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Unmasking Disinformation, from Tobacco to Climate

By Andrew Freedman

It's no secret that many climate skeptics have ties to the fossil fuel industry, or are ideologically opposed to the policy implications of mainstream climate science, which holds that emissions of greenhouse gases are causing global temperatures to increase. This has been explored in numerous books, most notably in Ross Gelbspan's "The Heat is On" and "Boiling Point," as well as the more recent work by James Hoggan, "Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming."

What's been missing from these accounts, however, are details regarding how the climate issue stacks up against major scientific controversies in the past, such as the debate over links between tobacco and cancer. Now a new book — "Merchants of Doubt" — by science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway finally explores such territory, creating a devastating portrayal of organized scientific disinformation campaigns that makes clear just how gullible the press, scientific community and the public have been (and to a large extent, continue to be).

Through the use of original documents and other source material, Oreskes and Conway trace the history of organized scientific disinformation campaigns back to the 1950s. Although the book does not focus solely on climate change, it is highly relevant to anyone who follows the climate issue, from avid consumers of climate information to casual observers. The book demonstrates what many commentators, such as myself, have stated for years: that attacks on climate science and individual scientists are motivated more by a hostility to the proposed policy solutions to the problem than by clear scientific evidence showing that greenhouse gas emissions do not cause climate change after all.

I sat down with Oreskes at a New York cafe late last month to discuss the book and its implications for present-day climate science communication. She said the key finding contained in the book is that the pattern of purposeful obfuscation of scientific evidence is repeated from one issue to the next, including not just climate change and tobacco but also debates related to acid rain, the ozone layer and Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative...

Read more (and see the video) at Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang blog


Heavy Rainfall Trends Across the U.S. The number of days with heavy precipitation is increasing in most locations in the U.S.

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