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Statistical Assessment Service

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

The Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) touts itself as a "non-profit, non-partisan organization" but its funders are not transparent. It is an arm, or "sister organization," of the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA).

STATS promotes itself as a disinterested, non-partisan guardian of scientific and statistical integrity to often unsuspecting media outlets. It has been surprisingly successful in this guise, with other organizations citing STATS. [1]

From its inception, however, STATS has repeatedly attacked environmentalists, civil libertarians, feminists and other "liberals." The first director of STATS, David Murray, was not a statistician at all. His academic training was in anthropology, but he was often described in the media as a "statistician" when he commented on various topics.

On its website, they state, "Since its founding in 1994, the non-profit, non-partisan Statistical Assessment Service - STATS - has become a much-valued resource on the use and abuse of science and statistics in the media. Our goals are to correct scientific misinformation in the media and in public policy resulting from bad science, politics, or a simple lack of information or knowledge; and to act as a resource for journalists and policy makers on major scientific issues and controversies."[2]

Contents

Funding

The STATS website did not list specific funding sources as of 2008 but states that "we do not take money from industry or industry-related groups".[3]

However, Media Transparency lists startup funding for STATS as having come from conservative funders including the John M. Olin Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation and the William H. Donner Foundation. Other funders include Richard Mellon Scaife's Carthage Foundation, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Earhart Foundation, John M. Olin Foundation and the Castle Rock Foundation. Media Transparency identifies the group as having gained 34 grants totaling $2,415,000 (unadjusted for inflation) between 1995 and 2009.[4] See also a discussion of the funders of its sister organization, the Center for Media and Public Affairs.

Total recent funding

In its 2008 Annual return to the Internal Revenue Service, SAS reported that for that year it had total revenue of $75,485, all of which came in the form of contributions gifts and grants.

SAS's IRS return reports that the group's revenue for the preceding four years were as follows[5]:

  • 2004: $545,000
  • 2005: $100,000
  • 2006: $100,000
  • 2007: $100,000
  • 2008: $75,485

Stealth funding

It is unclear whether some of its funding is being provided via George Mason University, with which it is affiliated, because it is does not appear possible that the work of the organization, its research and website and other activities are being funded only via grants totalling $75,000. According to its website, the organization states that its staff includes Dr. Robert Lichter, Executive Director Donald Rieck (who previously worked for the Comcast corporation), Director of Research Dr. Rebecca Goldin (who acknowledges that grants from other sources fund some of her work for STATS), Senior Fellow Maia Szalavitz, Senior Fellow Dr. Stephen Rose, Senior Fellow Trevor Butterworth who also serves as the Editor STATS.org, and Contributing Editor Dr. Nirit Weiss. Since the organization's affiliation with George Mason University in 2004, its reported funding as a 501(c)(3) organization has dropped dramatically while it has employed several PhD researchers, whose salaries cumulatively cannot possibly add up to merely $75,000. Additionally, in its most recent 990, STATS reports spending a small amount of its $75,000 in funding from that year on expenses like $1,772 for telephone bills, but it reports no expenses for its lease of space on Washington, DC high-priced lobbying corridor at 2100 L Street.

It seems that with the affiliation of the group with this right-wing university, significant work and output is being financially supported by GMU and others. For example, Dr. Lichter works as a professor at GMU, in addition to his work for STATS as does Dr. Goldin, who works as an Associate Professor at GMU. According to STATS' 2009 990 tax filing, Dr. Lichter is paid only $7,993 from STATS, but he makes an undisclosed sum from GMU. (STATS' sister organization reports that it pays Dr. Lichter $40,478 a year). Similarly, there is no reference to Dr. Goldin being compensated directly from STATS but she receives an unknown sum from GMU as an Associate Professor.

GMU, like many universities, seeks out corporate and other funding, beyond the amount provided by tuition. Funding for the work of STATS by GMU effectively allows research to be funded by a variety of sources, including corporate sources, indirectly via the university's budget and through grants, contracts or gifts that may require specific results and reports to funders of the univeristy. GMU states that it "has allied with local, national, and international corporations and foundations to enrich the research and teaching of our faculty and, ultimately, to enhance the educational experience of our students. To learn more about how Mason’s institutional priorities might intersect with your organization’s, contact our Office of Corporate and Foundation Relations."

GMU's major corporate funders include:

  • ExxonMobil Corporation
  • Lilly Endowment, Inc.
  • Lockheed Martin Corporation

Here are some of GMU's major foundation funders:

$10,000,000+

  • de Laski Family Foundation (funded by Donald and Kenneth De Laski, a father-son team who made a fortune as defense contractors, proving software and other support for Department of Defense operations and contractors)

$1,000,000 to $4,999,999

  • Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation (funded by one of the billionaires of Koch Industries, which is funding an array of Republican and right-wing ideological interests, including the Tea Party via front groups like Freedomworks)

GMU does have other smaller funders that have donated $499,999 or less, including some funding from mainstream or progressive funders as well as other conservative funders.

STATS & CMPA

STATS is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization but its 2006 annual return to the Internal Revenue Service states that "salary costs for the organization are shared with the Center for Media and Public Affairs. CMPA ... reports the salary costs and files payroll reports under its tax identification number. DCFC is a related organization."[6] (It is not clear what "DCFC" refers to). (As noted above, there is no express reference in either organizations to the other PhD staff of the organizations being paid, other than Dr. Lichter.)

The report also states that the relationship between STATS and CMPA is one of "common control".[7] because STATS shares the offices (in the pricey "K Street" lobbying district of Washington) and staff of CMPA.

In 2004, STATS became officially affiliated with George Mason University and displays the university logo at the foot of its webpages.[8]

Research STATS is promoting

STATS senior fellow Maia Szalavitz's 2006 book, "Help At Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids" [9] was the first book-length investigation of the billion dollar "tough love" "boot camp" business that preys on parents and teenagers. It helped spur Congressional hearings and two Government Accountability Office investigations[10]. Szalavitz advised Rep. George Miller (D-CA) and GAO investigators before introduction of the bipartisan Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2008, which passed the House in the summer of 2008. [2]. Szalavitz' op-ed in the New York Times [3] on this issue prompted a state investigation of one facility, the Elan School in Maine.

In April of 2008, STATS released the results of a survey of climate scientists that showed that "Over eight out of ten American climate scientists believe that human activity contributes to global warming." The study, entitled "Climate Scientists Agree on Warming, Disagree on Dangers, and Don’t Trust the Media’s Coverage of Climate Change" was released on April 24, 2008 and was conducted in conjunction with Harris interactive. [11]

In an October 17, 2006 analysis titled "The Science of Counting the Dead," STATS' director of research, an MIT mathematician, Rebecca Goldin defended the epidemiological methods of the hotly debated Lancet II study on Iraqi war deaths against conservative critics. The analysis concluded that the study’s detractors, "instead of dismissing over half a million dead people as a political ploy ... ought to embrace science as opening our eyes to a tragedy whose death scale has been vastly underestimated until now." [12]

Areas of Interest

The STATS website lists the following as areas in which they have preformed "in-depth analysis"[4]:

  • General
    • "College Ranking Mania: The Washington Monthly’s Bizarre Best College List" August, 2006
  • Health
    • "What Science Really Says About the Benefits of Breast-Feeding (and what the New York Times didn’t tell you)", June 20, 2006
    • "Toy Tantrums - The Debate Over the Safety of Phthalates", January 30, 2006
    • "Teflon Is Not Forever: Why the Editors of Mother Jones Need To Be Hit Over the Head with a Frying Pan", May 2, 2007
    • "Will a Few Extra Pounds Lead to a Longer Life?", May 24, 2005
  • Public Policy
    • "Dueling Numbers on Asbestos Claims", November 10, 2005
  • Drugs
    • "The New York Times' Other WMD Problem", August 6, 2004
  • Iragi War Deaths
    • "The Science of Counting the Dead", October 17, 2006
  • Economy
    • "The Myth of the Declining Middle Class"
      • [5]
      • [6]
    • "How Bad Are Payday Loans?", July 18, 2008

Personnel

Staff

The first director of STATS was David Murray.

Their staff is listed as follows as of January 2008[7]:

Officers & Directors

According to STATS 2006 Annual return to the Internal Revenue Service, the office bearers and directors are[13]:

Advisory Board

Their Advisory Board, as of March 2008, is listed as[14]:

Former members of the Advisory Board include:

  • Sallie L. Baliunas, Senior Scientist, George Marshall Institute and Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

Contact

Center for Media and Public Affairs
and Statistical Assessment Service
2100 L St NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20037
STATS line (202) 223 3193
CMPA line (202) 223 2942
Fax (202) 872 4014
Website: http://www.stats.org

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

References

  1. E.g., the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point, http://library.uwsp.edu/guides/vrd/communication.htm "Virtual Reference Desk: Communication."
  2. [1], Stats.org, "About Us"
  3. Statistical Assessment Service, "Contribute", accessed March 2008.
  4. Grants to Statistical Assessment Service, from MediaTransparency. Accessed Nov. 5, 2010
  5. Statistical Assessment Service, "Form 990: 2008", February 2007, page 12.
  6. Statistical Assessment Service, 2006 Annual Return, page 15.
  7. Statistical Assessment Service, 2006 Annual Return, page 18.
  8. Statistical Assessment Service, "Affiliations", accessed March 2008.
  9. Maia Szalavitz,"Help At Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids." New York: Riverhead Books, 2006
  10. [www.gao.gov/new.items/d08713t.pdf], Government Accountability Office Hearing: "Selected Cases of Death, Abuse, and Deceptive Marketing"
  11. S. Robert Lichter, "Climate Scientists Agree on Warming, Disagree on Dangers, and Don’t Trust the Media’s Coverage of Climate Change," STATS, April 24, 2008.
  12. Rebecca Goldin, "The Science of Counting the Dead," STATS, October 17, 2006.
  13. Statistical Assessment Service, 2006 Annual Return, page 6.
  14. Statistical Assessment Service, "Staff", accessed March 2008.

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