ANTI-SCIENCE AND WHO DOES IT
Anti-science (or agnotology), seeks to cover-up or obscure science considered inconvenient, or at least create doubt in the minds of public and decision-makers. It seeks to replace knowledge with ignorance, and has no resemblance to normal arguments within science, by scientists.
Modern anti-science is most skillfully executed by a relatively small subset of lobbyists and PR agencies. Some of the most effective are actually "thinktanks". They have public identities distinct from their (often-unidentified) funders, and can often be labeled "non-profit", thus avoiding the expense of taxes. They often seek funding in the same way as lobbyist/PR agencies, as is well-documented in the Tobacco Archives.
Such entities have played successful roles in activities like fending off tobacco regulation, fighting CFC regulation ("ozone hole"), fighting mercury regulation, etc. For some, their top priority has changed to obfuscating climate science. Anyone who can help keep children getting addicted to tobacco should find it easy to create confusion about climate.
So, if you wonder how and why so many people, especially in North America, are confused about the current state of climate science, this is an excellent introduction to the key players and tactics.
SAMPLE CHAPTERS AND TOPICS
four: THE AGE OF ASTROTURFING
People respond better to "grass-roots" efforts than to PR from business. If no grass-roots efforts exist, then one can set up fake ones ... astroturf.
eight DENIAL BY THE POUND
Within science, the only things that really count are:
- publication in credible, peer-reviewed journals, a relatively low bar that mostly means "Not obviously wrong and might be worth reading."
- and surviving the high bar: widespread review by scientists in the field, to see if the results stand the test of time. Many don't. A few don't survive more than a few days.
But, if people cannot even get something over the low bar, they can try "petition science", in which large numbers of names are collected, sometimes including people who object violently to their inclusion as misrepresentation.
This tactic is popular, but absurd:
If you have heart problems, and 10 of the world's top cardiologists agree that you need a quad-bypass operation, do you listen to them? Suppose 10 brain surgeons sign a petition saying cardiologists know nothing about hearts. Do you believe *that* instead? Maybe the problem can be ignored?
How about a petition with 10,000 signatures ... of brain surgeons, engineers, epidemiologists, economists, politicians, chemists, nuclear physicists, and maybe a handful of (mostly-retired or not very successful) cardiologists? Are 10,000 non-experts more believable than 10 non-experts? Are they more believable than 10 experts?
nine JUNK SCIENTISTS
The same people who were often helped the tobacco industry now help others, using well-honed tactics and claims of non-existent expertise.
fourteen WHITEWASHING COAL
"Clean coal" isn't. I grew up in Western Pennsylvania, and used to work summers at the US Bureau of Mines, which tried to regulate the industry. Homes still collapse due to mine subsidence, although the coal companies departed long ago.
One topic that I hope will get more attention in any later editions is the role of certain wealthy family foundations in funding anti-science, as corporations are not the only funders. of course, this can be hard to track, given the complex web of funding that rather resembles money-laundering.
---- Added 9/24/09
Corporate funding for climate anti-science is rather concentrated in a few sectors, but corporations generally need not support anti-science. For example, on 9/22/09, the large California utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, announced its withdrawal from the US Chamber of Commerce over the latter's climate policies. The article "Irreconcilable Differences" at PG&E's website Next100 quoted PG&E CEO Peter Darbee's strong, succinct statement:
"We find it dismaying that the Chamber neglects the indisputable fact that a decisive majority of experts have said the data on global warming are compelling and point to a threat that cannot be ignored. In our opinion, an intellectually honest argument over the best policy response to the challenges of climate change is one thing; disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort the reality of these challenges are quite another."
Those new to this topic will learn quite a bit of what goes on behind the scenes. Even those familiar with the topic will discover new connections - I certainly did.
Some Canadian references might be unfamiliar to Americans, but are useful, because they offer both similarities and contrasts. Also, Canada has many parallels with Australia (oil or coal exports), so Australians may find this instructive as well. Australian blogger Tim Lambert gets plaudits for his sleuth work. New Zealand cases are mentioned, and the UK is well-represented. Climate anti-science knows no borders.
This is an excellent introduction to an important topic. An informed citizen should not only understand a little climate science, but really needs to recognize the machinery of climate anti-science, which really does not want informed citizens.