Monthly Archives: October 2014

Debunking Oreskes part 6: Is it all about the money?

← Part 1: A wall of vagueness

← Part 2: The wicked “handful of scientists” 

← Part 3: The “tobacco strategy” 

← Part 4: Disinformation or debate? 

 Part 5: Irrelevance to the current climate change debate

Was industry money the driving force behind the events described in Merchants of Doubt? This is another one of those ideas that seem to be implied and widely believed but never explicitly stated in the book itself. Supposedly, (nowadays at least) there is a “Koch-funded denial machine” that makes people deny the evidence for catastrophic human-caused climate change in spite of overwhelming evidence. The idea is that vast resources make up for a lack of scientific substance.

But is that true? As I just said, Oreskes and Conway never make this explicit. The very concept of “merchants of doubt” hints at a profit motive, but could perhaps be dismissed as metaphorical. In the review I quoted earlier, though, it’s clear: “It’s not about evidence, in other words; it’s about satisfying corporate America’s lust for profits.”
There is surprisingly little mention of funding in Merchants of Doubt. The passages I quoted earlier are suggestive, though.

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Debunking Oreskes part 5: Irrelevance to the current climate change debate

← Part 1: A wall of vagueness

← Part 2: The wicked “handful of scientists” 

← Part 3: The “tobacco strategy” 

← Part 4: Disinformation or debate? 

Part 6: Is it all about the money? 

The reason Merchants of Doubt has received so much attention is clear: It is seen as evidence that climate skepticism is a disinformation campaign driven by dubious scientists working for dubious interests with dubious motives. Therefore it is seen as highly relevant to current controversy on climate change. If it weren’t, if it were only of historical interest, most of us would probably never even have heard of it even if it were factually accurate and perfect in every other respect.

But is it really relevant? Does it make the connection between the alleged machinations of “the handful of scientists” (the Handful as I call them) and the climate change issue today?

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Debunking Oreskes Part 4: Disinformation or debate?

← Part 1: A wall of vagueness

← Part 2: The wicked “handful of scientists” 

← Part 3: The “tobacco strategy” 

Part 5: Irrelevance to the current climate change debate →

Part 6: Is it all about the money?

So far in this series, we’ve seen that the claim that “a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming”, both because the scientists identified (the Handful, as I call them) were in fact not involved in all these issues, and because the claim that they “obscured the truth” does not hold water given Oreskes and Conway’s own idea of what that means. Also, there was no “tobacco strategy” connecting the issues. 

Given this, there seems to be no foundation for any claim of disinformation. And yet, they use the term rather emphatically in the book, speaking of “the creation of doubt and the spread of disinformation”.

But let us try to find out what Oreskes and Conway base their claims of disinformation on. Part of it is guilt by association with Big Tobacco as I have mentioned. But there is more.

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