Climate

Must see Naomi Oreskes talk on Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscure the Truth about Climate Change.

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global WarmingNaomi Oreskes’ upcoming book, Merchants of Doubt, explains “the troubling story of how a cadre of influential scientists have clouded public understanding of scientific facts to advance a political and economic agenda.”

The prolific UC San Diego professor discusses the history of both our understanding of human-caused global warming and the anti-science disinformation campaign in this terrific talk from last week:

The book catalog explains:

The U.S. scientific community has long led the world in research on such areas as public health, environmental science, and issues affecting quality of life. Our scientists have produced landmark studies on the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and global warming. But at the same time, a small yet potent subset of this community leads the world in vehement denial of these dangers.

Merchants of Doubt tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades. Remarkably, the same individuals surface repeatedly””some of the same figures who have claimed that the science of global warming is “not settled” denied the truth of studies linking smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole. “Doubt is our product,” wrote one tobacco executive. These “experts” supplied it.

Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, historians of science, roll back the rug on this dark corner of the American scientific community, showing how ideology and corporate interests, aided by a too-compliant media, have skewed public understanding of some of the most pressing issues of our era.”

From Merchants of Doubt: “For half a century, the tobacco industry, defenders of the Strategic Defense Initiative, and those skeptical of acid rain, the ozone hole, and global warming strove to ‘maintain the controversy’ and ‘keep the debate alive’ by fostering claims that were contrary to the mainstream of scientific evidence and expert judgment. We have seen how they promoted claims that had already been refuted in the scientific literature, and how the media became complicit as they reported the controversy as if it was a legitimate debate. Often the media did so without informing readers, viewers, and listeners that the ‘experts’ being quoted had links to the tobacco industry, were affiliated with partisan think tanks funded by industries, or were simply habitual contrarians who perhaps enjoyed the attention garnered by outlier views.”

WWF’s Nick Sundt notes, “Oreskes read a passage from her book, including the following (starting at 38:10 in the video)”:

“Imagine a gigantic, colossal banquet. Hundreds of millions of people come to eat. They eat and drink to their hearts’ content, eating food that is better and more abundant than at the finest tables in ancient Athens, or Rome or even in the palaces of midieval Europe. Then one day a man arrives wearing a white dinner jacket.”

That would be the waiter with the bill for this feast:

Not surprisingly the diners are in shock. Some begin to deny that this is their bill. Others deny that there even is a bill. Still others deny that they partook of the meal. One diner suggests the man is not really a waiter, but is only trying to get attention for himself or to raise money for his own projects. Finally the group concludes that if they simply ignore the waiter, he will go away. This is where we stand today on the question of global warming. For the past 150 years, industrial civilization has been dining on the energy stored in fossil fuels and the bill has now come due. Yet we have sat around the dinner table denying that it is our bill, and doubting the credibility of the man who delivered it.

The great economist John Maynard Keynes famously summarized all of economic theory in a single phrase: “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” And he was right. We have experienced prosperity unmatched in human history. We have feasted to our hearts’ content. But the lunch was not free.

So it is not surprising that many of us are in denial. After all we didn’t know that it was a banquet — and we didn’t know that there would be a bill. But now we do know. The bill includes acid rain, and the ozone hole and the damaged produced by DDT. These are the environmental costs of living the way citizens of wealthy developed nations have lived since the industrial revolution. Now we either have to pay the price, change the way we do business, or both.

No wonder the merchants of doubt have been successful. They’ve permitted us to think we could ignore the waiter, while we haggled about the bill. The failure of the United States to act on global warming as well as the long delays between when the science was settled and when we acted on tobacco, acid rain and the ozone hole are prima facie empirical evidence that doubt-mongering works.”

On Monday, I’ll have more to say about how the merchants of doubt operate.

h/t CSW

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14 Responses to Must see Naomi Oreskes talk on Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscure the Truth about Climate Change.

  1. David B. Benson says:

    Good place to mention that it appears that Lindzen has stepped over the line in some advice on WUWT fairly recently.

    Ugh.

  2. I have just listened to Naomi Oreskes’ lecture. I found it superb an an excellent example of how each of us in the general scientific community should be speaking out against the deniers and for immediate action to prevent more global warming. I am, of course, speaking here to the already committed and active scientific community and I wish to commend you all: keep up the good work!

  3. Former Skeptic says:

    Prof Oreske’s book is a must-read. Don’t take it from me, take it from Tom Fuller (note, link thankfully does not go to Fuller’s Examiner’s blog):

    I’ve read more Oreskes than I really care to. Her effect on this debate has been pernicious. She has done a lot of harm.

    If Fuller says it’s “harmful”, then it must be a heck of a good read.

  4. Deep Climate says:

    #2

    Lindzen has been quoted many, many times at WUWT.

    In one case, he sent an email to Anthony Watts suggesting the “no significant warming since 1995” meme back in 2008.

    This bogus talking point eventually got turned into the recent “admission” by Phil Jones.

    http://deepclimate.org/2010/03/02/round-and-round-we-go-with-lindzen-motl-and-jones/

  5. Oliver says:

    Pretty sure that it wasn’t JM Keynes who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Heinlein popularised the phrase, Milton Friedman later used it as a title

  6. Lou Grinzo says:

    Oliver (6): Hah! Clearly that PROVES, using REAL EVIDENCE AND FACTS that global warming is a hoax, James Hansen eats grapes in supermarkets without paying for them, Al Gore is a big poopy head, and [insert long list of other ludicrous “beliefs” here]!!!

    (I apologize. I seem to have developed this affliction lately where I lapse into rampant denier-speak. It’s kind of a blog version of Tourette’s.)

  7. Michael Symes says:

    Actually, it’s not a trivial error, when it comes to establishing the credibility of the author, that she mistakenly attributes the saying about a free lunch to Keynes. The saying is frequently used by anti-Keynesians to summarize what they believe to be the fatal flaw in Keynes idea(s). The other way they say it is: “you can’t steal from the future”. In other words, Keynes, they say, was advocating stealing from the future. Given that the standard moral argument for action on climate change is “we are stealing from the future”, it may be a mistake to direct people’s attention in any way at all at Keynesian economic theory.

  8. Dano says:

    What Former Skeptic said. Whatever blatant shills like Tom Fuller say is really often the opposite of reality.

    Best,

    D

  9. Anne says:

    How about a book tour??? When is the publication/rollout date for Merchants of Doubt? How about an ambitious communications and outreach project around the messages in this book designed to call a spade a spade, and ask ourselves that wonderful Q that Oreskes poses: Why do status-quo’ers keep using the same tactics… and why do “we” (the societal we) keep falling for it? More importantly, when can this ugly denialist medusa finally be slayed, once and for all (!!) so we can all get on to the urgent business of a sane and appropriate human response to this grave problem of global climate disruption?

  10. Steve says:

    What is particularly fascinating about Oreskes’ talk is her evidence that merchants of doubt were originally motivated by ideology rather than money, in this case a fear that government intrusion into the marketplace will lead to socialism. Oreskes points out a tragic paradox: that doubt-induced delay in taking action on climate change actually increases the likelihood that heavy-handed government intrusion will be needed when the problem grows to crisis proportions, as we saw in the market meltdown.

    Mending the earth is dependent upon mending people’s belief in limited but effective government, and in the value of hard work–the sort that leads to scientific consensus. The biggest hurdle in this respect is the lack of skepticism that has been directed towards Ronald Reagan by those who embrace his legacy. His deep pessimism about government, his lack of work ethic when it came to understanding complex subjects, when combined with the erroneous view that he never changed his mind, didn’t raise taxes, and was true to his word–these are at the core of resistance to the sort of action that is needed to avoid a national crisis. See “The Dark Side of the Reagan Legacy.”

  11. Richard Brenne says:

    There is no known single originator of the “There is no free lunch” quote that began because of bars offering free food to those buying a drink in the late 1800s, so it is common to attribute it to those who used it. (You’ll also know the saying is especially true if you’ve ever had your lunch tab picked up by anyone in sales.)

    So what are you saying, Oliver and Michael (#6 and #8)? That there is a free lunch? If so, where?

    Milton Friedman’s full title was “There Is No Free Lunch Nor Limits To Growth Because I Said and You Want It To Be So.”

    Naomi is wonderfully clear, courageous, candid and blunt, and her background as a scientist shows, like Joe’s.

    Let’s all pitch in and get a copy of “Merchants of Doubt” for our friend Andy Revkin, because Naomi so clearly states how balance is imbalance once an aspect of science has been thoroughly vetted as human contributions to global warming have been. It becomes accepted science and a consensus and the scientific community then moves on to solving what is unknown. Reading DotEarth, especially the comments, feels like climbing a sand dune, taking one step up and going three steps back.

    Naomi’s talk and book focuses on three recently deceased lions of physics who became liars about the effects of tobacco, acid rain, the hole in the ozone and global warming, saying in effect that each was (at various stages of their unrelenting deceit) good for you, not a problem, or that the science hadn’t been settled, all to perpetuate the unthinking, dangerous and ultimately deadly status quo.

    They are Robert Jastrow, the astro-physicist head of NASA-GISS from 1961 through 1981 (I wonder how Hansen feels about his former boss – I know Schneider thinks he was about the most insufferable, arrogant jerk he ever met even before Jastrow became a full-time denier), Frederick Seitz, born in 1911, President of the National Academy of Sciences and consultant (admitting to about $600,000 worth) to RJ Reynolds, and William Nierenberg, the longtime director of Scripps (Was he emeritus and did you know him when you were there personally or by reputation, Joe?).

    A theologian friend tells me he’s confident Jastrow, Seitz and Nierenberg are smoking together now.

  12. Richard Brenne says:

    There is no known single originator of the “There is no free lunch” quote that began because of bars offering free food to those buying a drink in the late 1800s, so it is common to attribute it to those who used it. (You’ll also know the saying is especially true if you’ve ever had your lunch tab picked up by anyone in sales.)

    So what are you saying, Oliver and Michael (#6 and #8)? That there is a free lunch? If so, where?

    Milton Friedman’s full title was “There Is No Free Lunch Nor Limits To Growth Because I Said and You Want It To Be So.”

  13. John Mashey says:

    Pre-order the book, available in May.

    Naomi & Erik have dug out an *amazing* mass of supporting detail from a long history.