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"It's not science" – Organisations with links to Musk accused of "pro-growth" skew
The New York Times and Our World in Data accused of promoting misleading information around economic and population growth
A UK charity with links to Elon Musk has been accused of promoting misleading information about economic growth.
Questions have been raised concerning Our World in Data (OWID) and its pro-economic and population growth bias after it emerged the organisation has taken donations from tech billionaire Musk since at least 2021. The Oxford charity has also been sponsored by organisations linked to Effective Altruism, a philanthropic movement connected with Musk which has been slammed for its racism.
OWID, which aims to make data on “the world’s largest problems” accessible, has already come under scrutiny for its influence on the “public narratives” surrounding both economic and population growth.
Billionaire Musk is the most outspoken proponent of population growth in the world, recently tweeting that "population collapse" is more dangerous than climate change. Scientists are now raising the question whether OWID’s link to Musk explains the slant in its reporting—a slant which has not been addressed—despite criticism from world-renowned scientists.
Degrowth scholar Tim Parrique is the latest to raise concerns around OWID’s methodologies: “Publishing raw data without analysis is not science.” Parrique has worked at length to debunk “green growth”, the harmful myth that sustainable economic growth can be done within the planetary boundaries, a stance OWID supports. Parrique’s work comes after economic anthropologist Jason Hickel published this rebuttal to OWID claims about economic growth and poverty in 2021.
OWID, which reaches millions of people every month, states its mission is to “publish the research and data to make progress”. The online publication, created in 2011, makes data on global problems accessible in an understandable and public platform. However, scientists and researchers have repeatedly rebuked the charity, questioning its two full-time employees over its pro-growth agenda, particularly on economics, technology and nuclear energy.
Nandita Bajaj, Executive Director of Population Balance, is also alarmed by OWID’s pro-growth skew: “Hannah Ritchie wrote a piece arguing that people in the Global North should not be concerned about having children, as the environmental problem primarily resides elsewhere. In making this rather callous statement, Ritchie conveniently neglects the ethical implications of procreation in high-consuming countries, which bear the greatest responsibility for the climate catastrophe that have now put over a billion children in the most impoverished countries at extremely high risk. Given her organisation is funded by the growthist Effective Altruism Foundation, and by the avowed pronatalist billionaire Elon Musk, who is pouring millions into fertility “research” to avert a "population collapse" of the western world, perhaps Ritchie's position is not so surprising."
Exactly how much money Musk donated to OWID is information that was not made publicly available. OWID did not respond to requests for comment.
The New York Times has also come under fire after publishing an opinion piece by Dean Spears who runs a population research centre which just accepted a $10 million donation from Musk. Bloomberg reported that Spears also received $383,000 of funding from one of OWID’s Effective Altruism (EA) sponsors, Longview Philanthropy. The EA movement promotes the wellbeing of the unborn trillions of humans who will eventually colonise space, and has been sharply criticised for promoting a position which ensures the existence of those trillions of people, and prioritise their wellbeing, over the suffering of humankind today.
“Over the past 200 years, humanity’s population growth has gone hand in hand with profound advances in living standards and health: longer lives, healthier children, better education, shorter workweeks and many more improvements. Our period of progress began recently, bringing the discovery of antibiotics, the invention of electric lightbulbs, video calls with Grandma and the possibility of eradicating Guinea worm disease. In this short period, humanity has been large and growing. Economists who study growth and progress don’t think this is a coincidence. Innovations and discoveries are made by people. In a world with fewer people in it, the loss of so much human potential may threaten humanity’s continued path toward better lives.”
Such arguments, smacking of entitlement, erase the reality for billions around the world who suffer inexcusably low living standards, thanks to the global north’s extraction of wealth from the developing world to the tune of $2 trillion every year. Degrowth economists like Fadhel Kaboub argue the deliberate under-investment in the global south ensures the lifestyles of the rich.
This is not the first time the New York Times has uncritically promoted the logic of billionaires. Last September it published an exclusive detailing why the founder of clothing company Patagonia was donating his billions to fighting climate change. However, the piece failed to flag a previous investigation which showed that Patagonia’s former climate initiatives have harmed sustainability standards in the fashion industry, promoting the logic that money will solve the world’s problems.
Capital intervention in academia, media and politics sets the rules of debate. In this case, we must ask: How much influence do donors like Musk have on the organisations they fund?
Additional reporting by Rachel Donald.
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