Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spin Doctors and The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Ninety-seven percent of our world’s scientists assert that climate change is happening. Why are a small fraction of scientists claiming otherwise? I don’t know why they would claim this. However, I do know that some of the same scientists who are claiming climate change is a myth have previously played an integral role in groups that claimed that cigarettes don’t cause cancer. This may seem unreasonable but it is the case. Furthermore, some of these same scientists have never even conducted any actual research on climate change.

So why would these scientists go against 97% of the world’s renowned experts? This is a question that only the individual scientists can answer.

I’m not here to spin a story or claim that I have all of the answers. I just know that these scientists have been hugely successful in their push to get their story of climate change denial to the American public through ad campaigns.

Cigarettes do cause cancer. I’m unable to be unbiased in this idea as both of my parents died from cancer due to cigarette smoking. The thought of a scientist coming out to the public in the late 80s and early 90s and claiming that there isn’t evidence that cigarettes cause cancer makes alarms to go off in my head, as this disease deteriorated what was left of my family. So, when these same scientists also claim that climate change is a myth, I take pause. For me, they already lack credibility. Further, I take pause since they aren’t even in the field doing the actual research on climate change.

I just need to reiterate this: 97% of the world’s expert scientists have seen the evidence and know that climate change is happening. To those that are in the field doing research, it is undeniable. The evidence gathered over the decades is irrefutable. Humans and our activities are mainly causing climate change in irreparable ways.

Let's look at some of the spin doctors. The Advancement of Sound Science Center, born out of industry-funded lobbyists, was created in 1993. Phillip Morris, along with others like ExxonMobil and various other oil companies, funded the TASSC in effort to fight scientific findings that they saw as a threat to their profits. The purpose of this group was to instill public doubt about the results of specific scientific research so that they could continue business as usual.

You might wonder why once respected scientists would join the ranks of this group. According to Naomi Oreskes it’s because of a laissez-faire ideology that calls for less government regulation. She presents compelling evidence for this in her book Merchants of Doubt. She speaks about how in 1984 these rogue scientists founded the George Marshall Institute, which was essentially a propaganda machine disguised as a reputable scientific think tank. Frederick Seitz, former president of the National Academy of Sciences, was one of these scientists that founded the George C. Marshall Institute and was also a board member of TASSC. Fred Singer, a physicist and president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, is also known for his associations with GSI.

The original purpose of this “think tank” was to protect Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Members of the Union of Concerned Scientists included Carl Sagan and other prominent and publicly respected scientists who had concerns about SDI. GSI’s claim was that the Soviet Union was still a dangerous threat to the United States and GSI wielded its power to create public worry about it, in order to push their views on defense policy. In 1991, after the Cold War was over, they shifted their fight to creating doubt surrounding global warming.

Why did once ethical scientists do this? However compelling the evidence of their corruption may be, I imagine that only these scientists can answer the question of “why”. Another question is how were they so successful in accomplishing this? These scientists as well as public relations specialists knew their best defense was to instill public doubt.


It seems simple enough and yet has been an insidious and powerful weapon. The numbers speak for themselves. Now my question is: why does the public buy into their campaign?

The stories we tell ourselves are powerful. No matter how profound and deeply-thinking individuals we may be, we have stories we tell ourselves. These stories not only help us determine daily who we are as individuals, but also assist us in determining how we look at the future, to the invisible and unpredictable threats. This is powerful because we determine our future decisions with the stories we tell ourselves today.

It’s important to take pause when presented with attempted denial of evidence that’s accepted by 97% of scientific experts. The consequences of climate change will be dire and story-telling will determine what we choose to believe and how we choose to act. I choose to follow the irrefutable evidence of the climatologists doing research in the field, as opposed to the spin and ad campaigns of a small group of former scientists with deep political agendas.

Which story will you choose?


  1. Asking a climatologist if ACC is real is like asking a preacher if God is real. The fact that it is only 97% is surprisingly low.

    read this about the 97% thing.

  2. The exact proportion one arrives at will obviously depend on methodology one uses. What is undeniable is that the overwhelmingly consensus of the scientific community is that global warming is real and that human activity is the primary cause of it.

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  4. The worldwide scientific community's stance on human-induced climate change is unequivocal. This isn't necessarily limited to climatologists.

    I seek to clarify why many in the American public don't see this as the case despite the overwhelming evidence. 

    I wanted to include a link.

  5. Jodi, I think it is powerful and important that people take your stance of not simply listening to what's being told but looking at the political motives behind why they're telling it and who's benefitting from what they are saying. That is so true.
    To take this to another level, I think it is sad that hard-right Republicans like Rush Limbaugh really believe it is TOO HARD, economically, for businesses to make the ethical changes in their factories and products to save the environment. I believe if right-wing Republicans can get to the point where they believe it will not destroy their companies to upgrade to ecologically safe practices, then we will have won.
    No matter what they say, with Republicans, it all comes down to money. And it is silly. They need to look beyond to where they can see profits turning and money saved from people not dying of cancer, (cancer caused by unwitting exposure to environmental toxins), and that it would actually be a win/win.
    As it is, you have men smoking cigars on talk radio shows denying pollution exists just to try to protect the profits of the American small businessman. But what if the American small businessman can profit from being ecologically correct? It amazes me that that people have not thought in that direction. I guess that is where it is easy to start labelling people stupid. Although maybe they know something about it that I don't. Maybe something that I don't want to know.
    But you wrote about all the efforts and(surely, money spent), that those fake scientists made to sell the fake science. And I'm just thinking- would it be that much harder than promoting fake science to promote clean energy? Or to promote laws that would require factories to be ecologically friendly?

    I think the more people we have sounding the alarm about the truth, the more people will get on board. Change happens with public alarm. And like you said, to difuse public alarm through fake science is keeping change from happening right now in America.
    If we could just get Rush Limbaugh on board. Because there's a lot of people that use his stories as "the stories we tell ourselves." And they choose not to question it because they like him.
    Clearly you have researched farther into the matter than just something you have heard one person say and that is why you are not being fooled by anyone!
    May the grass stay green, may pollution be reconsidered, and may the "civilized" countries of the planet use their brains, admit pollution, and seek to change it.
    (what you are calling climate change, I call pollution because even republicans are hard-pressed to deny that pollution exists, even though they might try to say it has no effect worth ridding it for.)

  6. Why aren't all the scientists who are sounding the alarm about global warming also lobbying for the only viable solution - nuclear power? The reason we have polution and global warming is because we continue to depend on fossil fuels. 30 years ago a similiar group of scientists created an irrational fear of nuclear power in this country. We are now dealing with the results.