Posts Tagged ‘climate change denial’

Organized defamation and anti-science

February 26, 2010

John Mashey explains how organized defamation of science has been structured and funded. Good (and long) reading, though bad for your blood pressure. Some excerpts:

Anti-science manufactures public ignorance or doubt regarding science that produces “inconvenient” results. Many anti-science PR tactics were created for the tobacco companies in1954, and employed since for other areas, sometimes by the same people.

Science. Real science starts with research, followed by peer-reviewed publication in credible places, and most crucially via repeated evaluation by field researchers. Like the Great Wall built over time, brick by brick, it does not fall down because one brick jiggles. Science accumulates over time, with large collections of research, rarely dependent on any one paper.

Pseudoscience. When ideas are repeatedly examined, often explicitly refuted, but originators persist in the face of a strong imbalance of evidence, at some point it becomes pseudoscience, an attempt to convince scientists to adopt an idea for which the balance of evidence is strongly adverse.

Science-noise. In communicating new results to the public, the end-to-end process easily over-interprets results, loses caveats, or creates outright errors, as often happens in space-constrained newspaper headlines. Signal is often obscured by noise, purposeful or accidental, which can either increase or lessen the perceived importance of some scientific result.

Anti-science. The deliberate production of ignorance and doubt (…) employed especially when research results threaten strong economic or ideological interests. It is rarely intended to convince field professionals, but to confuse the public and especially decision-makers in government and business. Many modern anti-science tactics were invented by Hill & Knowlton in 1954 for tobacco companies and used thereafter, often by the same people and organizations, especially in fighting environmental regulations. However, the rise of the Internet has offered new opportunities for anti-science amplification. Anti-science sometimes employs its own science-noise and even pseudoscience. Suppose someone writes a peer-reviewed paper showing some well-caveated, modest effect, but then drastically and repeatedly over-interprets it for non-field audiences via OpEds, lectures, blogs, websites, claiming it has demolished decades of careful research. That is usually deliberate anti-science, not just science-noise. Organized anti-science seeks to bypass science.

Classic Science Bypass Methods. A few prestigious physicists have long campaigned to nullify the results of climate research, especially policies deriving from it, or more generally to obscure any science that might lead to government environmental regulation of almost any sort. They have been joined by many others. This has been done, not by publishing peer-reviewed research, but via PR techniques for creating doubt in the general population. The general approach was created by Hill and Knowlton in 1954 for the tobacco companies to fend off unwanted regulation, in the booklet “A Scientific Perspective on the Cigarette Controversy”:

http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/wye21a00/pdf

This approach was classic science bypass – get quotes from authoritative-sounding sources, distribute to a large public audience, to create doubt and delay. This approach has long been employed since to fight most environmental regulation, whether warranted or not. The themes were:

  • The evidence is still inconclusive. [This can be repeated ad nauseam, as absolute proof is unattainable – BV]
  • Something other than smoking may be responsible.
  • Statistical evidence can‘t be trusted.
  • It‘s all a scare campaign.
  • The issue is too complicated, even for scientists.
  • Nit-picking at irrelevant details. [McIntyre, anyone? – BV]
  • More research is necessary.

The similarities with the tactics used by climate “skeptics” is obvious.

See also:

Book “Climate cover up” detailing the trail and tactics of the climate disinformation campaign

Book “Doubt is their product” about the successful tobacco strategies being copied in the climate debate.

Michael Tobis on how science should and should not be used in society

Spencer Weart provides historical context to the manipulation of public opinion.

Great talk by Naomi Oreskes on the American denial of global warming on youtube.

Why denial of a difficult problem is psychologically favored

Chris Mooney on pseudo-skeptical tactics being used

Jules investigating similarities in the climate change and tobacco strategies.


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