Friday, November 27, 2009

Dr. Masters vs. the Manufactured Doubt Industry

Industries that harm people and the environment are threatened when science reveals their harmful effects, because it puts public and political pressure on them to change, potentially endangering profits. Sadly, the laws that govern corporations require them to do whatever it takes to maximize short-term profits, but make no provisions for protecting people and the environment or refraining from misleading the public. So rather than changing in response to scientific findings, industry will hire creepy PR firms and lobbyists to dispute and suppress the science. The creeps take advantage of the fact that science is complicated to cast doubt on the good science, inject their own phony science, and create a false sense of uncertainty about whether their industrial activity is actually bad.

It's scary how successful the lobbyists have been. For example, even as the scientific evidence connecting humans to global warming has gotten stronger and stronger, more and more people are skeptical or confused about climate change because of misleading PR campaigns by the "Manufactured Doubt" industry.

One of the bloggers who I most admire, weather scientist Dr. Jeff Masters, just did an excellent job of calling out the Manufactured Doubt scam. I was going to put in some snippets of his post here, but it's so good you should really just read the whole thing. Please check out Dr. Masters' Post and spread it around to all your friends.


Frank said...

All science is a little suspect I think. I remember when scientist said electricity flowed from positive to negative; now negative to positive. Doctors gave morfine addicts herion as a cure. If it didn't happen in your life time it didn't happen. So if society quits all these BAD things what will we do with all the people? How will they be fed? Petro chemical fertlizers have helped feed the world population. These are all complex questions and there are no easy answers. The Democrats can't even get out of Iraq and Afganistan like they said would be easy. When you are in charge things are not as easy as when you are just theorizing.

James Douglass said...


I don't think there's been any revision of basic electrical theory since the 19th century - are you sure you're remembering right?


I agree with you that just knowing the science side of a problem isn't always enough to solve it, especially when it's a complex problem that involves peoples lives and livelihoods. Like you say, we couldn't just stop using all fertilizer or people would starve. But we need to think about ways to use fertilizer, and food, less wastefully if we want to feed people sustainably in the long term. Plus we need to stop population growth, but that's a topic for another post!

Van said...

Science does not speak the same language as PR firms. Science uses fact; however, public relations uses story and metaphore.
We, most of use anyway, are more in tune with metaphore then facts. In most cases we'll align our facts to fit a story.

Scientists must change their method if they want to convince the masses.

James Douglass said...

Van- I think you're right. Real scientists have a truer message, but the doubt industry has a LOUDER message that's more tuned to what the public understands. I think the solution is partly for scientists to speak out more often and in more simple terms, but also for there to be some legal restrictions on how much lobbying and PR that corporations are allowed to fund. For example, right now there are FIVE oil-industry lobbyists in Washington DC for every ONE congressperson!

Fish said...

Interesting stuff James, and thanks for the link to the Dr. Master's Post. Definitely a good read.

Catapulting Aaron said...

Hey James,

Thanks for posting this. I'm not really sure what to believe about global warming these days, so I guess the "doubt industry" is working. Plus, it's convenient for me to not feel guilty about all the extra pollution I'm creating on days when I drive my V8 surf van.

Really, these guys are unweighing my conscience all over the place!

Van said...

The scientists need to speak more often yes, but they need to tell a story. The story should include the question, how does this affect me?

In the Disney film Earth we heard several stories about animals, including a polar bear family. The film showed how the melting ice caps has affected this family of polar bears, it made the global warming issue real, with real consequences. We witnessed this polar bear family struggle to survive.
In the ABC News show Earth 2100 we followed a family who lived in a possible future where population growth and depleted natural resources caused the Earth to warm faster than expected thereby causing an end to our civilization as we know it. Now the story looked at this possible future as the worst case senerio, but that story made the issues facing humanity real; at least to me anyway. It helped me see that my actions do have an impact on the future of humanity.
The Germans called this type of film propaganda, we call it PR. But PR can be used in a good way as well as in a negative. You just have to tell a true story with honesty and openness.

JSW225 said...

The climate has changed. The climate will always change. The panic whipped up about this is done so for ulterior motives only.

You should start worrying only when the weather changes become stagnate.

James Douglass said...

Aaron- Yeah, the doubt industry guys definitely have a seductive message. "Don't worry- just keep consuming like you've been doing."

Van- Yep. Propaganda can be bad, but given how much is coming from oil industry side, we need some from the other side to counteract it.

JSW- Yes, historically the climate has gone through both short and long-term changes for many reasons unrelated to human activity. Those natural causes of climate variation are well-understood by the scientific community. But that does not imply that climate is not, or cannot be, significantly affected by human activity, as well. It's obvious that humans have drastically changed many aspects of the earth's biosphere- think of deforestation, desertification, overfishing, urban sprawl, agriculture, toxic pollution, nutrient pollution, etc. Even from space, the planet looks very different than it did 20, 200, or 2000 years ago. You can debate whether or not current climate trends are the result of natural or anthropogenic (human-caused) changes, but it would be crazy to think that nothing humans do, not even our doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentrations, could ever affect the climate.

JSW225 said...

Did you ever stop to wonder why those that want to fine, punish, and restrict businesses and industry for social purposes suddenly and inexplicably want to fine, punish, and restrict businesses for ecological reasons?

James Douglass said...

JSW- Hmm. So you're saying you think liberals are out to hurt industry any way they can, and they are only embracing social and environmental causes as tools for taking down industry?

I think you've got our motivations totally backwards. For one, we really don't have anything against industry, per se. At least I don't. For two, we really DO think it's important to protect social justice and the ecological systems that support human life.

JSW225 said...

The one research organization that is most influential with the UN (which is about to pass sweeping business restrictions and taxes) recently got caught fabricating data, manipulating results, and tossing out real findings.

When confronted with this, the resounding answer is to push on with the legislation, but not to step back and make sure everything is kosher.

Were these scientists seeking the truth, there would be outrage in their communities (See the Korean Dog Cloning debacle). But since they are not seeking the truth, there is no outrage but more pressure to push forward faster.

PeconicPuffin said...

Global warming or no, the demand for oil that will be exerted by China and India 20 years from now is going to wreak havoc in the U.S., where people feel it's their god-given right to be wasteful, fat and stupid. We're going to be buying our electric cars, solar panels, tidal generators etc from the Chinese, while keeping OPEC rich.

JSW225 said...

Despite the organization itself saying that the leaked Emails are real, and the leaked emails saying that their evidence and data is outright fabricated or adjusted with a specific end in mind, the UN is saying that there is no doubt that Climate Change is man made.

More proof that this was never about the Climate.

PeconicPuffin said...

JSW, you don't seem to have a grasp of logic.

The quantity and quality of evidence supporting the theory that global warming is dangerous and largely aggravated by human activities that are changeable...and the wide variety of those sources, dwarfs that of the science arguing against it. Which is why people whose livelihoods are threatened by such scientific pronouncements pay top dollar to muddy the water as long as possible.

James Douglass said...

Puffin- Thanks.

JSW- The hackers looked through 13 years' worth of emails between top global warming scientists. They found that the scientists were disrespectful of their critics and had improperly labeled the source of temperature data on part of one graph, way back in 1999. They definitely did not find any evidence of a conspiracy to put out falsified data to fake global warming. Jeff Masters has a much more detailed summary of what they found:

JSW225 said...

Pec - I could just as easily say that the quantity of evidence shows that the earth is doing something completely natural. I could claim "Consensus" (despite the word being used incorrectly) to try to strengthen my position. But any way you look at it, the debate is not over.

The problem I'm pointing out is that because of these politicians and scientists rushing to judge, and rushing to act before this debate is complete, this is proof that this was never about the climate, and never about scientific process.

PeconicPuffin said...

"because of these politicians and scientists rushing to judge, and rushing to act before this debate is complete, this is proof that this was never about the climate, and never about scientific process."

JSW225, you are hilarious.

Aside from the fact that there's been no rush to judgement or action on this's taken decades to get here...your characterizing rushing as "proof that this was never about the climate etc" is specious nonsense. If someone sees smoke coming out of a kitchen window and runs to pull the fire alarm before determining whether the house is on fire or if something is just smoking badly on the stove, do we say we have proof that the alarm puller's motivation had nothing to do with stopping a fire?

There are people who for whatever reason hate environmentalists, there are shills both professional and amateur for polluters, and there are people for whom everything is twisted by the political implications. It seems clear to me that you're some combination of those.

JSW225 said...

We have 50 years worth of solid data about the Weather in the world. We have 100 years of not so solid data.

Out of 50 years worth of data, on a planet that is 4,500,000,000 years old. From this, we think we can draw steady conclusions?

We know that it used to be much much warmer without any interference from a human industry. There was a temperate climate on Greenland that actually held prosperous farming.

We know that it also used to be much much colder without any interference from human industries.

So basically, the climate has gone back and forth throughout history, in much larger gains and losses than a fraction of a degree centigrade. We know the climate fluctuates. It always has fluctuated. Despite CO2 going up steadily, the average temperatures went down in the 1960's.

What we really have are a bunch of chicken littles, and the scam artists bent on benefiting from others panicking.