Peddlers of doubt – monkeys or organ-grinders?
I have written much and often about Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s brilliant 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt, but, if I am honest, our biggest problem is the scientifically-illiterate journalists that regurgitate misleading information, arguments and ideas; mainly as a consequence of ideological prejudice.
As I recently said to John Kosowski, I am sure they genuinely believe what they say is true. But so do people who believe the Moon Landings were faked and/or that 9/11 was an inside job: I believe that their problem is that they have decided that they cannot allow humans to be found to be responsible for climate change (because that would require fundamental behaviour modification)… Like Aldous Huxley setting out to prove that God does not exist, they have set out to prove that we are not responsible for climate change. Sure enough, they have found some evidence that appears to suggest to them that we are not the primary cause, but they are recklessly over-playing their hand.
Of course, John then picked me up on my preceding accusation that such people (and/or conservative think tanks [CTTs] like the Heartland Institute) are willfully peddling “misinformation” (i.e. saying stuff they know to be false). However, my response to that was – and is – that… If they are honestly misguided but in error then, OK, they cannot be guilty of deceit. However, that does not change the extremely high probability that they are ideologically prejudiced against accepting what the majority of climate scientists tell us; and it does not change the undeniable fact that like-minded people have denied a wide range of environmental problems in the past for the same reason. In other words, they have “form”. This is the message of Merchants of Doubt.
However, what about these journalists that do so much to spread their Merchants’ message of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD); where the fear is that there is:
– A socialist plot to subvert national governance via the UN (i.e. very reminiscent of the anti-semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion hoax that does so much to perpetuate unrest in the Middle East because so many Arabs still believe it to be genuine); or
– A scientific conspiracy to foist environmental alarmism upon a credulous world purely to secure ongoing finance for their own research.
Failing that, the objective is just to perpetuate uncertainty and doubt in exactly the same way that the tobacco companies did (i.e. “the science is not settled – so we can all continue smoking”). Why are so many people still taken-in by this? Whatever happened to “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me!” Truly, anyone still fooled by this should be ashamed of themselves…
So, this week I am going to do something I have been meaning to do for some time, publish some examples of how and why these misguided – and I would say misinformed – journalists (who no doubt really believe in the validity of what they write) are so blatantly in error: In essence, this is because they are not scientists and, therefore, they are incapable of reaching a reliable judgement about the science. Instead, at best, they filter what they read through their own political prejudice and, at worst, they uncritically repeat the misleading arguments and misrepresented findings with which the ‘Merchants of Doubt’ feed them (or feed their conspiracy theories).
20 years ago, the most prominent ‘Merchants of Doubt’ were Bill Nierenberg, Robert Jastrow, Frederick Seitz and Fred Singer; whereas today, the indomitable Fred Singer is primarily supported by the likes of Richard Lindzen, Partick Michaels, and Roy Spencer; all of whose research is primarily financed by CTTs acting as money laundering facilities for big businesses with special interests to protect (and ‘to hell with the planet’, hey guys?). Unlike the evidence for the FUD conspiracies postulated above, even before the revelations about the Heartland Institute last week, there was a great deal of evidence to show that big business – and the oil industry in particular – is engaged in just such a misinformation campaign. There is, therefore, no getting around the fact that this is straightforward political interference in the process of scientific enquiry. Furthermore, as such, any non-profit organisation in the USA so involved should be prosecuted under Federal Law. I genuinely hope that this will now happen.
However, I digress… Over the next four days, I will post four examples of non-scientific British journalists who are peddling the FUD message for prejudicial reasons, as follows:
– Brendan O’Neill – a left-wing ‘sceptic’;
– Melanie Phillips – an unorthodox ‘sceptic’;
– Christopher Booker – an illogical ‘sceptic’; and
– James Delingpole – an ideological ‘sceptic’.
As such, all of what will follow in the coming days is based on the research (into climate change scepticism in the UK) I did to produce a 15,000 word dissertation as part of the requirements for my MA in Environmental Politics. More information about this is available on my About page but, in this present context, the key conclusion I reached was as follows:
Whereas the majority of CTTs analysed dispute the existence of a legitimate consensus, and the majority of sceptical journalists focus on conspiracy theories, the majority of scientists and economists equate environmentalism with a new religion; whereas politicians and others analysed appear equally likely to cite denialist and/or economic arguments for inaction.