s Impact on U.S. Climate Change Policy, Aaron M. McCright, University of Chicago, Riley E. Dunlap, Åbo Akademi University, Finland, SOCIAL PROBLEMS, Vol. 50, No. 3, pages 348–373. ISSN: 0037-7791; online ISSN: 1533-8533 © 2003 by Society for the Study of Social Problems, Inc. All rights reserved.
  14. ^ a b Mooney, Chris (May/June 2005). "Some Like It Hot". Mother Jones. Retrieved March 2, 2008. 
  15. ^ a b Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work. Penguin Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1594202230
  16. ^ George C.Marshall Institute, Sept. 2001 press release (web archive) (accessed Oct. 10, 2010)
  17. ^ Carolyn Mooney, "A Hands-On Philosopher Argues for a Fresh Vision of Manual Work", Chronicle of Higher Education, Chronicle Review, Jun. 15, 2009. Web version (subscribers only
  18. ^ Marshall Institute, William O'Keefe, accessed 21 September 2010
  19. ^ Recipient Grants George C. Marshall Institute, Media Transparency website, accessed 2 March 2008.
  20. ^ A Note on Funding, webpage on George C. Marshall Institute website, accessed October 10, 2010.
  21. ^ The Washington Times
  22. ^ Anjana Ahuja and Mark Henderson "Times Cheltenham Science Festival celebrates scientific heresy ", The Times, May 30, 2009.
  23. ^ Ed Pilkington (2008-09-30). "Palin fought safeguards for polar bears with studies by climate change sceptics". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-09-28. 

External links

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