Cold War heroes founded climate Denialism

My recent guest post by Byron Smith on 3 degrees of warming and the following conversation generated this comment:

“I believe that unless the new ipcc report addresses all these questions then the skeptic community will grow dramatically. The fact is a the science needs to be able to explain things like this or it’s not settled and it may not even be a science. Right now much of agw looks to be a religion and the catastrophic theories that are being bandied look like religionists scrambling for a way to keep the fear of god in people not like real science.”

However, I think it’s exactly the other way around. Work by Dr Naomi Oreskes shows that, in the history of climate science, it is the peer-reviewed work of real climate scientists that has suffered unprovoked, unkind, unethical attacks by non-climate hacks. The sad reality is that these ‘hacks’ should know better as they are trained scientists who were once Cold War heroes.

I’m going to quote extensively from Cosmos Magazine’s brilliant review of Dr Oreseke’s book, Merchant’s of Doubt, and then list a few of their tactics from Climate Insight’s own summary. You can read both of these links, or even listen to Naomi present her own work in a 50 minute speech delivered to the University of New South Wales. (Download this and play it next time you’re doing the dishes or ironing or whatever drives you crazy).

For readability I will just quote these 2 sources under the headings below. I find this blog’s quote formats unreadable. I’ll sign off here with the comment that I’m genuinely saddened that scientists of this calibre have set themselves up to slander the rest of the climate community. They have let old Free Market V Communist dichotomies pollute their paranoid thinking and stooped so low that reading about them leaves a bad taste in the mouth. It’s just sad.

Cosmos Review of Merchants of Doubt

Today the Marshall Institute no longer denies the reality of man-made climate change, but they continue to cast doubt on climate science. So where did the Marshall Institute come from? And why do they promote doubt about climate science?

Three physicists – who built their careers in Cold War weapons and rocketry programs – founded the institute in 1984. They’d worked on the atomic bomb, the hydrogen bomb and other nuclear weapons’ delivery systems.

Robert Jastrow was an astrophysicist who was the head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and very active in the American space program. Then there was William Nierenberg, a nuclear physicist who had begun his career on the Manhattan Project working on isotope separation.

He was also the long-time director of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where he supervised many U.S. Navy-sponsored oceanographic research projects associated with submarine detection, acoustic detection of Soviet submarines and the accurate guidance of submarines launched into continental ballistic missiles.

The third physicist was Fred Seitz, who was a one-time president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and had worked with Eugene Wigner, one of the fathers of the atomic bomb. All three were extremely distinguished men, successful in their careers, and heads of major U.S. scientific research institutes. These men had known each other throughout their career. Both Seitz and Nierenberg had served as science advisors to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and had been on various advisory committees together.

In the 1980s, they found themselves working together on an advisory panel to the administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan on the Strategic Defence Initiative, or ‘Star Wars’ missile shield to protect the U.S. from incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Strategic defence was highly controversial, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, because it was a departure from the long established Cold War doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction – in which any nuclear war would effectively result in the destruction of both parties, and was therefore futile.

The vast majority of scientists who had worked on nuclear weapons programs argued that strategic defence was not feasible, that to build a perfect impermeable missile shield was simply not technologically possible.

Even if it were possible, it would be politically destabilising; if you thought you had an effective missile shield, then you might be tempted to launch a first strike.

For this reason, 6,500 American scientists and engineers, many of whom had worked on defence in past decades, signed a petition boycotting strategic defence program funds, a move unprecedented in the history of the Cold War. Never before had there been a wholesale rejection of a nuclear weapons program by American scientists.

This greatly disturbed the Reagan administration and it greatly disturbed Seitz, Nierenberg and Jastrow, who supported strategic defence. Between 1984 and 1989, the three men worked to defend the missile shield by promoting an alarming view of Soviet strength and a very frightening picture of American military weakness.

They wrote numerous articles, opinion pieces and white papers supporting strategic defence and claiming that the Soviet Union was overtaking the U.S. in military and technical superiority.

AND THIS IS where the story gets interesting. Seitz, who was the founding chairman of the board of the Marshall Institute, was a nuclear physicist. But in 1979, he took a new job on in his retirement: he went to work for the R. J.

Reynolds Tobacco Corporation as a consultant, directing a biomedical research program in which he distributed more than US$45 million to scientists doing research that could cast doubt on the science that established the harmful effects of tobacco.

One of the principal strategies of the tobacco industry was ‘doubt-mongering’, insisting that the science was unsettled, that we didn’t really know for sure if tobacco was dangerous, that there were a lot of uncertainties.

How come two sisters could both smoke a pack a day, and one gets cancer while the other doesn’t? Because of these uncertainties, they argued, it would be premature for the government to intervene to regulate tobacco use.

In 1989, these two stories merged. The Cold War ended and the Soviet enemy began to disintegrate. The West had won the Cold War and you might have thought that these old Cold Warriors would be satisfied that their life’s work had come to such a positive fruition. That they might have rested content. But they didn’t. It’s kind of like old generals who can’t stop fighting the last war.

What we see is that they found a new enemy, which they called ‘environmental extremism’, and which they considered an exaggeration of environmental threats by people with a left-wing agenda. They began to see ‘reds under the bed’, and the bed was environmentalism.

Following on the lessons that Seitz had learned working for the tobacco industry, they applied the same strategy – doubt-mongering. They began to insist that the science was unsettled and that there wasn’t a consensus among the scientific experts.

“Doubt is our product” ran the infamous memo written by one tobacco industry executive in 1969, “since it is the best means of competing with the body of fact that exists in the minds of the general public.”

But one of the key insights the tobacco industry realised early on was that for this doubt-mongering campaign to be credible, it needed scientists. If tobacco companies could get distinguished scientists, prestigious scientists, to say the science was unsettled, that would have a lot of credibility with the media.

They might not quote a tobacco industry executive, but they would quote the president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. So a key component of this strategy was the recruitment of scientists who would be willing to participate in this activity.

This strategy spread to a whole set of other environmental issues. We see scientists supplying, exaggerating, emphasising and amplifying doubt about the reality of acid rain, the harmful effects of DDT, the severity of the ozone hole and, of course, the human causes of global warming.

In every one of these cases, we see this small group of physicists denying the severity of these problems. The same pattern is evident over and over again, insisting that the science is too uncertain to justify government action. It involves the systematic misrepresentation of the actual scientific evidence, just as the tobacco industry did before.

The pattern is one of cherry-picking individual pieces of evidence that didn’t seem to support the mainstream view and taking them out of context and amplifying them. Find one glacier in New Zealand that isn’t retreating and insist that there’s no global warming.

There were also personal attacks on leading scientists, such as stealing private emails – which has been going on since the 1980s – and pressuring journalists to write ‘balanced’ stories, giving equal weight to the industry position – even though that position is not supported by scientific evidence.

Then finally, finding a tiny handful of dissenting scientists – three physicists in America, two geologists in Australia, one climate scientist in New Zealand – and promoting them on television, radio and in print media to create the impression of real scientific debate.

The question I’m asking is: why? Why would distinguished scientists misrepresent scientific evidence? Why would a former president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences attack his own scientific colleagues, misrepresent their work, launch personal attacks on them and accuse them of fraud? Why would a scientist do that to his peers?

Everyone always assumes this is a story of corruption for money, yet it’s more complicated than that. There is no evidence that Seitz, Nierenberg or Jastrow did this for personal monetary gain.

Rather, the motivation was ideological and driven by ‘free market fundamentalism’ – the endpoint of a wide spectrum of beliefs that can be broadly categorised as modern neoliberalism.

This is a set of beliefs that are focused on the value of deregulation and releasing the so-called ‘magic of the marketplace’.

Climate Insights summary of the Marshall Institute’s anti-science strategies.

• Manufactured uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence.
• Adopted a strategy of information laundering by using seemingly independent front organizations to publicly further its desired message and thereby confuse the public.
• Promoted scientific spokespeople who misrepresent peer-reviewed scientific findings or cherry-pick facts in their attempts to persuade the media and the public that there is still serious debate among scientists that burning fossil fuels has contributed to global warming and that human-caused warming will have serious consequences.
• Attempted to shift the focus away from meaningful action on global warming with misleading charges about the need for “sound science.”
• Used its extraordinary access to the Bush administration to block federal policies and shape government communications on global warming.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Denial. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s