In Science, Philip Kitcher reviews several recent books on climate change
- Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. By Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.
- Climate Change Science and Policy. By Stephen H. Schneider, Armin Rosencranz, Michael D. Mastrandrea, and Kristin Kuntz-Duriseti,
It is all too easy to be beguiled by an opposite thought: that democracy demands that there be extensive public discussion, even on technical matters, discussion in which all participants operate as equals. Those in the grip of this idea will view Hansen and Schneider as hysterical and arrogant people who aim to short-circuit the proper airing of alternative views. (Although sympathetic critics might also ponder the fact that these two eminent scientists have been rebutting the same "alternatives" for decades). Perhaps continued discussion could be tolerated, were there no urgency about the issue under debate. If they saw no compulsion to act soon—and if they were convinced that the fight were fair—Hansen and Schneider might share Milton's confidence that truth would ultimately emerge as victor. Yet the stories they tell in their gripping narratives reveal all too many points at which messages have been distorted and suppressed because of the short-term interests of economic and political agents. They also demonstrate many ways in which the arena of public discussion has been set up to block the widespread acceptance of conclusions based on an increasing body of evidence.As to how this happened, Oreskes and Conway provide a roadmap
"There are many reasons why the United States has failed to act on global warming, but at least one is the confusion raised by Bill Nierenberg, Fred Seitz, and Fred Singer."with Kitcher filling in some of the dots
This apparently harsh claim is thoroughly justified through a powerful dissection of the ways in which prominent climate scientists, such as Roger Revelle and Ben Santer, were exploited or viciously attacked in the press.Kitchner has touched off a debate among several of the authors with others invited to take part.
None of this would have been possible without a web of connections among aging scientists, conservative politicians, and executives of companies (particularly those involved in fossil fuels) with a short-term economic interest in denying the impact of the emission of carbon into the atmosphere. But it also could not have produced the broad public skepticism about climate change without help from the media. As Oreskes and Conway point out, "balanced coverage" has become the norm in the dissemination of scientific information. Pitting adversaries against one another for a few minutes has proven an appealing strategy for television>news programs to pursue in attracting and retaining viewers.
Those looking for an explanation of the bunny flag are invited to wander over to Open Mind