Merchant of Doubt S. Fred Singer

Historian of science and science studies schol...

Naomi Oreskes - Image via Wikipedia

Last year I bought a copy of Merchants of Doubt by science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. It describes how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming. I was very impressed by the content, detail and citations in the book. This posting is not intended to be a complete book review but an incident in commentary at the Globe and Mail provided incentive to deal with what I call one of the “delivery boys” for the Merchants of Doubt and to explore the involvement of one of the main merchants, S. Fred Singer.


On June 24 during commentary on the Globe and Mail article “Tory axe hits ‘muscle and bone’ of climate science, Elizabeth May says” I recommended that readers have a look at “Merchants of Doubt” and another commentator using the pseudonym “Anonymous Source” responded:

You pose as a ‘scientific’ thinker, you keep promoting this kind of junk instead. Here’s another opinion on Oreskes, co-author of what appears to be your new Bible, including this, for starters:

“Oreskes is well-known from her 2004 article in Science that claimed a complete scientific consensus about manmade global warming; it launched her career as a polemicist. Her claim was based on examining the abstracts of some 900 published papers. Unfortunately, she missed more than 11,000 papers through an incorrect Internet search. She published a discreet “Correction”; yet she has never retracted her ideologically based claim about consensus.”

Well… is that true or not? Yes or no?

Every time you post your link to that NON-scientific book I will, if I am around, be sure to post this, for starters. …

Oreskes is a dishonest political hack. When you finish your move you might also want to move away from such sources and stick to the scientific arguments you claim to want to promote.

Fred Singer at Hillsdale College campus 2007

S. Fred Singer - Image via Wikipedia

That link is to “Science and Smear Merchants” by S. Fred Singer in the “American Thinker” blog. He opens with this:

Professor Naomi Oreskes, of the University of California in San Diego, claims to be a science historian. One can readily demonstrate that she is neither a credible scientist nor a credible historian; the best evidence is right there in her recent book, “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming,” coauthored with Eric Conway. Her science is faulty; her historical procedures are thoroughly unprofessional. She is, however, an accomplished polemicist, who has found time for world lecture tours, promoting her book and her ideological views, while being paid by the citizens of California. Her book tries to smear four senior physicists — of whom I am the only surviving one. I view it as my obligation to defend the reputations of my late colleagues and good friends against her libelous charges

Those are very serious allegations. Please read his article as background to this posting. He points to a number of typographical and editorial errors, claiming that they disqualify her as a scientist. They are very minor and not surprising in a book with 355 pages; the Merchants of Doubt website now has an “Errata” section correcting most of them. They are about as trivial as the fact that Singer misnamed Erik M. Conway as “Eric”. He then goes on to chastise her for failing to speak directly with him and others who are subjects of the book, claiming that she used only secondary sources and that this demonstrates that she is not a historian either. He makes an allegation of libel without documenting what he regards as libelous.

What now follows is my perception of what was said in the book, in some cases quoting small sections and citations. I believe that Singer has demonstrated through his own actions, attitudes, and behaviors that he is indeed one of the “Merchants of Doubt”.

I’ll structure this narrative using the same subjects as the book’s chapters:

Chapter 1 – Doubt Is Our Product
Chapter 2 – Strategic Defense, Phony Facts, and the Creation of the George C. Marshall Institute
Chapter 3 – Sowing the Seeds of Doubt – Acid Rain
Chapter 4 – Constructing a Counternarrative: The Fight over the Ozone Hole
Chapter 5 – What’s Bad Science? Who Decides? The Fight over Secondhand Smoke
Chapter 6 – The Denial of Global Warming
Chapter 7 – Denial Rides Again: The Revisionist Attack on Rachel Carson
Conclusion – Of Free Speech and Free Market

21 Responses to Merchant of Doubt S. Fred Singer

  1. Alan Burke says:

    Chapter 1 – Doubt Is Our Product

    The first chapter outlines the formation of lobbying disinformation campaigns within the tobacco industry, describing a meeting in May 1979 with just-retired physicist Frederick Seitz who had helped to build the atomic bomb, acted as an advisor to NATO, was President of the National Academy of Sciences and president of the Rockefeller University. The primary objective was to develop “an extensive body of scientifically, well-grounded data useful in defending the industry against attacks“.

    The tobacco industry pioneered how to conduct an effective disinformation campaign and Seitz became actively involved with it. The mechanisms survived for decades and are still in use by some of the same people targeting anthropogenic climate change. I won’t go into detail here about tobacco but summarize how the strategy was adopted by ExxonMobil, as documented in the study from the Union of Concerned Scientists titled “Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air, How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco’s Tactics to Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Science, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, January 2007“.

    Like the tobacco industry, ExxonMobil:

    • Manufactured uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence.
    • Adopted a strategy of information laundering by using seemingly independent front organizations to publicly further its desired message and thereby confuse the public.
    • Promoted scientific spokespeople who misrepresent peer-reviewed scientific findings or cherry-pick facts in their attempts to persuade the media and the public that there is still serious debate among scientists that burning fossil fuels has contributed to global warming and that human-caused warming will have serious consequences.
    • Attempted to shift the focus away from meaningful action on global warming with misleading charges about the need for “sound science.”
    • Used its extraordinary access to the Bush administration to block federal policies and shape government communications on global warming.

    As the industry campaign to defend tobacco was ending, Seitz went on the found the George C. Marchall Institute, leading to application of the same strategies through “Star Wars”, nuclear winter, acid rain, the ozone hole and global warming. He and his colleagues, one of whom was Singer, would fight the facts and merchandize doubt all the way.

    The techniques used by contrarians and skeptics today include:

    • Ad hominem attacks – in the absence of their own reputable evidence, they attempt to undermine those who oppose their views by trying to discredit the opposition, usually with unsubstantiated allegations.
    • Fear – they float trial ballons about the supposedly outrageous cost of doing something in spite of the fact that it has been shown that the cost of doing nothing will drastically outweigh that of taking action.
    • Sidestepping and deflection – like many politicians, they attempt to divert attention away from the real issue, raising “red herrings” and swamping commentary with irrelevant side issues.
    • Appeal to authority – they refer to pseudo-experts who take contrarian positions with a gloss of believability which disappears upon deeper examination, claiming frequently fraudulent credentials.
    • Deliberately confusing weather and climate, insisting that a recent change (natural variability) shows a long-term trend.
    • Exaggerating uncertainty and demanding proof. That’s not how real science operates; scientists are cautious and invite real skepticism and there are never absolute proofs in science. They also confuse the scientific definition of “theory” with the popular definition – the former is a much stronger concept.
    • Demands for a “balanced” view, akin to the outrage expressed by those arguing for “intelligent design” in discussions about the science of evolution.
    • Outright denial – they repeat their disinformation derisively, saying that there is no proof and that there is a massive and corrupt conspiracy to steal money from us poor taxpayers and consumers
  2. Alan Burke says:

    Chapter 2 – Strategic Defense, Phony Facts, and the Creation of the George C. Marshall Institute

    In 1989 a tobacco industry executive recommended against soliciting further advice from Seitz, saying he “… is quite elderly and not sufficiently rational to offer advice.

    The founding of the George C. Marshall Institute in 1984 saw Seitz as chairman of its board. An early project using tobacco industry disinformation tactics was an attack on the science concerning the SDI, urging journalists to “balance” their reports on SDI by giving equal time to the Marshall Institute’s views. They began to insist on invocation of the “Fairness Doctrine”.

    Seitz had embraced a new cause, rolling back Communism, by supporting and defending Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) called popularly “Star Wars”, challenging scientific evidence that it wouldn’t work and promoting the idea that the USA could “win” a nuclear war. Carl Sagan pointed out that a weapons exchange would result in a “nuclear winter” with devastating worldwide result. This was the beginning of a new war by Seitz and his colleagues with Sagan and his scientific studies the target. Singer published an attack on the science behind nuclear winter in a letter to Science 227, No. 4685 (Jan. 25, 1985): 356 titled “On a Nuclear Winter”.

    The attack on nuclear winter was a dress rehearsal for bigger fights to come. … the right-wing turn against science had begun.

  3. Alan Burke says:

    Chapter 3 – Sowing the Seeds of Doubt – Acid Rain

    In Nov. 1982, Bill Nierenberg, another Star Wars era physicist was appointed to the National Science Board, a very prestigious position, and was asked to form a panel to review the science in the USA – Canada bilateral agreement on acid rain. Six of its nine members were members of either the National Academy of Sciences or the National Academy of Engineering and he had handpicked all of the members with the exception of one – Singer. The Office of Science and Technology of the White House had ‘suggested’ him.

    Meeting in Jan. 1983, the panel agreed that any conflicting or dissenting views would be included in the final report and there was no discussion of any appendices. Their interim report in June concluded that “Steps should be taken now which will result in meaningful reductions in the emission of sulfur compounds”. When the draft came back from the White House, two paragraphs had been stricken, dealing with long-term damage and effects at the base of the food chain. Throughout panel discussions, Singer kept advocating going beyond the terms of reference and delving into economic issues, claiming that not enough was known to justify taking action. This was in stark contrast to the 8 other members who felt that action was indeed necessary and should begin while additional studies were conducted. In his economic analysis, Singer continued to equate the value of nature to zero, a position unacceptable to the other panel members. They decided to let Singer express his views in an appendix. His appendix began with the claim that the benefits as well as the costs of doing nothing were zero. The main report stressed repeatedly the ecological costs of acid deposition. Singer advocated letting an unregulated free market solve any problem without the need for regulation.

    The acid rain panel report was supposed to be a scientific peer review, but Singer had placed within it a policy view consistent with that of the Reagan administration, but seemingly at odds with the science that had been reviewed.

    Congress saw a revised document, with watering-down changes to the executive summary made without the knowledge or agreement of the panel. The result was a failure to pass legislation concerning acid rain until the end of the Reagan years. “We don’t know what’s causing it” became the Reagan administration’s official position, despite 21 years of scientific work demonstrating otherwise. Scientific studies continued and were published in reputable journals but the mainstream press echoed the faulty conclusion that acid rain was not a problem and would cost hundreds of billions to fix.

    Six years later the administration of George H. W. Bush made amendments to the Clean Air Act establishing a cap-and-trade system to control acid rain, resulting in a 54% decline in sulfur dioxide levels between 1990 and 2007. The EPA reported that the overall cost of control was between $8 and $9 billion while the benefits were estimated from $101 to $119 billion, more than 10 times as great. Singer’s “billion-dollar solution to a million dollar problem” was just plain wrong. This is a clear case of ideological intervention to raise unjustified doubts without any backing evidence and in disagreement with solid science. Does it sound familiar?

    Our Canadian lakes suffered the damage of political inaction by the USA in spite of compelling scientific evidence showing that action should have been taken.

  4. Alan Burke says:

    Chapter 4 – Constructing a Counternarrative: The Fight over the Ozone Hole

    “In 1970, British scientist Janes Lovelock had documented the widespread presence of chlorofluorocarbons
    [CFCs] in the Earth’s troposphere (the lower portion of the atmosphere). Lovelock had calculate that given the known concentration of CFCs in the atmosphere virtually all of the billions of pounds that had been manufactured were still in the atmosphere.” Migrating upward into the stratosphere, they would decompose under ultraviolet light into ozone-depleting fluorine and chlorine compounds.

    The aerosol industry responded quickly, forming two trade associations whose mandate was “defense of the product” in the public sphere. Given the tobacco story, this was déjà vu all over again.

    The CFC industry blamed volcanoes, said there was no proof that fluorocarbons even got into the stratosphere, no proof that they split to produce chlorine and that even if they did no proof that they were destroying ozone. Each of these assertions contradicted scientific evidence. In 1977 the public was already switching to better alternatives and in 1979 a ban on the use of CFCs was approved.

    During the early 1980s, anti-environmentalism had taken root in Washington in conservative and Libertarian think tanks like the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Marshall Institute. They promoted business interests, “free market” economic policies and the rollback of environmental, health, safety and labor protections.

    Fred Singer at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1980s argued that ozone depletion is a natural phenomenon being cynically exploited by a corrupt, self-interested and extremist scientific community to get more money for their research.

    Now as Chief Scientist for the U.S. Department of Transportation, he protested what he called the “ozone scare” in an article published on page 1 of the Wall Street Journal. He admitted that depletion was observed but dismissed it as localized and temporary and insisted that there was no proof that CFCs were responsible. He also recycled the old tobacco tactic of “refutation by distraction” noting that skin cancers had many causes, not just those caused by increased ultraviolet light. He also erected a strawman argument, that water vapour from the supersonic transport (SST) would destroy ozone, a hypothesis that had already been discredited. He offered a counternarrative that scientists had overreacted before, were overreacting now and therefore couldn’t be trusted. He also argued that depletion was caused by natural stratospheric cooling as part of natural variability. Scientists had already shown that such cooling was a direct consequence of increased greenhouse gas absorption in the troposphere.

    Singer’s views went against the accumulated work of hundreds of experts and led to the conclusion that no regulation was needed. He alleged that they had “rushed to judgment” but how could he claim that if he was also inconsistently alleging that they were lobbying for more money to do more research?

    His story had 3 major themes – that the science is incomplete and uncertain, that replacing CFCs would be difficult, dangerous and expensive and that the scientific community is corrupt and motivated by self-interest and political ideology. The first was true but the adaptive structure of the Montréal Protocol accounted for it. The second was baseless. The third was the pot calling the kettle black given his ties to the Reagan administration and the Heritage Foundation and the venues in which he published.

    Non-CFC refrigerants are now available that are more efficient and aren’t toxic, flammable or corrosive.

    In spite of broad acceptance of the science and adoption of amendments to the Montréal Protocol, Singer didn’t give up. In 1990 he established his own non-profit organization, the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) with funding assistance filtered through from the passionately anti-communist Unification Church of Syn Myung Moon. In 1995 he served as a star witness in hearings in the U.S. Congress, referring to the issue as “so-called” ozone depletion and that the scientific basis for concern was simply wrong. Following the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry a few weeks later to Sherry Rowland, Mario Moline and Paul Crutzen for their work in understanding stratospheric ozone chemistry, Singer then attacked the Nobel committee accusing them of making a political statement, saying that the country was in the throes of collective environmental hysteria.

    Everyone is entitled to an opinion. But when a scientist consistently rejects the weight of evidence and repeats arguments that have been thoroughly rebutted by his colleagues, we are entitled to ask, What is really going on? The answer may come from his own pen in 1989. “And then there are probably those with hidden agendas of their own – not just to ‘save the environment’ but to change our economic system. Some of these ‘coercive utopians’ are socialists, some are technology-hating Luddites; most have a great desire to regulate – on as large a scale as possible.” He perceived that the real agenda of environmentalists, and the scientists providing the data upon which they relied, was to destroy capitalism and replace it with some sort of worldwide utopian Socialism – or perhaps Communism.

    I wonder if he checks under his bed every night looking for lurking Communists.

  5. Alan Burke says:

    Chapter 5 – What’s Bad Science? Who Decides? The Fight over Secondhand Smoke

    When the EPA took steps to limit indoor smoking, Fred Singer joined forces with the Tobacco Institute to challenge the scientific basis of secondhand smoke’s health risks. But they didn’t just claim that the data were insufficient; they claimed that the EPA was doing “bad science”. They began to discredit the EPA in general.

    Wide ranging studies showed the effects of secondhand smoke in the USA, Germany, Japan and others despite other differences in lifestyle, diet and the like. The EPA called the weight of evidence “conclusive”. Both Fred Seitz and Fred Singer denied it.

    In 1990 Singer had created his SEPP to “promote ‘sound science’ in environmental policy” which meant in part to defend the tobacco industry in collaboration with APCO Associates, the public relations firm hired by Philip Morris for their secondhand smoke campaign. Singer launched a full-frontal assault claiming that the science done at the EPA was “junk”, taking “extreme positions not supported by science” and claiming that they “could not rule out other factors … such as diet, outdoor air pollution, genetics, prior lung disease, etc.”. Why would the EPA “rig” the statistics for a 90% confidence level instead of 95%? Singer’s answer: Controlling smoke would lead to greater regulation in general. [Remember those Commies under the bed? ;-) ]

    The EPA had considered and ruled out other factors and recognized that some of them contributed to cancers but the statistical evidence was overwhelming the secondhand smoke was an added risk. Singer must have understood this but he was not practicing science, he was attacking it, apparently with ideological motivation, that regulating smoke was the foot in the door for more regulation, putting individual liberty at stake. The tobacco industry published a book titled “Bad Science: A Resource Book” based in part on Singer’s work. Nearly all quotes in the book were unsubstantiated assertions presented as fact. The Bad Science strategy was to plant complaints in op-ed pieces, in letters to the editor and in articles in mainstream journals (not scientific journals) to whom they’d supplied the “facts” and then quote them as if they really were facts.

    The fact that Singer was recycling arguments from earlier debates about nuclear power and pesticides, and his defense of acid rain and CFCs suggests that none of this was about secondhand smoke but was rather about his hostility to regulation, the road to Socialism, the very thing the Cold War was fought to defeat. At the root was free market fundamentalism.

  6. Alan Burke says:

    Chapter 6 – The Denial of Global Warming

    Scientific research concerning carbon dioxide (CO2) has been going on for 150 years; in the mid-nineteenth century John Tyndall established that it has a greenhouse effect – it traps heat and prevents it from returning to space. Early in the twentieth century Svante Arrhenius realized that CO2 from burning fossil fuels could alter the Earth’s climate and Guy Callendar compiled the first empirical evidence that the greenhouse effect might already be detectable. The Institute of Physics has an indepth history available titled “The Discovery of Global Warming“. In the 1960s American scientists started to warn political leaders that this could be a real problem yet they failed to do anything about it.

    There are many reasons why the USA has failed to act on global warming but at least one is the confusion raised by Bill Nierenberg, Fred Seitz and Fred Singer.

    In the late 1970s President Carter’s science advisor asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to empower a panel to review an early climate model (from the “Jasons”). The panel went a bit farther, looking at more recent 3D models, including one by James Hansen. The key question was how sensitive the climate is to changing levels of CO2; the answer was that there would be a rise of about 3 degrees Celsius for a doubling of the CO2 concentration, plus or minus 1.5 degrees. The panel reviewed possible counteracting factors like aerosols but determined that they would not prevent a substantial warming. They also identified that the oceans have a huge “thermal inertia” and would release heat to the atmosphere slowly but for a very long time. This meant that you might not be able to prove that warming was underway, even though it really was, and by the time you could prove it, it would be too late to stop it.

    By Nov.1980, the NAS charged a new committee, chaired by Bill Nierenberg, to undertake a comprehensive study of CO2 and climate. With two economists added to the panel, they were unable to reach full consensus and so they decided for the report “Changing Climate: Report of the Carbon Dioxide Assessment Committee” to do individually authored and signed chapters. The scientific chapters were in close agreement but the two economics chapters presented a very different view. None of the physical scientists suggested that accumulated CO2 was not a problem or that we should simply wait and see but that’s precisely what the economists’ chapters as well as the summarizing synthesis chapter argued. Nierenberg structured the report with the economists’ chapters as bookends, front and back, diffusing the impact of the scientists’ chapters.

    Nierenberg gave the administration everything it wanted, saying that no action was needed now, in spite of arguments from the scientists that it was, and concluding that technology would solve any future problems. The government need only fund further research.

    The year 1988 saw the formation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the announcement by James Hansen, the director if the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) that anthropogenic global warming had begun. An organized campaign of denial began the following year and soon ensnared the entire climate science community.

    The Marshall Institute under Bill Nierenberg blamed the sun, without backing evidence, having irresponsibly cherry-picked part of Hansen’s work to make it look that way. The IPCC explicitly addressed and rejected the Marshall Institute’s argument for blaming the Sun. They explained that the range of solar variability was small compared with greenhouse forcing. In a Feb. 1991 to the American Petroleum Institute Robert Jastrow crowed “It is generally considered in the scientific community that the Marshall report was responsible for the Administration’s opposition to carbon taxes and restrictions on fossil fuel consumption”. He reported that the Marshall Institute “is still the controlling influence in the White House”.

    Fred Singer was preparing to attack in a different way, alleging that Roger Revelle, Al Gore’s highly respected mentor, had changed his mind about global warming. Singer enlisted Revelle for a Washington Post article, seeking to capitalize on Revelle’s cautious comments. On his way back to La Jolla, Revelle suffered a massive heart attack and didn’t recover quickly. His health deteriorated rapidly. At one point he told his secretary “Some people don’t think Fred Singer is a very good scientist”. Singer watered down Revelle’s assessment of climate sensitivity and published in Cosmos magazine (not a scientific journal) concluding “the scientific basis for a greenhouse warming is too uncertain to justify drastic action at this time”; Revelle died before being able to explain his real view about climate sensitivity. Singer’s additional words were used in the 1992 election campaign to attack Al Gore. The use of Revelle’s name to attack Gore infuriated the Revelle family as well as his colleagues at Scripps. The documentary record shows that Revelle had not changed his mind; Singer had fabricated a conclusion used to attack a political opponent.

    Later, as the IPCC was preparing release of the Working Group I Report (the science), Singer presented a litany of complaints, including a false statement that satellites showed no warming at all but a slight cooling. On this basis he claimed that climate models were wrong. Singer also created a strawman argument, stating that the IPCC Summary for Policy makers was saying that global warming is the greatest global challenging mankind, a statement which was nowhere present in IPCC documents. Singer was putting words into other peoples mouths and then using them to discredit them.

    Singer later attacked the published IPCC report which had been watered down under political pressure, falsely claiming deletions of uncertainty. His claims were not only false but they had been shown to be false. In her 1999 analysis, Myanna Lahsen pinned Singer’s efforts to “envelope the IPCC in an aura of secrecy and unaccountability” to a common American conservative rhetoric of political suppression. As shown in previous chapters if anyone was meddling with the scientific assessment and peer review process, it was the political right wing, not the left.

    Seitz, Jastrow, Nyerenberg and Singer had access to power, all the way to the White House, by virtue of their positions as physicists who had won the Cold War. They used this power to support their ideology and political agenda even though it meant attacking science and fellow scientists.

    The divergence between the state of the science and how it was presented in the major media helped to make it easy for the government to do nothing about global warming, going on to kill adoption of the Kyoto Protocol. Right-wing ideologues conducting a disinformation campaign had been successful in suppressing the reality of science among policy makers. It continues to this day.

  7. Alan Burke says:

    Chapter 7 – Denial Rides Again: The Revisionist Attack on Rachel Carson

    Rachel Carson was a courageous woman who in the early 1960s called attention to the harms of indiscriminate pesticide use. In Silent Spring, a beautiful book about a dreadful topic, she explained how pesticides were accumulating in the food chain, damaging the natural environment, and threatening even the symbol of American freedom, the bald eagle. In spite of industry attempts to paint her as a hysterical female, her work was affirmed by the President’s Science Advisory Committee and in 1972 the EPA concluded that the scientific evidence was sufficient to warrant the banning of the pesticide DDT in America.

    In 2007, the Internet was flooded with the assertion that Carson was a mass murderer, worse than Hitler because Silent Spring led to the banning of DDT, without which millions of Africans died of malaria. The Competitive Enterprise Institute who had previously defended tobacco and doubted the reality of global warming said that she was wrong and had sounded a false alarm. Why did the conservative and Libertarian think tanks reopen an old debate? In demonizing Carson, free marketeers realized that if you could convince people that an example of a successful government regulation actually wasn’t in fact successful and that it was actually a mistake, you could strengthen the argument against regulation in general.

    They launched an effective disinformation campaign in the mainstream media. The fact is that insects had developed resistance to DDT, primarily from agricultural spraying rather than for disease control. DDT aline did not eradicate insect-borne diseases and those diseases have been controlled in places with little or no use of DDT. There is no scientific evidence that millions of lives had been needlessly list and there is substantial evidence that a good deal of harm was avoided. The game here, as before, was to defend an extreme free market ideology but in this case they didn’t just deny the facts of science, they denied the facts of history.

    The Cold War warriors Seitz, Singer, Jastrow and Nierenberg, who had dedicated their lives to fighting Soviet Communism, joined forces with the self-appointed defenders of the free market in order to blame the messenger, to undermine science, to deny the truth and to market doubt, attempting to avoid regulation. Accepting that their ends justified their means, they adopted the tactics of their enemy, the very things they had hated Soviet Communism for: its lies, deceit and denial of the very realities it had created. In defending what they saw as liberty, free from government intervention, they allowed business practices to ignore the real cost of doing business, those “externalities” leading to “social costs” which have now come back to haunt us. Liberty also requires responsibility but in their greed and ideology, they ignored the massive damage that their unfettered free-market economies were causing.

  8. Alan Burke says:

    Conclusion – Of Free Speech and Free Market

    Until recently the mass media presented global warming as a raging debate, 12 years after President George H. W. Bush had signed the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, and twenty-five years after the U.S. National Academy of Sciences first announced that there was no reason to doubt that global warming would occur from man’s use of fossil fuels. “Balance” had become a form of bias, whereby the media coverage was biased in favor of a minority – in some cases extreme minority – views.

    A key strategy in the campaigns to market doubt was to create the appearance that the claims being made were scientific. When the George C. Marshall Institute began to challenge the claims of the scientific community on the ozone hole and global warming, they didn’t create their own journal but they did produce reports with the trappings of scientific argumentation – graphs, charts, references, and the like. At least one of those reports was taken seriously by the White House. Yet the were not subject to independent peer review – the most basic requirement of any truly scientific work. Had they been, it’s likely they would have failed, because at least one of them seriously misrepresented the science, presenting only one portion of a key graph, which if presented in its entirety would have refuted their argument.

    They also resorted techniques which are normally outside the realm of normal scientific behaviour. Scientists do not normally organize petitions, particularly ones whose signatories may or may not know anything about the topic under investigations. Yet in 1997, Fred Seitz did so with a petition alleging to refute global warming. The petition was accompanied by a lengthy piece formatted to look like a reprint from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The “article”, never published in a scientific journal but summarized in the Wall Street Journal repeated a wide range of debunked claims including the assertion that there was no warming at all. This “Oregon Petition” which is still in circulation was mailed to thousands of scientists with a cover letter by Seitz inviting the recipients to sign a petition against the Kyoto protocol and giving the impression that the whole thing was sanctioned by NAS.

    In a highly unusual move NAS held a press conference to disclaim the mailing and distance itself from its former president, Seitz. Still, many media outlets reported on the petition (and still do) as if it were of genuine disagreement within the scientific community, reinforced, perhaps, by Fred Singer’s celebration of it in the Washington Times the very same day that NAS rejected it.

    The link that unites the protective industries, conservative think tanks, and the scientists is the defence of the free market, driven by the ideology of laissez-faire economics. The protagonists in “Merchants of Doubt” were fiercely anti-Communist during the Cold War and viewed science as crucial in helping to contain its spread. When the Cold War ended, they perceived a new threat in “environmentalism”, implying that environmentalists are “watermelons” – green on the outside but red on the inside. Each of the environmental threats described here was a market failure, causing large instances of the “tragedy of the commons” by ignoring the social cost externalities present in their business models and feeding the costs downstream to be paid ultimately by everyone and every living thing on Earth. But they viewed monitoring and regulation by government as the slippery slope to Socialism, a form of creeping Communism.

    Their doctrine of laissez-faire capitalism holds that the common good is best served by the uninhibited pursuit of self-interest. We’ve seen where that unfettered greed has taken us recently with the global economic meltdown; it is the cause of the social costs with which we are all plagued. The western democratic belief in fairness and in hearing “both sides” was used and abused by people who didn’t want to admit the truth about the impact of unregulated industrial capitalism.

    We don’t provide “balanced reporting” demanding equal time in the mainstream media for critiques of the science behind the theory of gravity, genetics, continental drift, tobacco and other areas where the evidence points to valid conclusions, having gone through the crucible of scientific peer review and publishing in reputable scientific journals. Why do we encourage it concerning human-caused global warming leading to climate change when the overwhelming majority of climatologists agree? (97-98% – see “Expert Credibility in Climate Change“) It’s because the greed of vested interests is being threatened and so the Merchants of Doubt and their delivery boys are bombarding us with propaganda and delaying the necessary steps to migrate to sustainable energy sources, and to mitigate the impact and adapt to now inevitable climate change.

  9. George Ennis says:

    Alan, what many of these Cold War warriors were/are interested in protecting and advancing is unfettered capitalism. For them democracy is a threat to that ideal since historically at least up until 1945 it had been focussed on creating a more egalitarian society. Democracies focussed on protecting the majority are not surprisingly very conscious of external/social costs that free markets are not able to capture. What many of these Cold War warriors have come to understand is that it is possible to tame and control democracies through what has been called by some as inverted totalitarianism i.e. through control (lobbying) of the elected representatives and news media.

    • Alan Burke says:

      It isn’t just the lobbying of policy makers that bothers me but also, as you identified, the perversion of “balanced” reporting by mainstream media like the Globe and Mail who do not staff well enough to use critical thinking about scientific issues before deciding to publish contributed articles or opinions by their own columnists.

  10. Alan Burke says:

    Naomi Oreskes gave a 77:12 presentation at U.Vic in June describing the “Merchants of Doubt”. I recommend watching it! It’s at

  11. Christine says:

    Great summary, Alan, I’ve had “Merchants Of Doubt” in my reading pile for a few months now – right now I’m finishing “Natural Capital” by Amory & Hunter Lovins and Paul Hawkens.
    You might also be interested that Dr. Oreskes was the speaker at the Citizens Climate Lobby June teleconference call – and the Red Lake CCL group was invited to ask her a question, which we did! If you are interested in listening to it (she spoke for about 20 minutes, and then there was a 10 minute Q & A), go this link and click on “listen to the June conference call”:

  12. Alan Burke says:

    Lying continues to be one of the tools used by the delivery boys for the merchants of doubt. In response to an article in the Globe and Mail pointing to this page I received this comment from “J Q Public Canadian”

    While there is evidence of climate change, there is NO reliable evidence that it is caused or even influenced by man, period. Check your facts, and I don’t mean those presented by Al Gore of[sic] the IPCC, both of which have been proven as charlitains[sic].

    I responded

    J Q that is irresponsible BS; the evidence that recent global warming leading to climate change is caused by our burning of fossil fuels and land use change is indisputable.

    to which “The Oatmeal Savage” responded, lying


    Seems the Royal Society would beg to differ:

    “The Royal Society, 30 September 2010

    Climate change continues to be a subject of intense public and political debate. Because of the level of interest in the topic the Royal Society has produced a new guide to the science of climate change. The guide summarises the current scientific evidence on climate change and its drivers, highlighting the areas where the science is well established, where there is still some debate, and where substantial uncertainties remain.”

    Providing a link to the Royal Society guide which he misrepresented, not offering any substantiation, I offered this rebuttal

    No, the Royal Society does not disagree. Quoting from their summary:

    “There is strong evidence that the warming of the Earth over the last half-century has been caused largely by human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels and changes in land use, including agriculture and deforestation.”

    That fact is not disputed. Like the contrarian or denialist which you must be, you have irresponsibly misrepresented what was said in an attempt to raise doubt. You fit right in as one of the delivery boys for the merchants of doubt.

    and I again offered a link to this page.

  13. David Wilson says:

    yes, I have read ‘Merchants of Doubt’ as well, and watched several of her presentations including the one at York here in Toronto last fall, Naomi Oreskes is certainly impressive, her foreword to the recent ‘Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand’ ( ) is excellent too, though I cannot understand why she would associate herself with such a hair ball of a book (?)

    • Alan Burke says:

      Thanks for the link David. I haven’t read “Heads in the Sand” and I’m wondering why you call it a “hair ball of a book”. Would you mind expanding on that a bit, please?

  14. Alan Burke says:

    From DeSmogBlog: Norwegian Terrorist Anders Breivik Reveals Climate Denial Influences

    TO followers of the climate change policy debate, the extreme conspiratorial rhetoric is all too familiar:

    Climate change is a hoax. Environmentalists are just communists in disguise. The United Nations is using efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions as a smokescreen for installing a world government. Greenies are actually reds. Eco fascists want your freedom.

    Such rhetoric is daily bread for many neo-conservative commentators, some climate change deniers and even the occasional elected representative. The language is divisive, often becomes abusive and – regrettably – has become a feature of the manufactured debate over the risk posed by human-caused climate change.

    The manifesto of Norwegian terrorist and Christian fundamentalist Anders Behring Breivik, currently facing trial for the massacre of 76 people, shows what can happen when the unhinged take the language of the far-right to its ultimate ends.

    In the 1500-word document, published online under his Anglicised name Andrew Berwick before the brutal bombing and shootings in Norway, Breivik reveals a hatred for Islam and socialism.

    But the manifesto also echoes the beliefs of many climate change deniers and cites the work of Lord Christopher Monckton, Alex Jones and Steve McIntyre.
    Related Profile(s) :
    Christopher Monckton

    Read more: Norwegian Terrorist Anders Breivik Reveals Climate Denial Influences

  15. Alan Burke says:

    What’s Up With Conservative White Men and Climate Change Denial?

    They come at you at public events, wanting to argue. They light up the switchboards whenever there’s a radio show about climate change. They commandeer your blog comments section. They have a seemingly insatiable desire to debate, sometimes quite aggressively.

    They’re the conservative white men (CWM) of climate change denial, and we’ve all gotten to know them in one way or another. But we haven’t had population-level statistics on them until recently, courtesy of a new paper in Global Environmental Change (apparently not online yet, but live in the blogosphere as of late last week) by sociologists Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap. It’s entitled “Cool Dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States.” Among other data, McCright and Dunlap show the following:

    — 14% of the general public doesn’t worry about climate change at all, but among CWMs the percentage jumps to 39%.

    — 32% of adults deny there is a scientific consensus on climate change, but 59% of CWMs deny what the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists have said.

    — 3 adults in 10 don’t believe recent global temperature increases are primarily caused by human activity. Twice that many – 6 CWMs out of every ten – feel that way.

    More (Click here)

  16. Alan Burke says:

    Fred Singer continues his doubt mongering:

    Denial Down Under With The Galileo Movement

    THERE’S a new climate denial lobby group on the block – bravely regurgitating previously debunked pseudo-science and making wild unsubstantiated claims that climate scientists are all corrupt.

    Not happy with misrepresenting the science on climate change, The Galileo Movement has also misappropriated the name of the father of modern science who was persecuted for his insistance that the Sun, rather than the Earth, was the centre of the universe.

    The Galileo Movement, launched in Australia, has stated its prime mission is to stop the Government’s current efforts to introduce a price on greenhouse gas emissions and boasts a list of advisors resembling a who’s who of international climate change denial.

    Included on the group’s advisory panel are Professor Fred Singer, Patrick Michaels, Professor Bob Carter, Professor Ian Plimer, Joe D’Aleo, Professor Richard Lindzen and Lord Christopher Monckton.

    More (Click here)

  17. Pingback: Globe and Mail Censorship of Online Commentary | ClimateInsight

  18. Hi there! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this write-up to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

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