A Utah State University professor is speaking out about an online op-ed he penned on wind power after editors for Newsweek admitted they did not perform “outside vetting” on him or disclose his “ties to the oil industry” before running the piece, which questions the economics of wind power.
Randy Simmons, an economics and finance professor for the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, claimed that “Newsweek doesn’t do any reporting anymore” and is “repeating the talking points of the big wind lobby folks” after the venerable national magazine added an editor’s note to this op-ed titled, “What’s the true cost of wind power?”, which asserts that taxpayers might not want to “foot the bill” of generating energy from wind power if they “realized the full cost” of it. The editor’s note states that Simmons is Charles G. Koch Professor of Political Economy at USU and a senior fellow for the “the Koch- and ExxonMobil-funded” Property and Environment Research Center (PERC).
Newsweek issued the editor’s note after the wind power lobby American Wind Energy Association and others flagged errors in Simmons’ op-ed. In addition, Newsweek linked Simmons’ column to a rebuttal op-ed by the founding director of the Texas office of the Environmental Defense Fund.
When asked about the Newsweek editor’s additions by The Herald Journal, Simmons didn’t mince words. He claimed Newsweek got things wrong in its editor’s note and didn’t vet the defense fund op-ed, either.
Simmons said he feels Newsweek is “just an advocator, and that’s too bad,” adding that the magazine never contacted him.
“I think Newsweek is responding to heavy pressure, and they are not responding in a way that I would say is responsible journalism,” he explained.
Simmons explained to The Herald Journal he is no longer a Koch professor because funding ran out two years ago; however, the Koch Foundation still provides funding for a non-credit “reading group” he supervises with Huntsman School students.
He told The Herald Journal that he did not feel obligated to disclose all of his associations in the op-ed because it seems “silly and pretentious.”
In addition, Simmons said the research center where he’s a senior fellow, PERC, is not backed by the Koch Foundation or ExxonMobil, a claim which PERC defended in an email to The Herald Journal.
A PERC spokeswoman said the organization has not received funding from ExxonMobil since 2007; when it did, it was less than 2 percent of the annual budget. In addition, PERC received a grant this year from the Charles Koch Foundation – the first since 2013, she stated. This is “the largest gift” PERC has ever received from the foundation, and it makes up less than 4 percent of the think tank’s annual budget, according to the spokeswoman.
PROBLEMS WITH VETTING?
The kerfuffle began when Simmons’ op-ed ran in the April 11 edition of Newsweek after first being published by The Conversation, an international global publishing platform. The piece was co-authored by Megan Hansen, a policy analyst for Strata, the Logan-based public policy research firm that Simmons founded.
Newsweek’s decision to add the editor’s note was highlighted in a Politico media blog Wednesday. According to the blog posting, a top Newsweek editor told the Washington, D.C.-based news agency that “we are not in the habit of fully fact-checking opinion pieces picked up like this from outside sites. These are aspects of our workflow that we’re looking at now.”
Simmons told The Herald Journal that editors for The Conversation did vet him and provided to the paper a lengthy email between him and editors about his various associations before the “wind power” op-ed ran. Simmons’ email also discussed Strata, stating the group receives funding from “a variety of sources including individuals, foundations, corporations, and government grants.”
“It is important to note that the results of our research are not tailored to support the funding source, but rather explore the issue with a strict focus on empirical, honest, non-biased, academic research of the highest quality,” Simmons wrote.
He concluded the email by stating of his associations, “If all this causes a problem for your readers or other editors, I will understand.”
As senior fellow for the Bozeman-based PERC, Simmons conducts a seminar for students and writes op-eds occasionally. For the controversial “wind power” op-ed, though, Simmons maintained he only wrote it in his capacity as an academic.
He has written a slew of columns over the years online and in various publications.
“I do the same kind of research that I’ve been doing for 35 years, and it appears to me what wind is all about in many cases is farming subsidies from the government, which is something economists call ‘rent-seeking,’” Simmons told The Herald Journal. “(The wind power op-ed) is a continuation of the work I’ve done for 35 years, and if people want to look at that body of work, I invite them to look at that body of work.”
He emphasized when the op-ed was published “no one argued with any of the other claims about the effects of the subsidies.”
“I care about looking at the data on hand saying that while some people might think those wind turbines are beautiful, I don’t happen to believe that. The good intentions aren’t producing good policy, and that’s the important thing,” Simmons said. “Fascinating thing is, wind energy has had subsidies for 25 years, and it still can’t survive without subsidies. Twenty-five years on training wheels and you can’t ride your bike by yourself yet suggests that there’s a problem. So maybe we ought to be looking at something else.”
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