We are plagued by industries set up to deny reality. It’s impossible to discuss public policy without smashing into organizations set up specifically to question history and hard science, and plant seeds of doubt in the minds of the public about the way things really are. When my job was to fight them, with essentially no budget, as late as 1985 there was a well-funded lobby in Washington that cranked out weekly “news” and opinion columns for smaller and less discriminating news outlets like weekly papers and local television stations, extolling the virtues of tobacco and claiming that no scientist had any real evidence that smoking is unhealthy.
A lot of those disinformation artists have moved on — not to the Soviet Union, since it collapsed and took most its propaganda machine with it — to denial of reality on global warming, evolutionary biology, pesticides and chemicals, and a host of other issues.
Sharon Begley’s story in the August 13, 2007, Newsweek pulls back the veil on the well-funded industry that tries to plant doubt about the reality of global warming: “The Truth about Denial.” If this is news to you, that people get paid well to hoax the public, you really need to read the story:
If you think those who have long challenged the mainstream scientific findings about global warming recognize that the game is over, think again. Yes, 19 million people watched the “Live Earth” concerts last month, titans of corporate America are calling for laws mandating greenhouse cuts, “green” magazines fill newsstands, and the film based on Al Gore’s best-selling book, “An Inconvenient Truth,” won an Oscar. But outside Hollywood, Manhattan and other habitats of the chattering classes, the denial machine is running at full throttle—and continuing to shape both government policy and public opinion.
Since the late 1980s, this well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change. Through advertisements, op-eds, lobbying and media attention, greenhouse doubters (they hate being called deniers) argued first that the world is not warming; measurements indicating otherwise are flawed, they said. Then they claimed that any warming is natural, not caused by human activities. Now they contend that the looming warming will be minuscule and harmless. “They patterned what they did after the tobacco industry,” says former senator Tim Wirth, who spearheaded environmental issues as an under secretary of State in the Clinton administration. “Both figured, sow enough doubt, call the science uncertain and in dispute. That’s had a huge impact on both the public and Congress.”
Do these deniers affect public policy? Gullibles, political opponents, handmaidens of error, and even well-meaning suckers fall for spin on science, over and over again: On global warming (see this one, too), on DDT and malaria, teaching science in public schools, alternative medicine and preventive vaccines, and other issues including (who could make this up?) riding a bicycle.
No, I don’t have a solution.