Category Archives: Tobacco Wars

Denial 101: the academic study of climate scepticism as diagnostic and risk management tool (FIRST DRAFT)

Note: As I’ve stated for some time, I’m planning on posting more detailed pieces on climate change scepticism based upon the last several years observations, research and interaction with commentators. 

This first piece sets out to explain “why” I believe a formal, multidisciplinary approach to studying the phenomenon of climate change scepticism is vital. It is not merely a question of politics: but risk management. Commentators are free to suggest changes, refute and debate. This is not an academic piece – so the views are my own. Potential flaws in analysis thus very much my own.

The value of good intelligence can never be underestimated (RAF war room 1941)

Introduction: it was never a debate 

The recent paper by Lewandowsky et.al (NASA faked the moon landing: therefore (climate) science is a hoax) that demonstrated a clear link between “denial” and free market fundamentalism is evidence of the growing appreciation that the climate change debate is not really a debate at all.

Rather we are now beginning to appreciate “climate scepticism” as the by-product of an individual’s values (and ideology) informing and shaping their cognition.

The clash is not over opposing facts: the issue pertains to the individual, how they wish to “see” the world and if those views are somehow contradicted – or challenged – by real world data.

A recent article by John Cook (How do people reject science, The Conversation 2012) provides further insight into climate change scepticism beyond the “why”, and suggests “how” an individual can come to deny scientific facts.

As Cook notes, confirmation bias is the most common mechanism for denying well attested scientific facts. Indeed, he asks the reader to watch the comments section of his article for examples:

To reduce the influence of those who reject the science, confirmation bias and misleading rhetorical arguments need to be exposed. Now is as good a time as any to start practising so I recommend beginning with the inevitable deluge of comments to this article. Look for cherry picking, conspiracy theories, comments magnifying the significance of dissenters (or non-experts) and logical fallacies such as non sequiturs

As predicted by Cook, climate sceptics began refuting the article upon publication – unintentionally and somewhat amusingly – utilising all the methods Cook outlines.

However it is important to remember that this pattern of behaviour and value-driven cognition is not isolated to the climate debate. Because this is not a unique phenomenon, there is a surprisingly large technical literature for academics and scholars to draw upon.

Indeed, when one views climate scepticism not through the Manichean framing device of “Sceptics versus Warmists” (fighting over the contested middle ground of public opinion), but as an example of a social and cultural phenomenon we gain not only fresh insight, but potentially the tools to mitigate the effectiveness of the denial “machine”.

The Windschuttle Affair as dress rehearsal for climate change denial; yes denial is more pervasive than one imagines, but shares common attributes

One can readily find examples of those who deny not only well-tested and supported scientific theories – climate change, evolution, the effectiveness of vaccines – but well documented and witnessed historical events. Indeed, there is a burgeoning and quite prolific community of those who deny historical events – 9/11, The Holocaust, Stalinist atrocities and The Stolen Generations in Australia.

For further exploration of the denial of these historical events, I would refer readers to Denial: history betrayed (2008) by Tony Taylor which discusses ideological driven historical revisionism in detail.

Taylor’s work foreshadows the Lewandowsky paper in surprising ways, but is based upon his personal observations and not the sophisticated use of statistical survey data employed by the authors of “NASA faked the moon landing”.

The common link between many of these incidents of “denial” is what Lewandowsky terms “conspiracy ideation”:

“…Another variable that has been associated with the rejection of science is conspiratorial thinking, or conspiracist ideation, defined here as the attempt to explain a significant political or social event as a secret plot by powerful individuals or organizations…” (Lewandowsky et.al pg. 4)

Indeed, when I read Taylor’s book I noted the mechanisms employed by revisionist “historians” mimic those of climate sceptics:

“…deniers will commonly accuse their opponents of a conspiracy against the denialist position when, as it happens, the deniers themselves are involved in a conspiracy or cover up of their own.” (Taylor, pg. XIII)

And that:

“…The key to historical denial lies in its self-deception transformed into an attempted deception of others, and this process tends to follow certain behavioural patterns.” (Taylor, pg. IX)

Taylor’s text is well worth reading; in particular how the “debate” over historical facts mimics debate over scientific facts.

It is worth noting that prior to the intensity of the present climate change debate (notably in response to the publication of IPCCs Fourth Assessment Report in 2007, the release and success of Al Gore’s An inconvenient truth and global negotiations at the Conference of All Parties (COP15) at Copenhagen in 2009) a very similar debate had already played itself out within the Australian political and cultural scene: the so called “History Wars“.

I would suggest that scholars examine the “Windschuttle affair” as a “dress rehearsal” for the climate change debate in Australia, and draw lessons from that. Keith Windschuttle was the historian who denied the sufferings of Australian Aborigines at the hands of the early settlers in his deeply flawed and debunked Fabrication of Aboriginal History (2002)..

Windschuttle’s writings kicked of a national debate – which continues in a more muted form today – and provoked considerable controversy. It is worth highlighting that Windschuttle received powerful patronage from the likes of the Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt, the editors of the News Limited daily “The Australian” and then Prime Minister John Howard – all of who whom have featured heavily in the climate change debate as outright sceptics or enablers of the sceptical point of view.

When one looks back at the “culture wars” that have raged in Australia, one notes those who have denied the suffering of Australia’s first people also deny the science of climate change.

Strikingly, the same cognitive mechanisms and rhetorical deceits outlined in Cook’s How do people reject science were employed in this earlier History War.

The explanation for this is straight forward: the advocates for historical revisionism and climate change scepticism share a cluster of similar values – social conservatism, free market ideology and a disdain for “progressive” values.

I would suggest the same clustering of the values and world views (free markets, limited government) linked to scepticism in Lewandowsky et.al could be matched to the conservative “culture warriors” listed above.

We may be fighting a very different war, but it is being fought with the same weapons of previous conflicts.

The antecedents for today’s debate are there for study.

Actually, I want to understand…

Climate denial as area of academic study: from confusion to understanding

This growing literature on climate scepticism – such as the Lewandowsky paper – indicates the emergence of a new area of academic study.

Cognitive scientists, historians, sociologists and the broader scientific community are now gaining a better appreciation of the underlying motives for climate change scepticism. I would also refer the reader to the most recent edition of Nature: Climate Change (August 2012, Vol.2 No. 8) for a very useful collection of articles on the “human factor” in the climate change debate.

Indeed, a recent editorial in that journal called for greater engagement from the academic community on the climate change issue titled Clarion Call” (September 2012, Vol 2 No. 9):

Today’s mitigation efforts are widely regarded within the research community as woefully inadequate. With this in mind, Anderson and Bows urge scientists to overcome their natural reluctance to offer academic judgements — “Liberate the science from the economics, finance and astrology, stand by the conclusions however uncomfortable” — is their clarion call.

This broader approach does not refute the work of scholars such as Oreskes & Conway (The Merchants of Doubt) who have detailed the long running campaign of disinformation practised by conservative think tanks and a tiny cadre of ‘sceptical” scientists.

The evidence that demonstrates how both the tobacco and fossil fuel industries “planted the seeds” of doubt about climate change is well documented and conclusive.

But we must move past the formulation “funds from big oil = climate change denial”.

As others have noted, climate change is now part of the “culture wars” (A. Hoffman in Climate Science as Culture War, Stanford Social Innovation Review, 2012).

“Big Oil” and “Big Tobacco” may have nurtured climate change scepticism into being, but it has now spread well beyond its initial staging areas within conservative think tanks. It has been adopted by segments of the general public and conservative politicians as fundamental to their world view.

One needs only to look at the stated positions of Republican Presidential candidates on global warming in the lead up to the next US Presidential election: nearly all of them rejected the science (National Public Radio, In their own words: GOP Candidates and science, Corey Dade, September 2011).

I would argue such developments should spur greater efforts to both study and understand climate scepticism. And like any discipline, we can build and expand upon the original insights and work of many scholars.

Victory to these guys?

Stepping outside the narrative frame and ending our transfixed stasis

For over two decades we have been bewitched by the sceptic’s seemingly unstoppable ability to confuse the general public and “defeat” climate science (Robert Manne in A dark victory: how vested interests defeated climate science, The Monthly, 2012).

Indeed, in a recent talk in Melbourne Manne noted “He did not know how to win a “culture war” (Watching the Deniers – Question to readers: how would you counter the denial movement, 2012)

While such definitive victories may elude us, it is the opinion of this author that we can a) understand the “why” and “how” of anti-science movements and b) gain insight into how such culture wars are fought.

Indeed it may be possible – as in the case of climate change scepticism – to develop strategies to counter the effectiveness of such anti-reality movements.

While some would see this as a partisan approach to a “scientific” debate, there is ample historical precedence.

One need only look at the academic response to the “militia movement” in the United States, and the urgent desire to understand the culture and forces that created the likes of Timothy McVeigh and the Branch Davidians under David Koresh.

Learning from academic studies of American militia movement and the Southern Poverty Law Centre

The “Waco” incident of 1993 and the bombing of the Alfred P Murrah building in 1995 were traumatic events for American’s, and profoundly influenced politics and culture at the time.

In response – indeed with a surprising sense of urgency – academic scholars began an intense scholarly study of the various militia movements in the United States.

The demographic, sociological and ideological drivers for the formation militia groups were subject to intense study: indeed, the technical literature is quite large. Many of the reference texts I’ve read stem from the late 1990s and early 2000s when it was rightly thought an understanding of such groups was paramount.

Thus, we see a rush of works at that time: A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America (2003) by Michael Barkun; Enemies Within: The Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America (2001) by Robert Alan Goldberg; and Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture (1999) by Mark Fenster.

Militia groups sprung up across the US in the 1980s and 1990s, proclaiming (very loudly) an eclectic mix of beliefs including; a severely limited or non-existent Federal government, fears about a “New World Order” conspiracy, paranoia over gun control, millenarianism, Christian eschatology and racism.

It was from this “culture” that sprung the likes of Timothy McVeigh who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah building in 1995. In 1993, a combustible mix of extreme religiosity, millennialism and militia culture fed the stand-off at Waco between the followers of David Koresh and agents of US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

In addition to the work of these academics, there are other organisations we can learn from.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in the United States has a deep understanding of militia and hate groups – indeed, their website is a rich source of information on such groups. For many years activists from the SPLC and scholars have paid close attention to the writings and activities of the various militia groups still in operation in order to a) understand their formation and operation and b) watch out for “early warning” signs of violence.

One could also argue that studies in “terrorism” have grown since 9/11 as the need to both understand and foresee risk is eminently sensible.

By shedding ourselves of the narrative “frame” we are stuck in of (“Sceptic versus Warmist”), and approaching this as simply one further area of study – requiring  a multidisciplinary approach – we can “break the spell” of climate change denial.

There is nothing unique or special about the climate sceptic community. We need only see them for what they are.

Scholarship as a diagnostic and early warning tool

Firstly, let me state I am not directly equating climate sceptics with the likes of McVeigh or extreme militia groups.

However: the “hacking” of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia (UAE) that feed the “Climategate” scandal was an act of cyber terrorism.

It was a deliberate act intended to not merely undermine the reputation of climate scientists and the science, but obviously designed to undermine negotiations at the 2009 Copenhagen Conference of All Parties (COP15).

The examples of death threats made against scientists are numerous; incidents such as the hacking of Real Climate (November 2009) and Skeptical Science (March 2012) also point to patterns of behaviour.

We ignore the climate sceptic movement – which is admittedly diverse, heterogeneous and fractious as any culture of conspiracy minded individuals – at our own risk. The historcical antecedents mentioned above should provide renewed imputeus in understanding climate change scepticism.

Conclusions: evaluating risk and the “hacktivist” nature of the climate sceptic movement

I believe there is a genuine risk that there may be fringe elements of the sceptic community who are disposed to fantasies of a coming New World Order etc. and who may fantasize about acts of retribution.

The CRU/Climategate “hack” offers compelling reason for such concerns. Should greater numbers of individuals take the claims of prominent sceptic arguments at face value – and act on these paranoid world views – it is probable we will see further incidents such as the “Climategate”.

There are antecedents for this diffusion of paranoia and conspiracy making witnessed in the militia movement in the United States. Indeed, not only should the science community be paying far closer attention to the sceptic “movement”, it may even be an issue for law enforcement agencies to monitor.

Many of the motifs of conspiracy culture – especially New World Order fantasies and fears of government control – have been “mainstreamed” by the prominence the media gives to sceptic voices and narratives.

In turn, the risk that less stable individuals or groups with less “mainstream” political agendas will adopt some of these views has been considerably heightened.

For the risks of such stochastic processes see Dances with Devils: How Apocalyptic and Millennialist Themes Influence Right Wing Scapegoating and Conspiracism by Chip Berlet and Talking points ammo: The use of neoliberal think tank fantasy themes to delegitimise scientific knowledge of climate change in Australian newspapers, Elaine McKewon for the dissemination of such fantasies in the Australian media.

In this regard, study of the climate sceptic community becomes both a diagnostic and risk management tool.

Such a tool may alert the world’s scientific community and government agencies to possible threats: i.e. cybercrimes such as hacking and tracking “grouping” behaviour on social media platforms that may lead to FOI “assaults” or targeted email campaigns against individual scientists.

Indeed, in the next piece I will explore how the climate sceptic movement is a heterogeneous virtual community composed of “core members” who provide both overt and implied cues for behaviours and norms for a much larger number of loosely aligned “associates”.

Similar patterns of behaviour can be seen with “hacktivist” groups such as Anonymous and LulzSec (though the political aims of sceptics and the “pranksters” of Anonymous are widely divergent, if not antithetical to each other).

The same pattern of recruitment by prominent voices on social media platforms – and the fractious “voting up” of “operations” by a greater collective swayed by rhetoric and exhortation – can be also be seen in way the climate sceptic community operates (see LulzSec: How A Handful Of Hackers Brought The US Government To Its Knees, Kyle Schurman and Anonymous Attack Anatomy Hacker Intelligence Report, Darshan Joshi et.al)

Again, the tools to study such communities are readily available: we should but merely “take them off the shelf” and employ them in our study of what is – in reality – a subgroup of a broader based conspiracy culture that finds its loci predominately in the United States (and to a lesser extent Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom).

There really is no need to reinvent the wheel.

I fully acknowledge each incidence of denial (of climate change, evolution and the Stolen Generations) is often a unique expression of the politics and culture of the time: however the tools for understanding are readily available.

Body blow to the merchants of doubt: High Court decision upholds plain packaging, helps reverse one part of the neoliberal war on regulation

What’s with the Fifty Shades of Grey advertising campaign big tobacco? New target audience?

While not directly related to the climate change debate, the defeat “big tobacco” suffered in today’s High Court decision has profound ramifications as the Sydney Morning Herald notes:

The federal government has secured a big win over big tobacco with the High Court ruling Labor’s world-first plain packaging laws are constitutionally valid.

The decision is expected to have significant influence globally with both the United Kingdom and New Zealand considering plain packaging

“It is also the global tobacco industry’s worst defeat,” said Professor Daube, who chaired the federal government’s expert committee that recommended plain packaging.

”The global tobacco companies have opposed plain packaging more ferociously than any other measure we have seen.”

The companies knew that plain packaging would have a major impact on smoking in Australia – and that other countries would follow.

Professor Daube said the companies’ own internal documents showed that packaging was a crucial part of their marketing.

”Since we learned about the dangers of smoking, cigarettes have killed one million Australians, in large part because of the activities of the world’s most lethal industry.”

Say, I should go check the share prices of these companies – I believe this legal defeat might prompt some “sell” recommendations from brokers.

It’s worth noting that Institute of Public Affairs has been working hard to undermine public support for these laws indulging in its usual campaign of saturating the media with op-ed pieces and the like. The “meme” they’ve run with is protecting us from “the nanny state”:

In its latest attempt to derail the plain cigarette packaging legislation, Big Tobacco has pulled out one of its favourite pro-tobacco messages: say no to a nanny state.

Having failed so miserably in their attempts to reverse the legislation I wonder if the IPAs funding will take a bit of a hit?

The war on regulatory constraints: mining and carbon taxes

Bear in mind there are several other High Court challenges are either under way or threatened, each of which attack the Government’s ability to regulate, tax and govern:

Considered legal opinion holds neither of these poses a real threat to the legislation. But surely it’s a coincidence that all of the above parties are climate sceptics (or their political parties are hostile to the science)?

Or that the Institute of Public Affairs has worked over time to cast doubt on science, argue against both taxes and arguing against plain packaging?

Surely it is just coincidence

If we look at these three challenges: 

  • to plain packaging of tobacco products
  • the regulation of CO2 emissions
  • the government’s ability to tax on the “super” profits of miners

…we see the neoliberal agenda of limited government, free market fundamentalism and brushing aside “pesky” regulatory constraints.

It’s not just Big Tobacco that suffered a crushing defeat today: by extension the “neoliberal” war to remove important restraints – and desire to reduce government to the play thing of large corporations – equally suffered a setback.

The insiders: if climate change was a conspiracy, where are the whistleblowers?

“Human beings are not very good at keeping secrets; individual self-interest is not interchangeable with group interest and the two are often in conflict, most particularly among small groups of plotters…” – James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency

Jeffery Wigand is a hero.

As Vice President for Research and Development at the tobacco company Brown & Williamson he discovered the company was deliberating adding ingredients to make their product more addictive. He was fired from his role for this discovery.

However, in 1996 he stated this truth in a 60 Minutes interview that definitively proved to the public what many had been saying: the tobacco industry had not only been lying about the harm of their products, but actively working to make them more addictive.

Wigand appeared on television despite repeated death threats [1].

Peter Buxtun is another hero.

In 1972 he exposed the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. It was a horrific experiment overseen by the US Public Health Service in which the disease to run rampant amongst poor black men. The intent was to better understand the course of the disease if left untreated. The men thought they were receiving free medical treatment and financial benefits, while never told they had syphilis.

No secret – no matter how closely guarded its holders believe it to be – is safe.

It is human nature to confess, or disclose.

Disputes amongst like-minded conspirators will drive some to leak documents or crucial facts to the media. This is especially so in the age of Wikileaks, Twitter and 24 hour news.

Which is why we can say with absolute certainty climate change is not a conspiracy orchestrated by scientists or communists.

What is remarkable for a science that has been understood since the early 1800s is the lack of whistleblowers; there are no climate science equivalents like that of Wigand or Buxton.

There are no scientists coming forth and saying “Look, we faked this temperature data”.

Not a single environmentalist has stepped forward to showcase a treasure trove of documents demonstrating the workings of a cabal dedicated to taking over the world.

Indeed, we have the very opposite: there is increasing certainty about the science. Every national science academy in the world affirms and supports the work of thousands of scientists.

The work of 97% of those actively researching climate change supports the view human activities are changing the climate.

There are literally millions of scientists, engineers, software programmers, policy makers, activists, writers and members of the world’s military and business community working on climate change and related environmental issues. They have been toiling away on the research and policies for years.

And yet somehow we are expected to believe these millions have managed to maintain a vast conspiracy of silence over decades. Just how probable that is?

How could this enormous conspiracy, spanning the globe and generations, still exist without at least one conspirator breaking ranks and coming forth with the damning evidence? [2]

Perhaps we should follow the dictates of Occam’s Razor and look for the simplest, most rational answer: climate change is real.

 

[1] How familiar does this sound? How many scientists have received death threats?

[2] Climategate proved nothing. After nine separate inquires the science and the behaviour of scientist remains unblemished. It was a manufactured pseudo-scandal.

Hedging their bets: USC report on the companies that support and oppose action on climate

A fascinating report from the Union of Concerned Scientists has just been released. It examines how some large corporates in the US have been saying one thing about action on climate change, and yet privately working to undermine effort:

“A number of the companies considered in this report took different positions on climate science and policy within the same time period. These contradictory companies acted or made statements in support of climate science and policy in some public spaces while simultaneously spreading misinformation on climate science or hindering science-based policy in others. Most notably, our research suggests that such companies are more likely to express concern about climate change in those venues directed at the general public and more likely to misrepresent climate science in communications directed at the federal government and through their funding of outside organizations…”

I believe the term we should employ here is “green washing”. Companies named in this practice include ExxonMobil (surprise!), Caterpillar and ConocoPhillips.

Employing your workforce as a fake grass-roots campaign

ConocoPhillips set up an internal program to force employees to lobby their representative politicians:

Set up an online campaign to encourage employees to contact senators to oppose legislation in spite of its active membership in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership

Using your workforce as a fake grassroots lobbying group? I can picture it now:

Manager: “Say Bill, did you call your representative?”

Employee: “Er, not yet….”

Manager: “Well obviously you don’t have to. But I’d really appreciate it. I mean, its tough times and we all have to support the company…”

The report notes that corporations have played a substantial role in influencing the debate on climate change:

“Corporations are devoting large amounts of funding and other resources both to facilitate Photo courtesy of National Science Foundation a Climate of Corporate Control. To address corporate interference and ultimately mitigate the impacts of climate change itself, the United States needs greater transparency in governmental and corporate affairs…

Much of this misinformation about climate science is being put forward by some of our sample’s energy-producing companies. These companies adversely affect the conversation on climate change through such means as direct public statements, political contributions, lobbying, congressional testimony, and the funding of trade groups and think tanks. Though these companies constitute a small subset of American corporations, they have a disproportionate effect on the dialogue—in part; by eroding the public’s understanding of climate change and weakening its support for steps to address the climate crisis…”

There is also a message for the media, who have failed reporting climate change:

The media should be mindful of potential conflicts of interest among the experts and other individuals they rely on for information, and the media should disclose such conflicts when found.

The media should fact-check statements made by corporations and those affiliated with them, just as they already do with statements made by politicians.

The media can help hold companies accountable for their actions and statements by reporting contradictory corporate behaviour.

Somehow I don’t see these recommendations being considered by editors of News Corporation.

Overall, this is a very well researched and important piece on the influence of corporates on the debate. 

The rule of law: litigation as a legitimate strategy and the need to encourage “whistle blowers” from the denial movement

A magic formula?

Within the science community, and it’s supporters, litigation is viewed often with suspicion or beneath the scientific community. Reticence is based on two arguments:

  • This is a scientific question, therefore we should let the evidence speak for itself.
  • Resorting to litigation or (civil action) is seen to be “beneath” the methodology and reputation of the science community.

Litigation implies “dirty hands”, a course of action that compromises the “purity” of science.

However I would contend that the litigation process – primarily as a response to libel and defamation of individuals and institutions – is a legitimate strategy to counter the denial movement.

The comparison to the “tobacco wars” and wave of class actions that effectively neutered the industry is not simply analogous, but a good model for how we can fight the industry funded think tanks and the armies of professional PR “hacks”.

They not only mislead the public, but through their websites, blogs, YouTube video’s, newspaper articles and books defame both individual scientists and institutions.

It’s often been said the climate debate is a street fight, and the denial movement is not afraid to throw some low blows. While I’d not advocate adopting the same “dirty tricks” of the deniers, there are legitimate counter strategies and tactics to neutralise their effectiveness.

Suing for defamation is a legitimate and perhaps effective strategy.

The “tobacco wars” as a model

“For 40 years, the US tobacco industry was invincible in court. Tobacco companies have long been among the most profitable in the US, and used that money to fund a seemingly unbeatable legal defence team…” ~ Tobacco Wars, BBC

The denial movement is a direct outgrowth of the tobacco industries campaign to discredit science by establishing “independent” think tanks that challenged the scientific evidence. Groups such as “The Advancement of Sound Science Association” (TASSA) where established and seeded with money from Philip Morris.

Let’s not forget our old friend, Richard S. Courtney, who works for a think tank that challenges both climate change and the effects of second hand smoke.

For almost thirty years the denial movement has thrown the wildest accusations at the scientific community. They have defamed the reputation of scientists calling them “frauds”, “liars” and “criminals” and accusing them of deliberately fudging data, making up “global warming” and wanting to tear down industrial civilisation.

These wild claims and been thrown around by the denial movement with careless abandon.

And for those same thirty years the scientific community ignored these attacks. By not engaging with the denial movement, or directly countering these charges, it was hoped they would simply go away. Given how preposterous these charges where, many felt the public would reject them outright.

Sadly, they have not. Being “skeptical” of climate change is now mainstream.

There are many ways to challenge the claims of the deniers. Sites such as Skeptical Science perform an invaluable service in countering the many obvious flaws in their misrepresentation of the science. But facts will not move people alone.

Helping the public understand how they have been deceived will cripple the legitimacy of the denial movement.

For a good comparison I’d urge people to view the the BBC series “Tobacco Wars”. It traces the history of their campaign of denial and how they where effectively countered. Here’s our model.

Episode One: Smokescreen

See also:

I’d also also the great website Tobacco.Org. They continue to effectively monitor the tobacco industry.

What are the possible gains in such a strategy

Firstly, it would shut down the most outrageous lies and slander peddled by the deniers. By setting a precedent it would as a precautionary example to many in the denial movement. It signals that they will be held to account – something they have lacked for decades.

Secondly, during what is called the discovery process (when both sides exchange documents) we would gain access to the emails, documents and memos that detail just how deliberate and considered their misinformation campaign. The tobacco litigation in the US made available thousands of documents that simultaneously:

  • demonstrated how they deliberately mislead the public
  • damned them with their own words as outlined in the tens of thousands of documents that demonstrated their premeditated deceit

How deep are the pockets of the deniers?

Deep.

But so were the pockets of the tobacco industry.

And yet they still lost. They can be challenged. It’s been done before.

Strangling free speech?

I’ll be the first to defend free speech. However, there are limits to free speech and this is recognised in the various libel and defamation laws found in most common law countries. Already we have two examples of scientists either  or contemplating or starting legal action for libel/defamation.

Obviously this is a very complex issue, and the effectiveness of pursuing such a strategy needs to be debated. However the counter balance to this is challenging obvious falsehoods or the statements that slander the reputation of individuals.

The denial movement needs to be held to account. When you make outrageous claims you have the responsibility to back up those claims. Freedom of speech does not exempt one from responsibility.

Encouraging whistle blowers: a few good men and women

As the scientific evidence gets clearer the deniers have ratcheted up their campaign of confusion. By making more “noise” they hope to mislead the public and drown out ever increasing number of studies that confirm the reality of AGW.

I believe there are individuals of good conscience who have – for what ever reason – found themselves enmeshed in the denial movement. And yet they may find themselves questioning the actions of the denial movement.

We need our very own “Insider”, a heroic individual in the mould of Jeffrey Wigand who blew the lid on the tobacco industries deceit:

“Wigand became nationally known as a whistle blower regarding the company’s decisions involving the selection of ingredients in their cigarettes when on February 4, 1996 on the CBS news program 60 Minutes, he stated Brown & Williamson intentionally manipulates the tobacco blend to increase the amount of nicotine in cigarette smoke, thereby increasing the ‘impact’ to the smoker. Nicotine is a naturally occurring substance in tobacco that is widely held to be responsible for the habit-forming and addictive effects of cigarette smoking. Wigand claims that he was subsequently harassed and received anonymous death threats…”

We should encourage and make ourselves available to “whistle blowers”.

I have no doubt that some of those individuals deeply embedded within the denial movement have come to realise that the actions of the TASSA, Heartland and Exxon-Mobil not only confuse the public but stymie our response to the challenge of climate change.

Such “insiders” would be privy to documents, emails and sources of funding that could be made public.

Their release would open the door to challenge the denial movement and mobilise public opinion in the same way the revelations about the tobacco industry made clear their deliberate campaign to mislead.

We need to tear down the wall the deniers operate behind and expose their “dirty secrets”.

It’s time to turn the tables.

[Note:  I am not a lawyer, and note this is a complex area. Thoughts, comments or criticism on this idea welcome]

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