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.