Monday 15 November 2010

Merchants of doubts : interview with Naomi Oreskes

Naomi Oreskes Eric Conway Merchants of Doubt
Science historian professor Naomi Oreskes just appeared in a radio-interview in Australia to talk about her book Merchants of Doubt. In the interview (and book) she explains how a few people, driven by ideology, started attacking scientific topics they feared would be an attack on freedom. The attack started in the circles around the George C. Marshall Institute and the first scientific topic that was attacked was not climate science but tobacco. With the financial aid of big industrial companies, the strategy used is manufacturing doubt, helped by the philosophical perversity proving something is right isn’t as easy as you might think.
As the strategy is still deployed until today, it is extremely important to both understand the strategy of doubt and to understand the importance of freedom-ideology and the somehow paranoid visions sometimes associated with it. Even though Oreskes talks about the American situation, you can easily compare what Oreskes talks about in the interview and the situation in the Low Countries and you’ll find out there’s a striking resemblance.
The role of ideology in understanding climate scepticism in Holland is pretty obvious. The sceptical website Klimatosoof even explicitly states in its FAQ-section : we suppose members of the Groene Rekenkamer are fighting for maximal personal and economical freedom (…) and belong to the libertarian fraction, a philosophy that wants to decrease the role of the government on every domain.
When you look at the other big climate sceptical webpage in Holland,, you’ll also recognize what Oreskes said. The first sentence in Rypke Zeilmaker’s latest post reads : Many "’scientists’ see global warming as an excellent tool for a socialist reform-agenda. Hajo Smit on the other hand is the perfect example of the role of paranoia in the debate. Hajo Smit often accuses people, without any provocation or apparent reason, that they want to censor or lock up unwanted individuals just like the Nazis and Communists did.
At present, the Dutch doubtmaster is Hans Labohm, an economist. He doesn’t understand climate science and sticks to quoting dubious claims he finds on the internet, even when he knows what he says is wrong or misleading. Once you recognize what he’s doing you’ll see that when he gets challenged about the mistakes in his posts or in the work of people he cites, he shows no interest whatsoever in the content of what he writes or the fact of what he says is correct or not. Instead he’ll give a reply like “…but the important things is to remember the science is not settled !”. He’s not interested in science but in manufacturing doubt. Which is no coincidence: one of the three scientists Oreskes talks about is S. Fred Singer, and it is this very same Singer who has close contacts with Labohm and they frequently show up together all over Europe.
I know what is written in this post is something I've said many times before on this blog, but understanding the role of non-scientific doubt and the important role of bias linked with a person’s ideology is vital in understanding the climate debate. So I will keep on hammering getting that message through.
The WtD-blog has a good post today on how the industry is involved in feeding the "uncertainty-meme" and manipulating the audience : Wolves in sheep's clothing : how big tobacco wanted to mimic the global warming sceptics and establish a "fake" NGO

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