GCH104, lecture 4

Clever Words:
How Contrarians Bend Climate Science for Ideology and Corporate Profit.

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Synopsis: Contrarians systematically distort science for purposes of ideology (anti-government or free-market) or greed (corporate or the upper 1% of wealth holders). Techniques include undermining (invalidating, denigrating), suppression of formal findings, attacks on individuals, and stacking of inquiry panels. Examples include distortion of science behind acid rain, SDI, SST, tobacco smoke, ozone, and global climate change. Contrarians are gifted in contorting science through public rhetoric following guidelines from Luntz and others to play to individual fears of economic deprivation under the guise of innocent skeptical calls for more research and "sound science." The role of Koch Industries is presented to illustrate the scope of contemporary efforts to defeat climate change science. Caution is advised to be mindful of myriad differences in social, political, environmental, and economic outlooks that underlie frames of reference that determine our ability to filter or accept alternative world views based on science.

Nineteen of the 20 Republican Senate nominees who have expressed an opinion on the widespread scientific consensus that greenhouse gases are altering the world's climate have declared the science either inconclusive or dead wrong, often in vitriolic terms. (Kirk is the only exception.) Ron Johnson, a business owner who won his party's nomination in Wisconsin, says that accumulating carbon dioxide emissions are a less likely cause of any climate change than "sunspot activity or something just in the geologic eons of time where we have changes in the climate."

Ronald Brownstein, National Journal Magazine (website), Sept. 25, 2010

"In the end, those of us who expected the crisis to provide a teachable moment were right, but not in the way we expected. Never mind relearning the case for bank regulation; what we learned, instead, is what happens when an ideology backed by vast wealth and immense power confronts inconvenient facts. And the answer is, the facts lose."

"Wall Street Whitewash," Paul Krugman, NYTimes, 12/17/10

Previously, I suggested that the major disconnect between science discourse communities and the public sphere is caused in part by public misunderstanding of the nature of science; by obtuse science writing characterized by an inaccessible impersonal, objective use of English; and by cultural mores among scientists that severely inhibit forays into popular press. There is a fourth cause.

Science can be systematically distorted by people who put personal interest above scientific truth. The self-checking, skeptical nature of the scientist; the hedge-filled, obfuscated use of language; and the reticence of scientific intellects to engage in rough-and-tumble public exchanges all make it relatively easy to turn science against itself, and against the common good. The practice is wide-spread and the results are devastating.

The fundamental questions (and indeed, the fundamental themes for the course) are these:

We have four purposes in this session. First, we will outline a few characteristics of contrarian science, illustrating it with the national discussion of acid rain Mooney (2005). Second, we'll draw additional examples from Mooney (2005), Oreskes and Conway (2010), and Hansen (2009). Third, we'll begin to look for approaches to distortion through rhetoric (although this look will grow more refined later in the semester). Finally, we'll list a few caveats on the complexity of the issues and the variety of perspectives from which opinions are held (Hulme, 2009).

Contrarianism (and one example)

There is an abundance of contrarians (synonyms include naysayer and denier), people who argue for myriad reasons against the prevailing view of scientists worldwide. The greatest strength of science is its openness to skepticism and challenge, because the strength of ideas and understanding comes from being tempered on the anvil of peer review. Tragically, this strength exposes science to its enemies: the nature of science is abused by those who know how to use the appearances and approaches of the "dominant discourse" (Zerbe, 2007). Most scientists ignore contrarians, dismissing them as annoying hecklers. But as the implications of climate and resource sciences take on increasing import, patience may have worn thin with contrarian nonsense (Rennie, 2009).

But what does it mean to politicize science? What constitutes political science "abuse" in the first place? Here is a definition: any attempt to inappropriately undermine, alter, or otherwise interfere with the scientific process, or scientific conclusions, for political or ideological reasons. To count as inappropriate, such incursions must undermine the integrity of science by turning it into just another tool of political advocacy. We can never hope to divorce science from politics entirely, but a buffer zone must exist to ensure that science doesn't devolve into politics by other means. (Mooney, 2005, p. 17)

Mooney (2005, p. 17-24) lists several problems that occur in practice:

What is the difference between a contrarian and a skeptic? I've tried to point out that the great advances in, for example, astronomy, arose when individuals held out against a common opinion. "No," said the astronomers, "the earth is not at the center of the universe!" We now all nod our heads and agree, but in 1632 this was a contrarian perspective, and so offensive that Galileo was threatened with death for his perversity!

Both Oreskes and Conway (2010) and Hansen (2009) discuss many examples of contrarians, and I will sketch an outline of these examples below. But here is one good example of the difference between science skeptics and contrarians, drawn from Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science (2005). Chapter 5, "Defenseless against the dumb", describes one immediate aftermath of the dismantling of the Office of Technology Assessment.

Congress had created OTA in 1972, at a time of general distrust between the Nixon administration and the Democratic-controlled legislative branch over the supersonic transport and other issues. The era also saw mounting public concern over the dangers of pollution, nuclear energy, pesticides, and other technology-induced hazards. OTA, the thinking went, would both forecast coming technological quandaries and help Congress fact-check technical claims made by the various executive branch agencies. (Mooney, 2005, p. 51)

Jasonoff (1990), writing in general about science advisory processes, suggests these functions, which the OTA was certainly intended to perform:

Protected by the umbrella of expertise, advisory committee members in fact are free to serve in widely divergent professional capacities: as technical consultants, as educators, as peer reviewers, as policy advocates, as mediators, and even as judges. Though their purpose is to address only technical issues, committee meetings therefore serve as forums where scientific as well as political conflicts can be simultaneously negotiated. When the process works, few incentives remain for political adversaries to deconstruct the results or to attack them as bad science. This stabilizing impact of expert advice can be observed at four critical junctures in the evaluation of regulatory science: validation of long-term research strategies; certification of study protocols and analytical methodologies; definition of standards of adequacy for scientific evidence; and approval of inferences from studies and experiments. Admitting the scientific community into each of these areas of decision making produces a stronger consensus than any achievable through the agency's in-house expertise alone. (Jasonoff, 1990, p. 236)

In 1995, however, Republicans won control of Congress and implemented Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America." One of the casualties was the OTA, which was last directed by Tennessee physicist John Gibbons.

Gibbons, for his part, has accused the Gingrich Republicans of political motives and decried the "callous treatment" OTA received. But he also interprets the agency's death in the context of the always fraught relationship between science advisers and those they advise. This "shoot the messenger" tradition goes back much farther than Nixon's defenestration of his science advisers. In a 2003 speech at Rice University, Gibbons drew a joking analogy between the fate of OTA and that of Socrates: "He gave advice to other people. He was poisoned."

(A better version of this analogy was offered in Bertrand Russell's chapter on Socrates in A History of Western Philosophy. "...it was decided that it was easier to silence him by means of the hemlock than to cure the evils of which he complained." )

Without the OTA, Congress was, in Mooney's words, "defenseless against the dumb." Mooney's example, also covered in chapter 4 of Oreskes and Conway (2010), concerns testimony on efforts to regulate ozone-destroying chemicals. I believe it is worth quoting at length.

As a case study in the new war on science, consider a series of major hearings held by the Republican-controlled Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, entitled "Scientific Integrity and Public Trust." The hearings—which began even as OTA prepared to close its doors in September 1995—fit nicely into the Gingrich Congress's broader attempt to expose the shoddy scientific basis for a wide range of environmental regulations, thereby demonstrating the need for "regulatory reform." Channeling allegations made by conservative think tanks, the House Republicans even charged that scientists had grown cozy with government regulators, addicted to federal funding, and highly prone to suppress or ignore dissenting views. Though it found little substantive support, the accusation betrayed the conservative movement's curious preference for private-sector scientific research over "public science," despite the fact that privately controlled research has myriad problems of its own (particularly when it comes to potential conflicts of interest between the pursuit of truth and protecting industry profits).

Presided over by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, of California—who derided global warming concerns as "liberal claptrap"—the "scientific integrity" hearings covered three environmental issues of keen interest to industry: ozone depletion, climate change, and dioxin risks. Especially in the first two hearings, the Republicans evinced a highly dubious notion of how elected representatives should determine what science has to say. Rather than relying on major peer-reviewed scientific consensus documents—a policymaker's most reliable means of accessing scientific knowledge on a given question—they hosted adversarial "science courts" that pitted scientific outliers against the mainstream. After the fireworks died down, members of Congress, rather than scientists, were supposed to judge whose view was right.

Such an approach, noted Rep. George Brown in a highly critical report, showed that the incoming Republicans had "little or no experience of what science does and how it progresses." Instead, Rohrabacher and allies appeared to subscribe to the misguided notion that "scientific truth is more likely to be found at the fringes of science than at the center."

We can hardly overstate the absurdity of this view. Working scientists shouldn't follow their sense of where scientific "consensus" lies in preparing their research designs; if they try to upset long-held view, so much the better. But when it comes to the use of scientific information by non-expert members of Congress, determining consensus is all-important. "Scientific knowledge is the intellectual and social consensus of affiliated experts based on the weight of available empirical evidence, and evaluated according to accepted methodologies, "historian of science Naomi Oreskes, of the University of California, San Diego, has written. "If we feel that a policy question deserves to be informed by scientific knowledge, then we have no choice but to ask, what is the consensus of experts on this matter?"

In an interview, Robert Walker, Newt Gingrich's right-hand man and chair of the House Science Committee at the time, defended the very different approach taken on his watch. "Hearings are about trying to find out what the various points of view are so that you can adequately represent the totality of scientific evidence in whatever legislation you're doing," he told me. No one objects to free speech or a diversity of views, but Walker's argument fails to recognize that science isn't a democracy. Rather, it uses quality control—peer review—to rule out questionable interpretations and ensure that knowledge advances.

In attempting to upset and derail this process, congressional Republicans had undermined science itself, and set an alarming precedent for the use of questionable science to determine policy.


That became apparent in the first of the "scientific integrity" hearings, on the subject of ozone depletion. The Republicans could hardly have chosen a more unassailable field of environmental science to challenge. The hearing actually occurred in the same year that the original proponents of the hypothesis that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) deplete stratospheric ozone—Sherwood Rowland, of the University of California, Irvine, and Mario Molina, of MIT—won the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Against this overwhelming accepted position, the Republicans pitted Dr. S. Fred Singer, of the Science and Environmental Policy Project (already on the record as disputing the dangers of acid rain and other environmental problems), and Dr. Sallie Baliunas, a senior scientist with the George C. Marshall Institute. The two challenged the science that had been used to justify an accelerated phaseout of CFC's in 1992. "There is no scientific consensus on ozone depletion or its consequences," Singer declared.

In this encounter, Singer and Baliunas depicted themselves as scientific"skeptics" heroically battling against received wisdom, and facing censorship and even suppression of their views. Doubters of the scientific mainstream on issues such as climate change and ozone depletion love to strike this pose, and for good rhetorical reasons. "Every good scientist is a skeptic through and through," notes Harvard biological oceanographer James McCarthy, an expert on the impacts of climate change.

But not every skeptic is necessarily a Galileo. Moreover, while prizing skepticism, science also has a place for the accumulation of knowledge and the acceptance of consensus conclusions that have themselves emerged from a process of exacting interrogation and challenge, which is precisely what today's "Skeptics" on climate change and ozone depletion refuse to do. Their blanket skepticism renders them unwilling to accept the current state of scientific understanding, no matter how solid. * No wonder George brown's report on the bizarrely named "scientific integrity" hearings was originally going to be titled, "A Dip into the Skeptic Tank." (Mooney, 2005, p. 55-57)

*Footnote: For this reason, in this book I do not call those who dispute robust scientific consensus conclusions on ozone depletion and climate change "skeptics," or at least, not without preserving the scare quotes. Instead, following the example of a number of climate scientists including Stanford's Stephen Schneider, I call them "contrarians."

(See Oreskes et al., chapter 4, "Constructing a Counternarrative: The Fight over the Ozone Hole," p. 107-135)

But if Singer and Baliunas were merely doubting the scientific evidence behind an unjustly held community view, isn't that just good healthy skepticism, at the heart of sound science? Contrast this view, in 1995, with the original scientist's dissenting (from common knowledge) view 20 years earlier, and then reflect for a moment on the value of the extensive work on ozone science that was accomplished during those 20 years:

The CFC-ozone hypothesis had already been subjected to withering skepticism. When they originally published their idea in the scientific journal Nature in 1974—arguing that the long-lived chemicals contained in spray cans, refrigerators, and air conditioners would rise up into the stratosphere and release chlorine molecules that would, in a chain of chemical reactions, destroy the earth's protective ozone layer—Molina and Rowland were the scientific outliers. In a familiar pattern, CFC manufacturers like DuPont quickly challenged their assertions, and would maintain a stance of robust skepticism for more than a decade.

But the CFC-ozone theory withstood massive scientific scrutiny, including several studies by the National Academy of Sciences. Numerous ozone assessments organized by NASA as well as by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Association also supported the consensus view. By the time Rowland and Molina won the Nobel Prize in 1995 (along with Paul Crutzen, of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, in Germany), they had convinced their colleagues that CFC's pose a severe threat to the ozone layer and, by implication, human health. The ozone depletion hypothesis had gone from fringe to mainstream, withstanding doubts at every turn. It hardly hurt that in 1985, scientists discovered alarming levels of ozone depletion (the so-called ozone hole) above Antarctica, and soon linked the phenomenon to CFC's

It is in this context that we must weigh the wave of "skepticism" that greeted the CFC-ozone hypothesis following the 1987 Montreal Protocol, and George H. W. Bush's decision to institute an accelerated CFC phaseout in 1992. Surely, if the "skeptic" arguments truly carried such force, they would have managed to sway mainstream scientists by then. In fact, the work of the "skeptics" was dubious at best. For example, in her popular 1990 book Trashing the Planet, Dixy Lee Ray, a former governor of Washington as well as a zoologist, advanced a number of flawed contrarian arguments, perhaps most notably the suggestion that natural sources like volcanoes, rather than CFC's, might explain ozone depletion. Ray found a champion in radio host Rush Limbaugh, the popular voice of the Gingrich revolution, who labeled the CFC-ozone theory "balderdash" and "poppycock." Limbaugh called Trashing the Planet "the most footnoted, documented book" he had ever read.

But in his president's lecture to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 1993, Sherwood Rowland exposed the sheer ineptness of these critics. In response to those asking, "Don't volcanoes cause the Antarctic ozone hole?" Rowland noted that volcanic eruptions give off large amounts of steam, which condenses into clouds higher up in the atmosphere. Any chlorine emitted in a volcanic eruption would dissolve in this water and fall back down to earth in the form of rain. Rowland further observed that aircraft measurements had shown little increase in stratospheric chlorine levels following the eruption of El Chicon, in Mexico, in April 1982 or of Mount Pinatubo, in the Philippines, in June 1991. "Despite the misinformation problems," Rowland concluded, "an international scientific consensus has been achieved" on ozone depletion.

At the time of his AAAS speech, though, Rowland couldn't have known of the impending "Gingrich revolution," which would bring ozone depletion skepticism the endorsement of the party running Congress. On the eve of the House of Representatives' ozone hearing, Jack Gibbons, by then serving as White House science adviser, declared the decision to give a "few vocal skeptics" of ozone depletion equal standing with the scientific mainstream "incredible." "Healthy skepticism is an essential and treasured feature of scientific analysis," Gibbons added. "But willful distortion of evidence has no place at the table of scientific inquiry."

That didn't stop the House Republicans. Their ozone hearing put the new Congress's poor understanding of science—and simultaneous willingness to politicize it—on full display. Perhaps the most memorable moment came when one of Rohrabacher's allies, California Republican John Doolittle, responded to a colleague who asked what studies he would cite favoring his position by saying, "I'm not going to get involved in a mumbo-jumbo of peer-reviewed documents." Doolittle and Tom Delay, the House majority whip, introduced separate bills to ease existing CFC regulations. In explaining the scientific basis for his position ,DeLay confessed that "my assessment is from reading people like Fred Singer."

The notion that Delay—who would later blame school shootings on the fact that we teach children that they are "nothing but glorified apes who are evolutionised out of some primordial soup of mud"—has any capacity to "assess" ozone science is something Jon Stewart's joke writers should look into. But it is no laughing matter for those who expect their elected representatives to rely on the best evidence that science has to offer. With the Republican Congress, and especially Rush Limbaugh, endorsing dubious science, millions found themselves exposed to such nonsense. The House Republican's actions not only eroded respect for good science, but also seriously misinformed a wide swath of Americans. (Mooney, 2005, p. 57-59)

Further Examples of Science Contrarianism That Are of Concern in the 21st Century

Oreskes and Conway (2010) begin their chronicle of climate contrarians with the tobacco industry's fight to manufacture contrarian science by developing "an extensive body of scientifically, well-grounded data useful in defending the industry against attacks," a $45 million dollar investment over six years, 1980-1986. (Oreskes, 2010, p. 10-13). This effort to use science against itself was captured in a memo with the famous line from a 1969 Brown & Williamson document, "Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public" (Oreskes, 2010, p. 34; Mooney, 2005, p. 67). The attack on science by the tobacco industry has gone on since the early 1950s, when a relation between tobacco tars and cancer was established in mice. By 1964, the US Surgeon General issued a report that "tied smoking to a range of conditions including lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, heart disease, and emphysema 2005, p. 67). (For further reading on the cigarette industry and contrarian tobacco industry science, see Brandt (2007) and Kessler (2002)).

The following illustrate additional contrarian positions on science, beginning with the Reagan administration (1980-1988), as outlined by Oreskes and Conway (2010) and Mooney (2005).

Contrarian Guides to Environmental Politics and Science
Framing, Luntz, and Lomborg

One of the key problems for contemporary politics and communication is to unravel just why it is possible to get the public to accept (and act on, in many cases by not acting at all when actions are badly needed) nonsense as the basis for public policy. Just what rhetorical devices are succeeding in the war on science, as exhibited in contemporary debate (where the scientists say the matter has gone beyond any rational basis for debate) on climate change, the future of fossil fuels, the size of the human population, etc.? Here, we'll look at George Lakoff's overview of how this is done, and then at the special examples of Frank Luntz and Bjørn Lomborg.

Lakoff on Framing

Lakoff (2009, link to pdf) argues that the way we reason about climate change, etc., is best understood through the concept of frames, which is the way to "Real Reason," the way we really think about these things. Here, I'll quote Lakoff to get clear on what he means, and then we'll look at one of the masters of framing, Frank Luntz, who Lakoff and many other reference. And finally, we'll look at one contemporary example of the extent to which corporate America is using framing and the permissiveness of current campaign contribution laws and the roles of ideological think tanks.

First, a preview: Here is Lakoff (2009, p. 71) quoting from Luntz (2003, p. 142):

It's time for us to start talking about "climate change" instead of global warming ... "Climate change" is less frightening than "global warming" ... Stringent environmental regulations hit the most vulnerable among us—the elderly, the poor and those on fixed incomes—the hardest ... Job losses ... greater costs ... American corporations and industry can meet any challenge, we produce the majority of the world's food, ... yet we produce a fraction of the world's pollution.

Really? We'll make the destruction of the planet's atmosphere sound all warm and fuzzy? We'll turn our back on the environment to save our miserable old-age pensions? The world will starve without us and we're not really doing anything significant to the environment anyway? Why is everybody picking on us and threatening us this way? Lakoff explains how to make something out of all this idiocy:

What is "Framing"?

One of the major results in the cognitive and brain sciences is that we think in terms of typically unconscious structures called "frames" (sometimes "schemas"). Frames include semantic roles, relations between roles, and relations to other frames. A hospital frame, for example, includes the roles: Doctor, Nurse, Patient, Visitor, Receptionist, Operating Room, Recovery Room, Scalpel, etc. Among the relations are specifications of what happens in a hospital, e.g., Doctors operate on Patients in Operating Rooms with Scalpels. These structures are physically realized in neural circuits in the brain. All of our knowledge makes use of frames, and every word is defined through the frames it neurally activates. All thinking and talking involves "framing." And since frames come in systems, a single word typically activates not only its defining frame, but also much of the system its defining frame is in. (Lakoff, 2009, p. 71-72)

If you recall our discussion of scientific discourse and the odd language of science, including its specialized use of vocabulary, this is also frames. Difficult concepts and relationships come to be understood (often after extensive specialized education that may take years and lead to advanced academic degrees) easily because those who have been initiated into the discourse community have mastered a set of frames. Lakoff continues:

Moreover, many frame-circuits have direct connections to the emotional regions of the brain. Emotions are an inescapable part of normal thought. Indeed, you cannot be rational without emotions. Without emotions, you would not know what to want, since like and not-like would be meaningless to you. When there is neither like or not-like, nor any judgment of the emotional reactions of others, you cannot make rational decisions.

Since political ideologies are, of course, characterized by systems of frames, ideological language will activate that ideological system. Since the synapses in neural circuits are made stronger the more they are activated, the repetition of ideological language will strengthen the circuits for that ideology in a hearer's brain. And since language that is repeated very often becomes "normally used" language, ideological language repeated often enough can become "normal language" but still activate that ideology unconsciously in the brains of citizens—and journalists.

In short, one cannot avoid framing. The only question is, whose frames are being activated—and hence strengthened—in the brains of the public.

There are limited possibilities for changing frames. Introducing new language is not always possible. The new language must make sense in terms of the existing system of frames. It must work emotionally. And it must be introduced in a communication system that allows for sufficient spread over the population, sufficient repetition, and sufficient trust in the messengers.

And, of course, negating a frame just activates the frame, as when Nixon said, "I am not a crook" and everyone thought of him as crook. When President Obama said that he had no intention of a "government takeover," he was activating the government-takeover frame.

These are some of the properties of "Real Reason," the way we really reason, which is different from how reason has been understood by many since western Enlightenment. (Lakoff, 2009, p. 72)

As a career scientist (30 years as an academic entomologist and agricultural research administrator), I tend to think in a narrow academic frame (which we'll return to in , "The Rhetorical University in the Century of Limits"), and I get easily frustrated because the science seems to me to be patently obvious. "Why don't people get this?" I often ask myself, thinking "maybe the Enlightenment just didn't stick." And maybe it didn't! Here's what Lakoff says:

The Trap of Enlightenment Reason

Most of us were brought up with a commonplace view of how we think that derives from the Enlightenment. Over the past 30 years, the cognitive and brain sciences have shown that this view is false. The old view claimed that reason is conscious, unemotional, logical, abstract, universal, and imagined concepts and language as able to fit the world directly. All of that is false. Real reason is: mostly unconscious (98%); requires emotion; uses the “logic” of frames, metaphors, and narratives; is physical (in brain circuitry); and varies considerably, as frames vary. And since the brain is set up to run a body, ideas and language can't directly fit the world but rather must go through the body.

This perspective on reason matters to the discussion in this forum about global warming, because many people engaged in environmentalism still have the old, false view of reason and language. Folks trained in public policy, science, economics, and law are often given the old, false view. As a result, they may believe that if you just tell people the facts, they will reason to the right conclusion. What actually happens is that the facts must make sense in terms of their system of frames, or they will be ignored. The facts, to be communicated, must be framed properly. Furthermore, to understand something complex, a person must have a system of frames in place that can make sense of the facts. In the case of global warming, all too many people do not have such a system of frames in the conceptual systems in their brains. Such frame systems have to be built up over a period of time. This has not been done.

Lakoff (2009) further amplifies differences in the moral systems of conservative and progressive political movements, and we will return to that below. The important point here is, as Lakoff says, framing matters.

If would be nice if political value systems did not affect environmental issues, but they do. The good news is that it may be possible to activate a realistic view of our situation by using the fact that many swing voters and even many Republicans are partially progressive from the perspective of the value-systems already in place in their brains. What needs to be done is to activate the progressive frames on the environment (and other issues) and inhibit the conservative frames. This can be done via language (framing the truth effectively) and experience (e.g., providing experiences of the natural world).

Unfortunately, conservatives have long been extremely good at the converse—using language repeated all day every day to activate conservative frames and [to] inhibit progressive ones. We are not on a level communicative playing field. (Lakoff, 2009, p. 76)

Frank Luntz

The archetype template for how this is done is a notorious memo by Frank Luntz and referred to by Lakoff, written as part of Republican playbook called Straight Talk in 2003. Although not published, a scanned copy of the "Luntz Memo on the Environment" is readily available, as is plenty of analysis (see links under References, below). Luntz also has written books (e.g., Luntz, 2008), which unabashedly go through the same material, while also providing rhetorical analysis of Obama, Hilary Clinton and others; whether or not you approve of Luntz' politics (Luntz also took the strategic lead in the Gingrich revolution, the Contract for America (above)), this is a collection that should be on your shelf.

Luntz advised Republicans that they should be aware of their political weakness on the environment.

The environment is probably the single issue on which Republicans in general—and President Bush in particular—are most vulnerable. A caricature has taken hold in the public imagination: Republicans seemingly in the pockets of corporate fat cats who rub their hands together and chuckle manically as they plot to pollute America for fun and profit. And only the Democrats and their good-hearted friends from Washington can save America from these sinister companies drooling at the prospect of strip mining every picturesque mountain range, drilling for oil on every white sand beach, and clear cutting every green forest.

The fundamental problem for Republicans when it comes to the environment is that whatever you say is viewed through the prism of suspicion. As with education, Social Security and so many other issues, the Democrats have been expert at constructing a narrative in which Republicans and conservatives are the bad guys. And if Americans swallow that story, then whatever comes later is mere detail. (Luntz, 2003, p. 132: italics and bold in original)

I hope that you will print up a copy of the memo and read further. Let me just highlight two lists that will give you the flavor of Luntz's exercise:

The Environment: A Cleaner, Safer, Healthier America

The core of the Democrat argument depends on the belief that "Washington regulations" represent the best way to preserve the environment. We don't agree.

  1. First, assure your audience that you are committed to "preserving and protecting" the environment, but that "it can be done more wisely and effectively." (Absolutely do not raise economic arguments first.) Tell them a personal story from your life. Since many Americans believe Republicans do not care about the environment, you will never convince people to accept your ideas until you confront this suspicion and put it to rest.
  2. Provide specific examples of federal bureaucrats failing to meet their responsibilities to protect the environment. Do not attack the principles behind existing legislation. Focus instead on the way it is enforced or carried out, and use rhetorical questions.
  3. Your plan must be put in terms of the future, not the past or present. We are carrying forward a legacy, yes, but we are trying to make things even better for the future. The environment is an area in which people expect progress, and when they do not see progress being made, they get frustrated.
  4. The three words Americans are looking for in an environmental policy, they are [sic] "safer," "cleaner," and "healthier." Two words that summarize what Americans are expecting from regulators and agencies are "accountability" and "responsibility."
  5. Stay away from "risk assessment," "cost-benefit analysis," and the other traditional environmental terminology used by industry and corporations. Your constituents don't know what those terms mean, and they will then assume that you are pro-business.
  6. If you must use the economic argument, stress that you are seeking "a fair balance" between the environment and the economy. Be prepared to specify and quantify the jobs lost because of needless, excessive or redundant regulations.
  7. Describe the limited role for Washington. We must thoroughly review the environmental regulations already in place, decide which ones we still need, identify those which no longer make sense, and make sure we don't add any unnecessary rules. Washington should disclose the expected cost of current and all new environmental regulations. The public has a right to know.
  8. Emphasize common sense. In making regulatory decisions, we should use best estimates and realistic assumptions, not the worst-case scenarios advanced by environmental extremists.

Luntz, 2003, p. 131

Here is Luntz on climate change, beginning with some talking points and following with commentary on strategies for language. Notice that the focus here isn't on arriving at the best understanding of the science or its implications for the future, but rather the whole point is to merely win the debate.

Winning the Global Warming Debate—An Overview

Please keep in mind the following communication recommendations as you address global warming in general, particularly as Democrats and opinion leaders attack President Bush over Kyoto.

  1. The scientific debate remains open. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate, and defer to scientists and other experts in the field.
  2. Technology and innovation are the key in arguments on both sides. Global warming alarmists use American superiority in technology and innovation quite effectively in responding to accusations that international agreements such as the Kyoto accord could cost the United States billions. Rather than condemning corporate America the way most environmentalists have done in the past, they attack their us [sic] for lacking faith in our collective ability to meet any economic challenges presented by environmental changes we make. This should be our argument. We need to emphasize how voluntary innovation and experimentation are preferable to bureaucratic or international intervention and regulation.
  3. The "international fairness" issue is the emotional home run. Given the chance, Americans will demand that all nations be part of any international global warming treaty. Nations such as China, Mexico, and India would have to sign such an agreement for the majority of Americans to support it.
  4. The economic argument should be secondary. Many of you will want to focus on the higher prices and lost jobs that would result from complying with Kyoto, but you can do better. Yes, when put in specific terms (food and fuel prices, for example) on an individual -by-individual basis, this argument does resonate. Yes, the fact that Kyoto would hurt the economic well being of seniors and the poor is of particular concern. However, the economic argument is less effective than each of the arguments listed above.

The most important principle in any discussion of global warming is your commitment to sound science. Americans unanimously believe all environmental rules and regulations should be based on sound science and common sense. Similarly, our confidence in the ability of science and technology to solve our nation's ills is second to none. Both perceptions will work in your favor if properly cultivated.

The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science. Americans believe that all the strange weather that was associated with El Nino had something to do with global warming, and there is little you can do to convince them otherwise. However, only a handful of people believes the science of global warming is a closed question. Most Americans want more information so that they can make an informed decision. It is our job to provide that information.

Language that Works

"We must not rush to judgment before all the facts are in. We need to ask more questions. We deserve more answers. And until we learn more, we should not commit America to any international document that handcuffs us either now or into the future."

You need to be even more active in recruiting experts who are sympathetic to your view, and much more active in making them part of your message. People are willing to trust scientists, engineers, and other leading research professionals, and less willing to trust politicians. If you wish to challenge the prevailing wisdom about global warming, it is more effective to have professionals making the case than politicians. When you do enter the fray, keep your message short, concise, and refer to the source of the material you use. Back up your points with a limited number of facts and figures—but explain why they matter.

One final science note: Americans have little trust in arguments relying on short-term data, such as mentioning that year X was the hottest on record or year Y was the coldest on record, etc. Even 15 years of satellite records, or modeling that shows rising sea levels is not enough.

Words That Work

"Scientists can extrapolate all kinds of things from today's data, but that doesn't tell us anything about tomorrow's world. You can't look back a million years and say that proves that we're heating the globe now hotter than it's ever been. After all, just 20 years ago scientists were worried about a new Ice Age."

Luntz goes on, but you have probably understood his point by now

Making Pseudoscience Seem Real: Contrarians Michael Crichton and Bjørn Lomborg

It is relatively easy for the public to be misled by climate contrarians. President Bush and Senator Inhofe have been reportedly enthralled with reading Michael Crichton . The reference in what follows was to an ABC's This Week broadcast in the spring of 2006. in which conservative columnist George Will—in a shouting match with Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, and Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation—characterized the renewed interest in global warming as a creation of the liberal media. Will based his argument on a decade old article in Time magazine that predicted an imminent ice age. The controversy then spilled over to a 60 Minutes broadcast. Mark Morano refers to a former producer for Rush Limbaugh; Morano was one of the first "journalists" to report on the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth effort to dubiously challenged John Kerry's service in Vietnam and Pennsylvania congressman John Murtha's two Purple Hearts. (Bowen, 2008, p. 183-184)

In his 2004 climate thriller, State of Fear, novelist Michael Crichton had claimed that a prediction Jim [Hansen] had made in his legendary 1988 congressional testimony had ben "wrong by 300 percent." A statement in a novel would not generally attract serious attention, but Crichton had insisted that the technical aspects of his book were accurate; and he had advertised this claim with academic footnotes and a bibliography, which, for the rare reader who bothered to examine them, demonstrated that he looked exclusively to the deniers for scientific insight and misrepresented the conclusions of real scientists as it suited his purpose. Although his contrarian hero was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the institute did not seem to take this as a compliment. A review of the book in MIT's national magazine, Technology Review, began, "Michael Crichton has written the rarest of books, an intellectually dishonest novel."

Surreally, in the fall of 2005, Oklahoma senator James Inhofe, who was then chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, had asked Crichton to provide expert testimony on climate science at one of his committee's hearings. (Inhofe had already earned his place in history with a 2003 speech on the Senate floor in which he had declared that global warming was "the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on the American people." He would be so impressed by Marc Morano's work at CNS [Cybercast News Service] in the wake of the 60 minutes spot that in June 2006 he would hire Morano as communications director for his committee.)

It also seems that Crichton is the only expert George W. Bush himself has personally consulted on the climate issue. In a refreshingly candid manifestation of the faith the president placed in fiction rather than fact, the two held a private meeting at the White House in 2005, arranged by Karl Rove, during which they reportedly "talked for an hour and were in near-total agreement" on climate "science" (Bowen, 2008, p. 184-185)

Lomborg (2001, 2007) minimizes the importance of global warming, making an initial case in 2001 that climate change won't be all that bad and that we should adjust, and emphasizing in 2007 that there are other more immediate priorities in an impoverished, disease-ridden world that surely deserve our attention and economic investment more. Lomborg is generally loathed by climate scientists for the pseudoscientific nature of his presentation (as well as for his erroneous conclusions). To the novice, the abundance of footnotes creates the appearance of scientific documentation and validation, but much of what Lomborg advances is illusion. If you would like to look behind this facade, try Kåre Fog's web site: Lomborg-Errors (http://www.lomborg-errors.dk/) for a painstaking critique of the footnotes, or the similar analysis by Howard Friel (2010). Lomborg has probably had more negative impact than any individual on the retardation of the public sphere. His contrarian sensationalism sells books for now, but has the ultimate durability of a temperate zone glacier. He receives no deeper contemplation here.


Two Case Studies in Applied Contrarianism

The following are included here to suggest the depth and insidiousness of contrarian climate science.

Case I. The Billionaire Koch Brothers Fund the Climate Denial Machine

All of this would matter little were this merely the affairs of the Republican party or the Bush administration. But the underlying ideologies and Luntzian distortion machine have become a major influence in American politics. As I sat down to write this, Jane Mayer published a story in the current (August 30, 2010) issue of The New Yorker, "Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama." Who are these brothers?

With his brother Charles, who is seventy-four, David Koch [age 70] owns virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars. The company has grown spectacularly since their father, Fred, died, in 1967, and the brothers took charge. The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch—who, years ago, bought out two other brothers—among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

The Koch (pronounced Coke) roots are old and deep. Picking up on Mayer, Frank Rich, quoting Kim Phillips-Fein (2009), writes

All three tycoons are the latest incarnation of what the historian Kim Phillips-Fein labeled “Invisible Hands” in her prescient 2009 book of that title: Those corporate players who have financed the far right ever since the duPont brothers spawned the American Liberty League in 1934 to bring down F.D.R. You can draw a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the New Deal “socialism” of Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission and child labor laws to the John Birch Society-Barry Goldwater assault on J.F.K. and Medicare to the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our “socialist” president.

Only the fat cats change — not their methods and not their pet bugaboos (taxes, corporate regulation, organized labor, and government “handouts” to the poor, unemployed, ill and elderly). Even the sources of their fortunes remain fairly constant. Koch Industries began with oil in the 1930s and now also spews an array of industrial products, from Dixie cups to Lycra, not unlike DuPont’s portfolio of paint and plastics. Sometimes the biological DNA persists as well. The Koch brothers’ father, Fred, was among the select group chosen to serve on the Birch Society’s top governing body. In a recorded 1963 speech that survives in a University of Michigan archive, he can be heard warning of “a takeover” of America in which Communists would “infiltrate the highest offices of government in the U.S. until the president is a Communist, unknown to the rest of us.” That rant could be delivered as is at any Tea Party rally today (Frank Rich, NYTimes, August 28, 2010)

Mayer mentions that The Political Economy Research Institute at UMass (PERI, 2010) lists Koch Industries as number 10 in its ranking of the 1op 100 U.S. toxic polluters. Examples of Koch Industry environmental crimes and violations (Greenpeace, 2010, p. 16) include:

You have probably (I'm guessing) never heard of Koch Industries because, as Greenpeace (2010) reports, "it has no Koch-branded consumer products, sells no shares on the stock market and has few of the disclosure requirements of a public company. " So what do the brothers do with the third largest fortune in America?

If the history of Koch Industries is one of environmental contamination, fines, and penalties, the history of the brothers' foundations and personal political donations has been one of supporting policies and people to facilitate a political climate favoring their own business interests. David Koch even ran for office in 1980:

When David Koch ran to the right of Reagan as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian ticket (it polled 1 percent), his campaign called for the abolition not just of Social Security, federal regulatory agencies and welfare but also of the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and public schools — in other words, any government enterprise that would either inhibit his business profits or increase his taxes. He hasn’t changed. As Mayer details, Koch-supported lobbyists, foundations and political operatives are at the center of climate-science denial — a cause that forestalls threats to Koch Industries’ vast fossil fuel business. While Koch foundations donate to cancer hospitals like Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York, Koch Industries has been lobbying to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from classifying another product important to its bottom line, formaldehyde, as a “known carcinogen” in humans (which it is) (Frank Rich, NYTimes, August 28, 2010).

That was several years ago, however. Surely the Kochs have been paying attention to climate change science; they must have changed their tune by now, right? Apparently not, according to Greenpeace (2010).

Although Koch intentionally stays out of the public eye, it is now playing a quiet but dominant role in a high-profile national policy debate on global warming. Koch Industries has become a financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition. This private, out-of-sight corporation is now a partner to ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and other donors that support organizations and front-groups opposing progressive clean energy and climate policy. In fact, Koch has out-spent ExxonMobil in funding these groups in recent years. From 2005 to 2008, ExxonMobil spent $8.9 million while Koch Industries-controlled foundations contributed $24.9 million in funding to organizations of the 'climate denial machine.' (Greenpeace, 2010, p. 6, Executive Summary)

The third richest people in America, who have made their fortune running a top-ten set of industrial polluters, are now outspending ExxonMobil nearly 3 to 1 in support of climate denial foundations. Greenpeace lists and details the nearly $48 million in Koch foundations (Clause R. Lambe Foundation, Charles G. Koch Foundation, and the David H. Koch Foundation), a company political action committee (KochPAC), and direct political lobbying. Totals spent on "contributions to those organizations that have been documented to be propagating misinformation about clean energy policies and climate science (Greenpeace, 2010, p. 21) include from the foundations a total of $48,510,856 from 1997-2008, with $24,888,282 between 2005 and 2008. Here are the top 5:

Mercatus Center

$9,247,500 received from Koch foundations 2005-2008
[Total Koch foundation grants 1997-2008: $9,874,500]

The Mercatus Center is a conservative think-tank at George Mason University, in which Charles Koch sits on the Board of Directors. The Mercatus Center suggested in 2001 that global warming would be, "beneficial, occurring at night, in the winter, and at the poles." In 2009, they conceded that global warming is man-made and problematic but recommend doing nothing to cut emissions, instead promoting "work to facilitate movement of people from areas likely to be harmed by climate change."

Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP)

$5,176,500 received from Koch foundations 2005-2008
[No Koch foundation grants received prior to 2005]

Beginning in 2008, Americans For Prosperity organized astroturf "Hot Air Tour" with a hot air balloon local events across the country to build opposition to clean energy and climate legislation. This astroturf campaign has been repeatedly exposed by the media, including the Wall Street Journal's blob, Environmental Capital. AFP also runs the "No Climate Tax" campaign and helped organize the "Tea Parties" tax protests. Koch executives Richard Fink and Wayne Gable have strong interconnections with AFP.

Institute for Humane Studies (IHS)

$1,967,000 received from Koch foundations 2005-2008
[Total Koch foundation grants 1997-2008: $3,923,457]

The Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University offers scholarships and career training to libertarian students. Charles Koch is the chairman of the IHS board of directors. In a recent article Mother Jones called the Institute for Humane Studies a "haven for climate change deniers." Several climate deniers have prominent positions at IHS, including Robert Bradley, member of the Academic Review Committee and author of Climate Alarmism Reconsidered (2003); and Fred Singer, Research Professor at IHS. A number of climate deniers are guest lecturers for IHS, such as Bruce Yandle, Senior Associate with Political Economy Research Center, and Kenneth Green, Resident Scholar with American Enterprise Institute.

The Heritage Foundation

$1,620,000 received from Koch foundations 2005-2008
[Total Koch foundation grants 1997-2008: $3,358,000]

The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank that misinterprets science and policy regarding the climate and uses their conclusions to argue against action on global warming. Recently, the Heritage Foundation has: misinterpreted the impacts of global warming on the US economy; twisted news reports to justify claims about 'climate taxes'; issued deceptive economic analyses and presentations; and released allegations about economic ruin and job losses from green stimulus investments by Congress. Heritage Foundation also teamed up with Institute for Energy Research (IER) to promote the widely debunked "Spanish" study.

Cato Institute

$1,028,400 received from Koch foundations, 2005-2008
[Total Koch foundation grants 1997-2008: $5,278,400]

The Cato Institute is focused on disputing the science behind global warming and questioning the rationale for taking action. The organization's 2009 "Handbook for Policymakers" on global warming begins with the suggestions that Congress should "pass no legislation restricting emissions of carbon dioxide" and "inform the public about how little climate change would be prevented by proposed legislation." Robert Bradley, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute [see also IHS, above], is also a founder and the CEO of the Institute for Energy Research. In 2007 the Cato Foundation gave $120,000 to New Hope Environmental Services, an "advocacy science consulting firm" founded and run by long-time climate science denier Patrick Michaels, who uses New Hope to publish his World Climate Report, a sort of ongoing journal of denial of climate science. Michaels is also a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, which paid him $98,000 to write a book "The Satanic Gases" with fellow climate denier Robert Balling. Over the years, Michaels work has been financed by a number of coal and polluter interests, including the Western Fuels Association, the Intermountain Rural Electric Association, and others.

The Greenpeace report then goes on to list dozens of other similar organizations funded by the Kochs.

In addition to foundation grants, the Kochs have hired a number of legal firms as lobbyists on oil and gas, spending $37,900,000 since 2006, second only to ExxonMobil ($87.8 million) and Chevron Corporation ($50 million) (BP, ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil, American Petroleum Institute, Occidental Petroleum, and Royal Dutch Shell round out the list) (Greenpeace, 2010, p. 29). KochPAC is the brother's political action committee, which "bundles contributions from Koch employees and their spouses; in 2006, KochPAC spent $574 million since 2006, more on contributions to federal candidates and committees than any other oil-and-gas sector based PAC (including Valero, Exxon Mobil, Marathon, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Occidental Petroleum, Williams Companies, Halliburton, and Shell Oil PACs) (Greenpeace, 2010, p. 31)

Mayer (2010) indicates that the Koch brothers were evidently not pleased with the Greenpeace effort:

In a statement, Koch Industries said that the Greenpeace report “distorts the environmental record of our companies.” And David Koch, in a recent, admiring article about him in New York, protested that the “radical press” had turned his family into “whipping boys,” and had exaggerated its influence on American politics. But Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.” (Mayer, 2010, p. 46)

Here are a couple other reflections on the Koch's "Covert Operations," drawn from Mayers:

On Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which David Koch started in 2004

This refers to the advocacy wing of the AFP, which held a summit over the July 4th weekend called Texas Defending the American Dream.

Five hundred people attended the summit, which served, in part, as a training session for Tea Party activists in Texas. An advertisement cast the event as a populist uprising against vested corporate power. "Today, the voices of average Americans are being drowned out by lobbyists and special interests," it said. "But you can do something about it. "The pitch made no mention of its corporate funders. The White House has expressed frustration that such sponsors have largely eluded public notice. David Axelrod, Obama's senior advisor, said, "What they don't say is that, in part, this is a grassroots citizen's movement brought to you by a bunch of oil billionaires."


On the Cato Institute

In 1977, the Kochs provided the funds to launch the nation’s first libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute. According to the Center for Public Integrity, between 1986 and 1993 the Koch family gave eleven million dollars to the institute. Today, Cato has more than a hundred full-time employees, and its experts and policy papers are widely quoted and respected by the mainstream media. It describes itself as nonpartisan, and its scholars have at times been critical of both parties. But it has consistently pushed for corporate tax cuts, reductions in social services, and laissez-faire environmental policies.

When President Obama, in a 2008 speech, described the science on global warming as “beyond dispute,” the Cato Institute took out a full-page ad in the Times to contradict him. Cato’s resident scholars have relentlessly criticized political attempts to stop global warming as expensive, ineffective, and unnecessary. Ed Crane, the Cato Institute’s founder and president, told me that “global-warming theories give the government more control of the economy.”

Cato scholars have been particularly energetic in promoting the Climategate scandal. Last year, private e-mails of climate scientists at the University of East Anglia, in England, were mysteriously leaked, and their exchanges appeared to suggest a willingness to falsify data in order to buttress the idea that global warming is real. In the two weeks after the e-mails went public, one Cato scholar gave more than twenty media interviews trumpeting the alleged scandal. But five independent inquiries have since exonerated the researchers, and nothing was found in their e-mails or data to discredit the scientific consensus on global warming.

Nevertheless, the controversy succeeded in spreading skepticism about climate change. Even though the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently issued a report concluding that the evidence for global warming is unequivocal, more Americans are convinced than at any time since 1997 that scientists have exaggerated the seriousness of global warming. The Kochs promote this statistic on their company’s Web site but do not mention the role that their funding has played in fostering such doubt.

In a 2002 memo, the Republican political consultant Frank Luntz wrote that so long as “voters believe there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community” the status quo would prevail. The key for opponents of environmental reform, he said, was to question the science—a public-relations strategy that the tobacco industry used effectively for years to forestall regulation. The Kochs have funded many sources of environmental skepticism, such as the Heritage Foundation, which has argued that “scientific facts gathered in the past 10 years do not support the notion of catastrophic human-made warming.”

Naomi Oreskes, a professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego, is the co-author of “Merchants of Doubt,” a new book that chronicles various attempts by American industry to manipulate public opinion on science. She noted that the Kochs, as the heads of “a company with refineries and pipelines,” have “a lot at stake.” She added, “If the answer is to phase out fossil fuels, a different group of people are going to be making money, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re fighting tooth and nail.”

David Koch told New York that he was unconvinced that global warming has been caused by human activity. Even if it has been, he said, the heating of the planet will be beneficial, resulting in longer growing seasons in the Northern Hemisphere. “The Earth will be able to support enormously more people because far greater land area will be available to produce food,” he said. (Mayer, 2010, p. 50-51)


On George Mason University's Mercatus Center

In the mid-eighties, the Kochs provided millions of dollars to George Mason University, in Arlington, Virginia, to set up another think tank. Now known as the Mercatus Center, it promotes itself as “the world’s premier university source for market-oriented ideas—bridging the gap between academic ideas and real-world problems.” Financial records show that the Koch family foundations have contributed more than thirty million dollars to George Mason, much of which has gone to the Mercatus Center, a nonprofit organization. “It’s ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington,” Rob Stein, the Democratic strategist, said. It is an unusual arrangement. “George Mason is a public university, and receives public funds,” Stein noted. “Virginia is hosting an institution that the Kochs practically control.”

The founder of the Mercatus Center is Richard Fink, formerly an economist. Fink heads Koch Industries’ lobbying operation in Washington. In addition, he is the president of the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the president of the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation, a director of the Fred C. and Mary R. Koch Foundation, and a director and co-founder, with David Koch, of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

The Wall Street Journal has called the Mercatus Center “the most important think tank you’ve never heard of,” and noted that fourteen of the twenty-three regulations that President George W. Bush placed on a “hit list” had been suggested first by Mercatus scholars. Fink told the paper that the Kochs have “other means of fighting [their] battles,” and that the Mercatus Center does not actively promote the company’s private interests. But Thomas McGarity, a law professor at the University of Texas, who specializes in environmental issues, told me that “Koch has been constantly in trouble with the E.P.A., and Mercatus has constantly hammered on the agency.” An environmental lawyer who has clashed with the Mercatus Center called it “a means of laundering economic aims.” The lawyer explained the strategy: “You take corporate money and give it to a neutral-sounding think tank,” which “hires people with pedigrees and academic degrees who put out credible-seeming studies. But they all coincide perfectly with the economic interests of their funders.”

The Mayer article is quite enlightening and I recommend that it be widely read.

Case II. Climate Contrarians Meet Creation Scientists

Meyer (2010) mentions briefly the following:

The brothers have given money to more obscure groups, too, such as the Independent Women’s Forum, which opposes the presentation of global warming as a scientific fact in American public schools. Until 2008, the group was run by Nancy Pfotenhauer, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries. Mary Beth Jarvis, a vice-president of a Koch subsidiary, is on the group’s board.

Kaufman (2010) noted that there is a substantive effort to inject a contrarian perspective on climate science into American schools.

In Kentucky, a bill recently introduced in the Legislature would encourage teachers to discuss “the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories,” including “evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.”

The bill, which has yet to be voted on, is patterned on even more aggressive efforts in other states to fuse such issues. In Louisiana, a law passed in 2008 says the state board of education may assist teachers in promoting “critical thinking” on all of those subjects.

Last year, the Texas Board of Education adopted language requiring that teachers present all sides of the evidence on evolution and global warming.

Oklahoma introduced a bill with similar goals in 2009, although it was not enacted.

The linkage of evolution and global warming is partly a legal strategy: courts have found that singling out evolution for criticism in public schools is a violation of the separation of church and state. By insisting that global warming also be debated, deniers of evolution can argue that they are simply championing academic freedom in general.

Yet they are also capitalizing on rising public resistance in some quarters to accepting the science of global warming, particularly among political conservatives who oppose efforts to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases.

In South Dakota, a resolution calling for the “balanced teaching of global warming in public schools” passed the Legislature this week.

“Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant,” the resolution said, “but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for all plant life.” (Kaufman, 2010)

There is a long history of courts acting to prevent the conjoining of conflicting versions of evolution, in which religious groups insist that a biblical account of creation, or more recently the same dish relabeled as "creation science," be taught on par with scientific (Darwinian) evolution. Legislators attempting to accomplish a similar thing by adding a fake controversy over climate science quickly distance themselves from religion.

State Representative Tim Moore, a Republican who introduced the bill in the Kentucky Legislature, said he was motivated not by religion but by what he saw as a distortion of scientific knowledge.

“Our kids are being presented theories as though they are facts,” he said. “And with global warming especially, there has become a politically correct viewpoint among educational elites that is very different from sound science.” (Kaufman, 2010)

Nevertheless, the pressures on school boards to teach a contrarian version of climate science are real. While there may be some who genuinely believe that they are arguing about science, they are not. Much of the movement to "teach the controversy" in the name of "sound science" spins from a combination of right-wing conservatism from Luntzian politicians sponsored by Kochian corporatism. The rest comes from a badly confused yet deeply entrenched perversion of biblical fundamentalism.

The legal incentive to pair global warming with evolution in curriculum battles stems in part from a 2005 ruling by a United States District Court judge in Atlanta that the Cobb County Board of Education, which had placed stickers on certain textbooks encouraging students to view evolution as only a theory, had violated First Amendment strictures on the separation of church and state.

Although the sticker was not overtly religious, the judge said, its use was unconstitutional because evolution alone was the target, which indicated that it was a religious issue.

After that, said Joshua Rosenau, a project director for the National Center for Science Education, he began noticing that attacks on climate change science were being packaged with criticism of evolution in curriculum initiatives. (Kaufman, 2010)

If you would like to read more about this particular corner of the fascinating contrarian world, Forrest and Gross (2005) is particularly well written and enlightening.

Climate Change and Energy: Necessary Awareness and Caution

Oreskes and Conway (2010) focus on one aspect of contrarianism, that branch that springs from deep-seated political ideology rooted in cold war anti-soviet thinking (and its contemporary morphing to include all forms of centralized planning, morphed to include all forms of socialism, morphed further to include all forms of government beyond those in which corporations rule the state). I have tried in these notes to show how such fears can be used to construct a Luntzist populist narrative, using language to capitalize on popular conceptual frames (in the sense of Lakoff). I also tried to illustrate how such contorted popularism and frames can be manipulated by greedy industrialists or by theocratic goals, all of which work to promote scientific nonsense delivered via contrarians.

In posing a dichotomy between science and its detractors, I have deliberately stayed within narrow conceptual confines, limiting considerations to physical science evidence as articulated within a natural science community. With caution so that we give due consideration to what is presented as science, we now need to depart from a rhetorical perspective long enough to strengthen our understanding of what the natural sciences are telling us. I have chosen Hansen (2009) to convey a good sense of the science, without straying too far from the rhetorical and political context with which the science discourse community has had to contend for more than two decades.

Hulme (2009) reminds us that the frames with which we view climate change need to be considered in greater depth, perhaps as part of the rhetorical concern for audience.

[In Why We Disagree About Climate Change] I deliberately present climate change as an idea as much as I treat it as a physical phenomenon that can be observed, quantified and measured. This latter framing is how climate change is mostly understood by scientists, and how science has presented climate change to society over recent decades. But, as society has been increasingly confronted with the observable realities of climate change and heard of the dangers that scientists claim lie ahead, climate change has moved from being predominantly a physical phenomenon to being simultaneously a social phenomenon. And these two phenomena are very different. As we have slowly, and at times reluctantly, realized that humanity has become an active agent in the reshaping of physical climates around the world, so our cultural, social, political, and ethical practices are reinterpreting what climate change means. Far from simply being a change in physical climates—a change in the sequences of weather experienced in given places—climate change has become an idea that now travels well beyond its origins in the natural sciences. And as this idea meets new cultures on its travels and encounters the worlds of politics, economics, popular culture, commerce and religion—often through the interposing role of the media—climate change takes on new meanings and serves new purposes.


To illustrate what I mean, let me cite four contemporary and contrasting ways of narrating the significance of climate change—just some of the more salient discourses currently in circulation.

Climate change as a battleground between different philosophies and practices of science, between different ways of knowing. 'Climate change as scientific controversy' is a compelling discourse to which the media and other social actors are readily attracted. Although the controversy is allegedly about science, very often scientific disputes about climate change end up being used as a proxy for much deeper conflicts between alternative visions of the future and competing centres of authority in society.

Climate change as justification for the commodification of the atmosphere and, especially, for the commodification of the gas, carbon dioxide. In this frame, climate change is viewed as the latest rationale for converting a public commons into a privatized asset—in this case, the global atmosphere. 'Ownership rights' to emit carbon dioxide are allocated or auctioned between entities, alongside the attendant machinery of the market which prices and regulated the commodity.

Climate change as the inspiration for a global network of new, or reinvigorated, social movements. Seeing climate change as a manifestation of the nefarious practices of globalization, this framing warrants the emergence of new forms of activism, both elite and popular, to challenge these practices and to catalyze change in political, social, and economic behavior.

Climate change as a threat to ethnic, national, and global security. The rhetoric associated with this framing compares climate change (unfavorably) with the threats posed by international terrorism, warranting a new form of geo-diplomacy at the highest levels of government. This framing has been espoused especially by the UK Government in recent years, and led in April 2007 to the first debate about climate change to be held at the United Nations Security Council.

Finally, contrarian views of climate change should remind us of the central role of intergenerational and transnational ethics as we elect (or not) to move from awareness to global action. Here, we need to add to Hardin's (1968) classic admonition, "The population problem has no technical solution; it requires a fundamental extension in morality." Human beings, that is, need to acknowledge and embrace new dimensions of responsibility. "Modern technology," says Jonas (1984), "has introduced actions of such novel scale, objects, and consequences that the framework of former ethics can no longer contain them."


References