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By Robert Rapier on Apr 25, 2007 with no responses

Vinod Khosla and The Truth

One thing I noted during my previous debunking of Vinod Khosla’s claims was that he was very careless with information he presented as fact. I have seen numerous incorrect or grossly exaggerated claims in his presentations. Why should I care? As I have stated before, he is free to invest his money into whatever scheme he desires. That’s no skin off my nose. But he has aggressively lobbied the government to fund and support his schemes. And since I believe energy policy is too important to be influenced by false claims, I take exception.

Yesterday in my inbox I was presented with another example of Khosla making reckless claims. I have mentioned it in passing, but last week a study was released by Professor Mark Jacobson of Stanford in which he concluded that the environmental advantages of ethanol have been exaggerated:

Jacobson found that an E85 vehicle reduces atmospheric levels of two carcinogens, benzene and butadiene, but increases two others: formaldehyde and acetaldehyde.

As a result, cancer rates for E85 are likely to be similar to those for gasoline – or worse. Jacobson’s study, based on an intricate model, found that in certain parts of the country, E85 significantly increased ozone, the main ingredient of smog.

He maintains that mortality rates could rise 4 percent in the United States by 2020 if we make the switch to E85.

Mr. Khosla was recently asked about this. And he quickly threw out the sort of claim that I became all too familiar with during his promotion of California’s Proposition 87:

When Vinod Khosla – co-founder of Sun Microsystems, noted venture capitalist and ethanol champion – was giving a pep talk on ethanol, a student (one who, apparently, has yet to be pounded into intellectual submission) asked him if he had heard of Jacobson’s study.

Of course Khosla had heard of it! The study was funded by Exxon.

That is shameful. For the record, here was Jacobson’s reply when asked if Exxon had funded his research:

“Absolutely not,” he laughs. “I’ve taken no money from energy companies. My study was funded by NASA. For 18 years I’ve been studying pollutants in the air to understand the atmosphere better and try to find solutions to problems.”

Mr. Khosla can retract that statement, and he can apologize. And he should. But the damage is done. “Jacobson? Oh yeah, you mean that guy funded by Exxon.”As I saw during his Prop 87 campaigning, smearing opponents was an acceptable way of achieving his objectives.

Professor Jacobson also made a statement that sums up why I have so vigorously challenged Khosla on these issues:

“I’m interested in climate change and air pollution, and corn ethanol doesn’t help us with those problems,” he tells me. “We have some serious problems. If we start believing that we’re solving problems and we’re not, that’s a dangerous road to be on. In 15 years we’ll be sitting here looking back and wondering why we locked into ethanol when there are far better roads.”

Sadly, people will continue to accept Vinod Khosla’s ethanol claims. After all expertise in one field automatically implies expertise in other fields. Right?