In a widely cited 2014 study, the sociologist Robert Brullepurportedly exposed a network of nonprofit groups executing “a deliberate and organized effort to misdirect the public discussion and distort the public’s understanding of climate change.” He provided scant evidence of the public’s ignorance but lots of numbers supposedly exposing its source: center-right groups that form a “climate change counter-movement.”
Mr. Brulle’s smoking-gun statistic—call it the Brulle Number—was the combined annual income of 91 alleged conspirators. He calculated that from 2003 to 2010, these groups’ revenues averaged “just over $900 million” annually. The media twisted that into an even more extreme claim: “Conservative groups spend $1bn a year to fight action on climate change,” as a Guardian headline put it.
That’s false twice over. Mr. Brulle didn’t measure spending but income. Nor did he isolate the amount spent on climate issues, although most of the groups he studied had many policy interests.
Mr. Brulle’s wide net snared groups like the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, which provides electricity to Coloradans. He counted every penny of the nonprofit’s annual income as though it were a K Street powerhouse.