Unmasking some of the ‘Conspiring men’

Suppose your friend came to you and said that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Suppose he said that he had seen 100 doctors and using best medical practices 98 had told them that he should start treatment immediately. Further, suppose that the 98 say that it is not too late to intervene, but time is critical. Suppose that the 98 come from all over the world and represent a number of specialties and disciplines and have come to the conclusion that he has cancer from multiple tests, procedures and such. Then suppose that your friend tells you that he’s decided not to get treatment because the doctors have not reached a consensus. That 2% still believe that he doesn’t have cancer, and given its cost it would be better until we have more data before deciding on whether to treat his cancer—and the costs will be substantial. Once treatment starts he may have to give up his job, it will drain his life savings, and he will undergo significant pain and discomfort. Nothing in his life will likely be the same. The question is, is your friend acting rationally? What’s the best thing for your friend to do? Is there an argument that he is not getting treatment because he really wants to believe he can avoid the unpleasantness he must face? Or is the evidence really as insufficient as your friend argues. What would you advise?

Now suppose that you find out the two doctors holding out have together built a huge hospice center for the dying that is currently way under capacity and that this, their life’s work, is under threat of closing if they don’t find patients? Suppose further you find out that they are former tobacco executives who spent their career arguing against tobacco causing lung cancer (the likely cause of your friend’s cancer).

Would that raise the stakes of your concern for your friend, or would you trust in the basic goodness of human nature and tell your friend that the two holdouts probably are being objectively unbiased so their advice should be weighted equally with the 98?

No doubt you can see what is coming because this is the situation with climate change. There is no serious dispute among the scientists studying the issue including climate scientists, geologists, ecologists, etc. Certainly you can find long lists like these two that get a bunch of people unrelated to the disciplines actually studying it to sign their names to a statement that its all a hoax, the NASA one is funny because they are mostly engineers and astronauts. Rather than providing actual research published in the peer reviewed scientific literature, such lists are specifically designed to cast doubt on science without doing any science whatsoever (and as one NY commentator put it, this is the equivalent asking your dentist to do cardiac surgery). Turns out the discipline matters. In Mormon circles the climate change skeptics are so far from the concerned sciences as to be laughable, but on they weigh in, as if a Ph.D. was enough to credential one in all scientific disciplines.

What happened? Science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in their book Merchants of Doubt detail nicely how Climate Change, a straight up scientific finding became politicized, such that great swaths of the electorate became convinced that this was just partisan bickering1. Those who wanted to cast doubt on the problem exploited the media’s predilection to tell two sides of a story to manufacture a climate change skepticism. And guess who these people were? O&C (above) outline how funding from corporate sources (including the petroleum industry) allowed three men Bill Nierenberg, Fred Seitz, and Fred Singer to bring enough political clout, largely through the Marshall Institute, to create a disinformation campaign the likes of which we’ve only seen one other time–when Big Tobacco tried to destroy the credibility of the science concluding that tabacco was responsible for cancer and other health effects. And what is especially relevant here is who were the lead consultants in this disinformation campaign on both tobacco itself and later second hand smoke? See if you can guess, but here is a hint: Fred Seitz and Fred Singer respectively. Were they medical researchers perhaps? Seitz & Nierenberg were physicists who worked on the atomic bomb. Singer a rocket scientist.

So after failing at the tobacco smear they turned their attention to the growing consensus about climate change, which had been gathering stronger and stronger evidence in its favor since the 1970s. They founded many of the institutes that have been the most active in disrupting the flow of clear information about climate change to the public and stirring the political clout to rise it to a partisan issue. Why? Oddly it turns out that many for-profit companies have no long-term interest in the fate of the planet over their short-term profits and gains. Surprised? It was simple short-term economics. But the pockets to fund such disinformation are deep. And who are they up against? Scientists—who are fairly poor at getting messages about their work out. A perfect storm of disinformation to squelch the most important story of the last couple of centuries.

Now there is an industry of CC skepticism that floods the web with outrageous claims and falsehoods that deny the real story of a scientific consensus so strong that in any other field it would considered a settled matter and the ethical questions about how to respond would be those being debated, not the fact of the matter. No doubt there will be comments with long chains of links purporting to cast doubt on the climate change story.

What’s disappointing is how widespread the Climate Change skepticism as swept through the Latter-day Saint community. By making it partisan, I think many people of good faith have been confused. Yet we ought to have done better. We had prior information that this was coming:

D&C 89:4 Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—

So, now we have the names of some of those conspiring men. They were deceptive about tobacco and second hand smoke what makes you think that they are telling the truth this time about climate change?—for make no mistake you are embracing the thought of these men when you deny science and embrace their fables.

1. Watch this link to hear Naomi Oreskes’ talk at BYU

Be Sociable, Share!

21 comments to Unmasking some of the ‘Conspiring men’

  • John Mansfield

    For a biologist, you seem very interested in climate modeling. What do you think of Tennekes?

  • Tennekes, is a wacko that the climate skeptics cling to and hold out because he goes against the mainstream. His models are almost silly naiveté have been dismissed quite throughly. He’s a physicist of airplane turbulence and fits the pattern of the non-climate modeler trying to switch disciplines.

    And I am interested in climate modeling. One of my areas of research is simulation modeling and the philosophy of such modeling (I’ve published a number of papers on the use of simulation modeling in ecology (This one just came out in Philosophy and Theory in Biology!). My expertise is highly complex ecological models and climate models are of this ilk so interest me a lot. Also, the climate models being used to understand Climate Change are the best in the business.

  • John Mansfield

    It is useful sometimes to get a better sense of the level of knowledge people are arguing from. Thanks for the clarification.

  • The frustrating thing, as you allude to, is how many very well educated LDS folks buy into really silly arguments. Granted I’m no scientist and a lot of it for us non-experts comes down to what authorities we trust (which are not necessarily chosen on a rational basis, even if we happen to be on the “right” side). But still, you’d hope that at least the most educated LDS (and Americans in general) might have the critical thinking skills to at least not toss out what most climate authorities say without further thought because of alleged political motives. A good example of what I mean is right here:

    http://www.mormonsandsciencecom/1/post/2012/04/healthy-skepticism-about-global-warming-science.html

  • el oso

    SteveP,
    Airplane turbulence models may well be identical to climate models. There are few things that a physicist of that training would not understand in order to get a reasonable climate model going. I find it interesting that there are almost no “real” climate scientists who publish peer reviewed dissent of any kind. This is far from the common practice in most disciplines where decades-long arguments can be common across all of the journals, forums, etc.
    You have correctly identified that there are many people with a monetary interest in increasing public doubt about anthropomorphic global warming. However, the specialized climate scientists have an even larger interest in proclaiming the dangers of climate change. If there is public doubt about or even worse, proof against AGW, then their livelihood has been eliminated. Few climate scientists will be inclined to be skeptical when their whole industry is at stake.

  • Jack

    Your analogy is horrible. Out of the many scientists that are involved one way or another in climate research what percentage are really focused specifically on detection and attribution? Using the IPCC as an example I’d guess about 2% — 2 out of 98. The rest are chasing other lines of evidence.

    So what our cancer ridden friend is really doing is getting opinions from a hundred different medical experts — two of which have specific training that “qualify” them to give our friend sound advice. The 98 merely quote the published works of the 2.

    So, if another 2 out of the 98 feel that there’s a little room for doubt is it really so far fetched for our friend to question the “consensus?”

  • I’m not a scientist of any kind, but I have an interest in climate change. I’ve been collecting science articles about climate change for several years. If any of you are interested in reading the articles, they are at

    http://doesclimatechange.blogspot.com/

    The articles are from sciencedaily.com, scientificamerican.com and similar magazines. I don’t have all of the articles put into the blog but will have them there in a couple of weeks.

  • “However, the specialized climate scientists have an even larger interest in proclaiming the dangers of climate change. If there is public doubt about or even worse, proof against AGW, then their livelihood has been eliminated.”

    Actually, it’s the exact opposite. In science the way one makes your name is to debunk the common wisdom. Careers are made by showing the other guy wrong, not by confirming the conventional wisdom. Science is a Darwinian survival of the fittest with competition between scientists scrambling for limited researchers. Everyone is trying to prove everyone else wrong. Careers are made finding flaws in other’s work. This is why a consensus is so rare and the climate change consensus so remarkable.

    Jack, “The rest are chasing other lines of evidence.” Looking for multiple lines of evidence is how science is done. However, the analogy still works if just talking about climate scientists publishing in Climate Science Journals which are found in literally hundreds of independent scientific labs across the world. Climate Science is so much more than the IPCC report.

  • John Mansfield

    El oso, you are correct that a background in technological fluid dynamics would be excellent preparation in the science and methods of environmental fluid dynamics that provide global climate models, though there are always things to learn in any specific application. However, Hendrik Tennekes was poorly characterized above as a “physicist of airplane turbulence.” Throughout the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s his work was mostly on the dynamics of the atmosphere, with some work on the oceans, which I suppose is why he was hired in ’78 as director of research by the Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute.

  • John Mansfield

    There is something in the preface of John Wynngard’s recent text Turbulence in the Atmosphere that seems relevant:

    “Anyone who has developed models of the second-moment equations, discovered how poorly they can behave, and then in fatigue and discouragement wondered how Nature keeps variances positive, can appreciate this story:

    “Some years ago, during the hall talk at a break in an NCAR meeting, a prominent senior scientist became impatient with a mathematician’s fussing over obscure details of an equation. ‘Hell,’ he blurted, ‘in the atmospheric sciences we don’t even know what the equations are.’

    “The applied turbulence field seems different today. Numerical modeling of turbulent flows is a dominant technology used by a second- or even third-generation community. Programmers have ensured that the codes don’t misbehave like they used to. Geophysical observations have not kept pace with the model predictions, nor could they have; modeling and observational work have cruelly different time scales. Now less likely to be rooted in personal experience, wariness of modeling seems to be diminishing.”

    Tennekes supervised Wynngard’s last year of PhD work when Lumley went on sabbatical, and could be a stand in for the senior scientist in that story.

  • John Mansfield

    John Wyngaard, not Wynngard. Sorry.

  • For those interested, I’ve posted all articles in my collection of scientific articles about climate change to my new blog.

    http://doesclimatechange.blogspot.com/

    There are currently 181 articles.

  • Casey,

    Thanks for promoting my site.

    As I point out in my post, at least you’d hope that at least the most educated LDS (and Americans in general) might have the critical thinking skills to at least not toss out the idea that much of the current changes in climate may be due to natural processes, not manmade processes.

  • As I’ve mentioned in previous comments to this post, I’m collecting scientific articles about climate change. As I look at the articles, I realize that man-made emissions have a lot to do with climate change. I also realize that natural events also have a lot to do with climate change. I don’t think there is any justification to say that climate change is all man-made or all natural events. It is a combination of both. The good news is that scientists are getting a better understanding of climate change, and eventually they will be able to say how much of it is man-made and how much of it is natural.

  • Dave, “least not toss out the idea that much of the current changes in climate may be due to natural processes, not manmade processes.” Well unless you believe in science and have followed the 100s of climate papers and paleoclimate papers that have explicitly examined this over and over and rejected it. For those who believe in astrology (and the Marshall Institute nonsense) it remains a viable hypothesis. But if you up your standards of evidence are high enough to reject astrology than no, it is not an option. There are few things involved with Climate Change that have gotten more examination because the denier industry keeps saying it (with nothing to back it up of course) it out no matter how many papers are published rejecting it. There is always room not to toss things out if your standards of evidence are low enough. Fairies anyone?

    Thanks Allen, that’s a nice collection.

  • I believe climate change is both anthropogenic and problematic, so don’t count me in with the deniers.

    But I think the public has a right to be skeptical – most suggestions for reducing carbon emissions involve drastically reducing their living standards. Scientists are not leading by example when they continue to fly around the world giving talks at conferences in Sardinia and Bali, while expecting the unwashed masses to give up their houses and SUVs.

    There is no way an issue this large, requiring trillions of dollars and overwhelmingly intrusive government regulation in order to attempt solving it, would not become politicized. This is the nature of democracy – those of us in the elite do not get to dictate to everyone else how they live their lives.

    We need to do a better job of explaining, persuading, and leading by example. Firing absurdly hypocritical figures like Rajendra Pachauri and Al Gore would be a good start.

  • Jerald Miller

    The concepts of climate change fly in the face of revealed revelation. The world will not come to an end because of anything man can do but in spite our best efforts. The plagues of Revelations are poured out on the earth by angels not by technology. I can’t help but notice the author of this blog is of a background “unrelated to the disciplines” of climate. And since climate change projects temperature changes from the distant past into the future I have often wanted to ask were the ancient Mayan’s and the other Native American’s using centigrade or another measure when they recorded temperatures over the last millenia? Or is this all based on tree rings, tea leaves and carbon dating like the age of fossils? Why did the industrial revolution with heavy clouds of coal fired factories not bring us climate change?
    If Colorado State University meteorology professor emeritus William Gray and Roger Pielke Sr., another climate professor emeritus are in unrelated disciplines then what are the related disciplines?

  • Hi Jerald,

    I don’t think that climate change flies “in the face of revealed revelation”. In my blog on science and Mormonism, I have a topic called Disasters in which I list 21 plagues that have occurred or are occurring. In the Overview to that topic, I give three scriptures that predict plagues will occur before the second coming of Christ. In the overview, I note there is an interesting but horrible parallel between the scriptural prophecies and results being reported by science.

    It’s true that the book of Revelation speaks of angles and the plagues, but that book was written in a very symbolic way, and we have to understand the symbology in order to understand the book. For example, Revelation speaks of Satan as a star that fell from heaven. If that symbolical statement is take literally, there is no Satan, for stars are balls of hydrogen being converted to helium.

    I believe that God works through natural laws and that the plagues spoken of in the scriptures can be understood from the viewpoint of science as well as the viewpoint of religion. Regardless whether climate change is occurring due to natural events or to man-made processes, it is occurring and it is starting to have effects that, in my opinion, place climate change in the domain of plagues. For example, I was reading a report this morning about increase of Mercury in the Arctic. The article said this increase is due to both atmospheric sources and the deposit by rivers of Mercury in the Arctic Ocean. As we all know, Mercury is very toxic to humans, and any increase in Mercury in the oceans will affect us all. That increase is a plague, IMHO.

  • Thanks for that Allen!

  • The little bike ride at the end is just the perfect microcosm of today’s climate change discussion. How insulting.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/9284276/Will.I.Am-attends-climate-change-talk-in-helicoper.html

  • [...] scientists convinced that the climate is changing under human influence (and the two are the holdouts borrowed from the tobacco industry‘s attempt to claim smoking did not cause cancer). Of course you get the the usual cadre of [...]

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

* Copy this password:

* Type or paste password here:

79,926 Spam Comments Blocked so far by Spam Free Wordpress

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>