It would be easy for scientists to ignore the Heartland Institute’s climate conferences. They are curious affairs designed to gather and share contrarian views, in which science is secondary to wild accusations and political propaganda. They are easy to lampoon — delegates at the latest meeting of the Chicago-based institute in Washington DC earlier this month could pick up primers on the libertarian writings of Russian–American novelist Ayn Rand, who developed the philosophical theory of objectivism, and postcards depicting former US vice-president Al Gore as a fire-breathing demon. And they are predictable, with environmentalists often portrayed as the latest incarnation of a persistent communist plot. “Green on the outside, red on the inside,” said one display. “Smash the watermelons!”
So why does Nature this week devote two pages to such absurdities? We now have more than two decades of evidence that closing our eyes will not make the climate sceptics go away. Instead, in the United States at least, they have cemented their propaganda into a broader agenda that pits conservatives of various stripes against almost any form of government regulation. The sceptics like to present the battlefield as science, but, as the News Feature on page 440 makes clear, the fight is, in fact, a violent collision of world views.
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