Thursday, October 14, 2010

Merchants of Doubt

I recently read a review of three books about climate change in "Skeptical Inquirer," a magazine not exactly in tune with ESP, ghost hunting, evolution deniers, far-right foolishness, and silliness in general. I found it really informative.

The review, by a planetary scientist (not a climate scientist), discussed three books: "Storms of My Grandchildren" by climate scientist James Hansen, "Science as a Contact Sport" by the late climate scientist Stephen H. Schneider, and "Merchants of Doubt," by historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. The last book tells an especially interesting, and amply documented, tale.

It turns out there were four respected scientists who formed the core of those who signed on to try to debunk worries about global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels. They were Fred Seitz, Fred Singer, Bill Nierenberg, and Robert Jastrow. Such scientists not only tried to cast doubt on warming, but worked to undercut the science behind the danger of cigarette smoking, worries about industrial smoke and later, acid rain, the advisability and the feasibility of the Star Wars defense system, the threat of DDT, the bad news about second-hand smoke, and the danger of ozone depletion. To a man, each was a fervent anti-communist opposed to detent with the Soviet Union, opposed to government regulation that would steal America's freedom, and so on. They turned their backs on scientific truth to back the positions of the ultra-right's political goals pushed by such groups as the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institution, the Hudson Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Cato Institute. To them, environmentalists were "watermelons": green on the outside, red on the inside.

According to review author David Morrison, as of this fall all but Singer has died. One wonders how these respected scientist, so loved by the George W. Bush administration, will be replaced.

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