Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for January 6th, 2007

Putting a pricetag on the media’s objectivity

Posted by metaphorical on 6 January 2007

In an effort to deceive the public about the reality of global warming, ExxonMobil has underwritten the most sophisticated and most successful disinformation campaign since the tobacco industry misled the public about the scientific evidence linking smoking to lung cancer and heart disease. As this report documents, the two disinformation campaigns are strikingly similar. ExxonMobil has drawn upon the tactics and even some of the organizations and actors involved in the callous disinformation campaign the tobacco industry waged for 40 years.

So begins a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, issued a few days ago.

The report says that “By publishing and republishing the non-peer-reviewed works of a small group of scientific spokespeople, ExxonMobil-funded organizations have propped up and amplified work that has been discredited by reputable climate scientists.” It claims that the company “[m]anufactured uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence.” How much did all this cost? A mere $16 million.

The UCS report is being widely reported, but not in its striking details. The AP story, for example, mentions the similarity to tabacco-industry propaganda campaigns (though it doesn’t call them that) but doesn’t mention the important fact that some of the same organizations and actors are involved.

Specifically, the UCS report charges that one of the organizations funded by ExxonMobil was something called The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition or TASSC. It turns out that TASSC was “covertly created” as “a front organization” by Philip Morris in 1993. The report devotes its lengthy Appendix C to this nexus of the tobacco industry’s front organizations, ExxonMobil’s and others in the oil industry, and officials of the Bush administration.

ExxonMobil put forward “scientists” and other “experts” to appear in the media, and paid for the phony science that they would rely on. The company played on the media’s natural inclination to suppose there are two sides to every question, and that each deserves to be represented. And it exploited the media’s failure to appreciate the cavernous difference between peer-reviewed science and stuff that’s alleged to be science but isn’t peer-reviewed. The latter can just be ignored, but the media doesn’t.

So the media completely failed to properly represent to the public global warming—and the role of humans in it—as the rock-solid fact that it is. How solid? A 2004 study of the literature showed that of 928 studies, which represented “a random sample of approximately 10 percent of the literature,” not a single one disagreed with “the consensus view that humans are contributing to global warming.”

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