Spencer/Braswell: This is not New. This is the Way it’s Done.

September 3, 2011

The Spencer Braswell gambit is not a new one for the anti science fringe. This is fact follows a well worn template that has been replicated a number of times, and not just by climate deniers.

Chris Mooney had a pitch-perfect take on the denial industry M.O. in this piece from 2004 –

This is how it begins: Proponents of a fringe or non-mainstream scientific viewpoint seek added credibility. They’re sick of being taunted for having few (if any) peer reviewed publications in their favor. Fed up, they decide to do something about it.

These “skeptics” find what they consider to be a weak point in the mainstream theory and critique it. Not by conducting original research; they simply review previous work. Then they find a little-known, not particularly influential journal where an editor sympathetic to their viewpoint hangs his hat.

They get their paper through the peer review process and into print. They publicize the hell out of it. Activists get excited by the study, which has considerable political implications.

Before long, mainstream scientists catch on to what’s happening. They shake their heads. Some slam the article and the journal that published it, questioning the review process and the editor’s ideological leanings. In published critiques, they tear the paper to scientific shreds.

Embarrassed, the journal’s publisher backs away from the work. But it’s too late for that. The press has gotten involved, and though the work in question has been discredited in the world of science, partisans who favor its conclusions for ideological reasons will champion it for years to come.

The scientific waters are muddied. The damage is done.

——

that’s the start of a longer piece that compares Soon/Balliunas to similar hits undertaken by the creationist-science faction – who accuse their critics of “imposing a gag rule on science” — sound familiar?

The longer piece is worth reading as an addition to science history.

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17 Responses to “Spencer/Braswell: This is not New. This is the Way it’s Done.”


  1. […] Spencer Braswell: This is not New. This is the Way it’s Done. « Climate Denial Crock of the Week Peter Sinclair reminds us that Chris Mooney was prescient when he describes the climate change denial M.O. back in 2004 in CSI | Déjà vu All Over Again Share and Enjoy:Written by: Jerrald Hayes on September 3, 2011. […]

  2. omnologos Says:

    Fantastic. Thanks. Now if the usual clever commenter comes around claiming skeptics just love conspiracy theories all I have to do is link back here.

    PS “published critiques” is nowadays “discussions in internet fora”. Bloggers rejoice!

    • greenman3610 Says:

      anyone that wants to learn more should read Naomi Oreskes “Merchants of Doubt”.
      this suite of techniques was developed by the tobacco industry, and successfully deployed to addict and kill millions of people.
      Now, some of the very same people have been using the same techniques in the climate disinformation wars. It’s all documented by internal documents that were finally released in court.

    • otter17 Says:

      It isn’t a conspiracy per se. You just have guys like Fred Singer that don’t mind farming out their reputation to oppose government regulations on anything. The various companies/industries that have used these tactics haven’t necessarily colluded on how to execute their tactics. At least I haven’t seen any evidence in Merchants of Doubt or elsewhere to suggest any cross-industry collusion. They seemed to have their own specific agenda, and the only real ties between them would be the think tanks like the Marshall Institute or Heritage Foundation. Then again, these groups were willing to fight against gov’t regulation on nearly anything as well.

      I second the recommendation on “Merchants of Doubt” by Oreskes and Conway. It is incredibly detailed, and well researched, many citations. I didn’t like a bit of the wording here and there (could have cut to the chase in some instances), but it was a very enlightening read.

      Then there is that American Petroleum Institute memo from the Kyoto days. It seems to just be folks from API involved in the communications plan, not some wider conspiracy outside of the industry. So from what I have read anyway, it just seems like similar anti-regulatory goals have spawned similar tactics over the years, with maybe the think tanks providing guidance. Seems like a reasonable interpretation to me.

      http://www.euronet.nl/users/e_wesker/ew@shell/API-prop.html

  3. otter17 Says:

    The remedy against this textbook play? Informing the public of the tactics used. Thanks for the post.

  4. Moth Says:

    The damage is done…
    True, but I feel the biggest problem is the scientific illiteracy of the people who are influenced in this way. Not that I know what the answer would be (nearly two years on the blog-o-sphere, I tried on numerous occasions to explain scientific methodology to only hear the same tripe continually returned at me as though I said nothing).
    We live in a strange time, still influenced by pre-enlightened myth as much critical reasoning. It’s a deep rabbit hole that I think we much endure and continue to counter until enough members of following generations grow up without fear of ‘boogie men’ and enlightened reasoning is the vast majority.
    The damage is done and I’d suggest exposing the error in such work and rather than repeating this over and over (wasting our time) just catalogue it and continually refer back to it, comparing it to new attacks of the same nature – that way the “bad smell” of these tactics rubs off.

  5. omnologos Says:

    All of this is (too) much US-centered. One could answer that of course any regulatory effort will be countered by organized anti-regulatory pushes (whose existence says nothing about the merits of the case) and besides for every Oreskes there’s a McIntyre and years of detailed sinister attempts by “The Team”.

    One is then left with the choice of believing either or both or the far simpler and more likely concept that it’s all a reflection of contemporary partisan (US) politics, where one’s opponents are invariably portrayed not just as incapable or inept, but as representatives of a thought system that endangers humanity. Cue the incredibly silly situation of depicting half of the voters as anti-science.

    • otter17 Says:

      From what I have read, there were anti-regulatory pushes in Europe in the past (and probably still today, I don’t know). Also, it makes sense that anti-regulatory pushes would form in the face of possible policy. Like I said above, there doesn’t seem to be a large conspiracy going on. The anti-regulatory push for each industry is completely ok as long as the policy debates are based on an honest assessment of the body of peer reviewed scientific knowledge.

      >> “and besides for every Oreskes there’s a McIntyre and years of detailed sinister attempts by “The Team”.”

      This is a simplistic blanket statement. Oreskes and McIntyre are very different. Oreskes uses documents/evidence, publishes in the academic realm, and writes even-toned books in the public sphere. McIntyre uses a blog and takes on a decidedly biased tone against the scientists he pesters. Who is on “The Team” anyway? I never really understood where that term came from. What specific sinister things has this team done?

      >> “the far simpler and more likely concept that it’s all a reflection of contemporary partisan (US) politics, where one’s opponents are invariably portrayed not just as incapable or inept, but as representatives of a thought system that endangers humanity.”

      Portraying this as just some crazy partisan politics fighting it out is also simplistic. It suggests we should all just throw our hands up and forget about climate change since it is all based in political opinions anyway.

  6. omnologos Says:

    as long as the policy debates are based on an honest assessment of the body of peer reviewed scientific knowledge

    “Honest” according to whom, that’s the problem. Some people are unaware for example of the fact that two equally honest and knowledgeable persons can see the same evidence at the same time and still come to different conclusions.

    The temptation to call one of them a liar (or a conspirator) is always too high.

    Oreskes and McIntyre are very different

    Your opinion, Sir. Just your opinion…

    It suggests we should all just throw our hands up

    No, it suggests that the polarization is an accident of political history and an Americanization of the debate, hence should be avoided like a chemtrailer if the debate has to remain global and scientific.

    • otter17 Says:

      >> “Some people are unaware for example of the fact that two equally honest and knowledgeable persons can see the same evidence at the same time and still come to different conclusions.”

      And that is all fine and good; I don’t want judgments of interpretation on the same set of facts, either. What I was referring to more was the treatment of the climate science information itself, and the stunts pulled by some to attack that information in not-so-honest ways. Singer’s Oregon Institute petition is one example.

      >> “Your opinion, Sir. Just your opinion…”

      An opinion about Oreskes and McIntyre for sure, but an informed one.

      >> “No, it suggests that the polarization is an accident of political history and an Americanization of the debate, hence should be avoided like a chemtrailer if the debate has to remain global and scientific.”

      Ah, yes that type of polarization should be avoided, but I still think it is simplistic to think that policy debate is completely defined by a rough 50-50 split in political opinion. Sure, there are those that are uninformed and base their views on who they admire politically. Nevertheless, there is also scientific literature and scientific academies that contribute to a body of knowledge that supports a significant human component to global warming as well as best guess projections for effects. There are some folks that base their opinions on that body of knowledge, and there are some that base their global warming policy opinions on ignoring the existence of some the basic tenets within that knowledge base.

      Even when a hypothetical policy question is posed, not much in the way of change seems to be suggested by those that deny parts of climate science. For example, say CO2 emissions needed to decrease to zero within the next few decades in order to avert a guaranteed hypothetical end of the world or extremely severe economic loss scenario. Failing to come up with any solution that jives with economic or political leanings would suggest one is more prone to attack the science. I guess business as usual is technically a solution, but that requires a lot of faith in innovation, I would say.

      omnologos, what policy/economic solution would you propose facing a guaranteed disaster unless CO2 was reduced?

      • otter17 Says:

        Oops, Seitz lead the Oregon Petition effort, not Singer.

        • omnologos Says:

          Thanks for asking. Usually at this point commenters berate me on the way to insults 😎

          IMHO mitigation is a total failure after 20+ years of attempts and still no clue on what if anything could be effective physically and economically. It’s going to be a waste of time for the foreseeable future, that’s almost guaranteed.

          We should prepare to adapt instead, like former Fudai, Japan mayor Kotaku Wamura did. After all, wasn’t Darwin the one who said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.“?

          As a species we’ve gone a long way towards protecting us from all sorts of disasters. Time to continue along the same route.

        • otter17 Says:

          My question implied that adaptation was out of the question; an end of the world scenario is guaranteed to occur. Costs of adaptation outstrip global GDP ten times over by 2100.

          We are in a bind, and strong mitigation is guaranteed to be necessary. Is there nothing we could potentially do? Would mitigation still be a waste of time?

          • greenman3610 Says:

            how do you suggest people adapt to no food, and no water?
            what is the cost of abandoning, for instance, Miami and south florida?

        • otter17 Says:

          Here’s where I see the rub for some people with anti-regulatory beliefs. When confronted with a climate change policy solution that goes against the grain of their economic worldview, these people will fight it. Sure, fair enough. There are different ways to solve the problem, so long as the problem gets solved.

          If no mitigation solution can be found that is consistent with a highly cherished economic worldview, then these people are prone to fight against the science instead of the policy. This can come in the form of flatly denying certain portions of the science or endlessly doubting/misrepresenting minor details. After all, in their minds how could the free market that brought all kinds of good cheer to the world cause such a huge unintended consequence as global warming? The market is thought to be perfect, so the science must be wrong.

          So, we have these people that likely trust doctors with their lives during treatment, trust engineers with their safety when they cross a bridge or use a product, trust physicists in their knowledge of how electromagnetism works, trust chemists know how reactions work, and trust geologists know how plate tectonic theory works. Climate science though? Nope, it conflicts with a valued trump card.

          Addressing that trump card on a wide scale seems to be important for a breakthrough, while of course still correcting misinformation as it pops up.


  7. […] Spencer/Braswell: This is not New. This is the Way it’s Done. – Peter Sinclair […]


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