I’m old enough to remember commercials such as “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette” – obviously if doctors smoke it has to be healthy. Or “when temped with indulgence, reach for a Lucky Strike” as if a cigarette is a healthy alternative to candy. One might excuse this as due to ignorance, but the hazards of smoking were known long before these commercials were aired.
Even today the deception continues, albeit more surreptitiously. Instead of advertising directly or acting under their own masthead to defeat anti-smoking legislation, they employ any number of front groups with names that imply that the represent consumers, or even health groups.
Robert Proctor, a professor of the History of Science coined a term for this kind of deceit: Agnotology – the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly by the use of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.
Similar agents are at work in the realm of climate change denial. Fossil fuel industries hire lobbyists to influence congress and front groups to influence consumers. Make no mistake, the overwhelming majority of scientists around the world recognize that the climate is changing and we are responsible.
The public is told all too often that there is no problem, or even if the climate is changing it’s not fault. Unscientific positive effects are trotted out as real. We are told that scientists disagree. No where is it made clear that these views are a product, bought and paid for by the extractive industries.
This PR is presented as if it is a scientifically relevant alternative and all too frequently goes unchallenged by the media. The information superhighway can deliver deception more easily than
reality. In fact, front groups have in effect Balkanized the web. Now everybody can go and find just the view that supports their relatively uninformed preconceptions, not those which are the most valid. A couple recent examples are illustrious.
A research vessel studying climate change becomes stuck in antarctic ice. Certain news outlets tout this as proof that global warming isn’t happening. HA-HA, the poor saps trying to prove that the ice is melting get trapped in ice. The reality is that the ice they were trapped in was old ice, part of a seventy five mile long ice berg that broke off the Antarctic ice shelf, most likely due to global warming.
The recent cold snap paralyzing much of the United States is due to the temporary displacement of the Polar Vortex. It is an uncommon but well know meteorological phenomenon. The cold air is displaced to the south so that it is colder in Little Rock, Arkansas than Anchorage, Alaska. The denialist PR industry however would have you believe that the temporarily cold south means that global warming isn’t happening.
One final confounding principle is that the general public doesn’t read scientific journals, at best they listen to the evening news. The well funded front groups have convinced the media of the need for “on the other hand” and therefore get their message presented as balance.
The public is being lied to by a massive, well funded, PR campaign to prop up the sales of fossil fuels, to the detriment of us all.