Home > Science > War on Science: Science Strikes Back

War on Science: Science Strikes Back

September 21st, 2006

The war on science driven by a combination of Republican* ideology and corporate cash has been ably documented by Chris Mooney (see the Crooked Timber seminar here). Now, finally, science is striking back at one of the worst corporate enemies of science, ExxonMobil. As evidence of human-caused global warming has accumulated, leading energy companies like BP have seen the need to respond, with the result that industry groups like the Global Climate Coalition have broken down, leaving ExxonMobil to carry on a rearguard action through a network of shills and front groups. Now the company is finally being exposed by a major scientific organisation.

In an apparently unprecedented move, the British Royal Society has written to Exxon, stating that of the organization listed in Exxon’s 2005 WorldWide Giving Report for ‘public information and policy research‘, 39 feature

information on their websites that misrepresented the science on climate change, either by outright denial of the evidence that greenhouse gases are driving climate change, or by overstating the amount and significance of uncertainty in knowledge, or by conveying misleading impression of the potential impacts of climate change

(full copy of the letter here)

I haven’t found the list of organizations noted as engaging in misrepresentation yet, but from reports I’ve read they include the International Policy Network, the George C Marshall Institute, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Reading the Exxon list, it’s easy to identify other consistently dishonest groups like the American Enterprise Institute, the National Centre for Policy Analysis, the Pacific Research Institute and so on.

n the letter, Bob Ward of the Royal Society writes:

At our meeting in July … you indicated that ExxonMobil would not be providing any further funding to these organisations. I would be grateful if you could let me know when ExxonMobil plans to carry out this pledge.

With rumors swirling about that Rupert Murdoch has also seen the light on this issue, some professional denialists could find themselves out of work before long.

The unequivocal tone of the letter leaves no room for ambiguity here. Either the Royal Society (along with the dozens of scientific organisations cited in the letter) is lying about Exxon, or Exxon and its front groups are lying about science. It’s hard to imagine that Exxon can win this fight, now that its activities are out in the open.

More from Think Progress

* this kind of destructive irrationalism is specifically associated with the US Republican Party and its partisans in other countries, and should not be dignified with a philosophical label such as “conservative”

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  1. taust
    September 21st, 2006 at 20:10 | #1

    Is it envisaged that in the name of climate change that books dening the science will be banned?

    Perhaps the Royal Society could contact the Pope (One of many sources) on the best ways to achieve conformity with a set of views.

  2. jquiggin
    September 21st, 2006 at 20:25 | #2

    Taust, this is a tired gambit. No one has suggested banning anything. Every time someone points out that climate change denialists are charlatans or cranks someone else pops up with a Dennis the peasant line “Help, help, I’m being oppressed”.

    The question is not about bans but about whether Exxon should continue to subsidise these liars.

  3. taust
    September 21st, 2006 at 20:52 | #3

    I have no more time for the denialist then you have.

    However I think that the Royal Society need to carefully consider the means that it is adopting to silence the denialists.

    Discussion and argument when persuasive will lead to the funds drying up (albeit far slower than one woulld expect).

    I am of the opinion that the deniliasts have little real impact on policy.

    The policy decisions are taken in National interests.

    The Royal Society is composed of experts in Science not experts on politics. I think they have crossed the Boundary of their ‘Charter’ and I am very sorry that they did so.

    I think the title you gave to the section whilst a clever bit of sub-editing, does indicate a slipping into a frame of mind that is best not adopted.

    As an aside. I am rather pleased that I potentially have an organised victims group I can join. It has been one of the thing I have previously missed. I do not belong to an organised ethnic group or an organised victims group. I do not live in a marginal seat and am not a farmer or car worker. If the denialist get organised as a victim group I will be anle to put my hand out for largess from all the people less well off than me at last.

  4. Hermit
    September 21st, 2006 at 21:35 | #4

    I fancy that if Isaac Newton were still president of the Royal Society he’d approve, being one for grudges. I believe Exxon is still the world’s most profitable company. Former CEO Lee Raymond not only got a $US400m golden handshake he is rumoured to be helping Bush (for a fee?) with energy policy, with an announcement due soon apparently. Now with Murdoch convinced of GW I think it’s time the lights dimmed for both Bush and Exxon.

  5. rog
    September 21st, 2006 at 22:29 | #5

    I read that BP was concerned at its greenie CEO had allowed/neglected infrastructure resulting in breakdowns causing shortages and pollution eg Prudhoe Bay and as a result of which his tenure will not be renewed.

    Prob just another conspiracy theory..

  6. September 21st, 2006 at 22:53 | #6

    It’s long past high time groups such as the Royal Society got involved in this way. It must be serious if the stuffed shirts are finally seeing the need to pull their sinecured weight.

  7. taust and turned
    September 21st, 2006 at 22:59 | #7

    “I am of the opinion that the deniliasts have little real impact on policy. The policy decisions are taken in National interests.” – taust

    “People who deny the holocaust have hardly any impact on modern neo-nazi policies. Their policy decisions are taken in National interests” – turned

    Godwin and all that… I know.

  8. observa
    September 22nd, 2006 at 00:56 | #8

    “The question is not about bans but about whether Exxon should continue to subsidise these liars.”

    “It must be serious if the stuffed shirts are finally seeing the need to pull their sinecured weight.”

    Streuth if we stopped subsidising liars there’d hardly be a sociology or history dept left in the country, given the failed Marxist drivel that’s poured out of them over the past few decades. Their drivel spawned the twin failures of aparthied separatism of the Dreamtime and the multiculturalism of Cronulla riots and the Shaky Sheiks. You could probably add the social security industry here too. Crikey, do we really expect producer interests to be the standard bearers of new emerging truths? Not bloody likely!

  9. Chris O’Neill
    September 22nd, 2006 at 01:37 | #9

    “I am of the opinion that the deniliasts have little real impact on policy.”

    John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, when asked:

    “Clearly these new (“clean coal”) technologies, when they come along, are going to be more expensive than fossil fuels as we currently have them?”


    “No, I don’t necessarily accept that. We don’t know yet what the cost-benefit analysis will be. It’s too early to make that judgment. You say clearly – they – I’m not – I don’t speak with quite that precision, I think we have to wait and see.”

    Obviously denialism has little real impact on Australia’s chief policy maker.

  10. Simonjm
    September 22nd, 2006 at 08:05 | #10

    Taust maybe not a denialist just selective with the truth.

    After all the environment isn’t degrading just changing.

    Oh & the books don’t have to be banned just moved to the comedy or fiction sections.

    You are right though basing policy on the best advice from those most qualified isn’t something politicians should do we should rather fit what best suites short term business interests all else be damned.

    No matter that of other people are making money and being more competitive from being eco smart.

    & anyway, what is the use of governments paying scientists and having objective scientific institutions if they won’t give the advice and answers your policy settings have decided on in advance?

  11. Mike Hart
    September 22nd, 2006 at 08:40 | #11

    Exxons’ corporate ‘raison d’etre’ has been evident since the ‘Valdiz’ accident. They are curiously also the leading denialists of peak oil and are the stand out of the seven sisters on the longevity of world oil stocks. The management of Exxon are hard men who take few prisoners, you do not get to be the size of Exxon if your not.

    The moral issue illustrated by the letter from the Royal Society is their support for non endogenous climate change. They refute the connection between gas levels and ecological damage. As the worlds largest fossil fuel corporations they have a vested interest in the value of their assets. The implied proposition is that they should not proactively publicly promote this view because it is scientifically wrong. Since when do corporations have a responsibility to be the clarions of truth? I guess is the real issue. They have a responsbility when the importance of their activity to human well being is such that whatever the cause of global ‘heating’ they need to get on board any and every solution to make this heating phase a survivable once in a millenium event.

  12. snuh
    September 22nd, 2006 at 11:47 | #12

    university history departments are to blame for the cronulla riots”? to borrow a phrase, “not bloody likely.”

  13. taust
    September 22nd, 2006 at 12:19 | #13

    If one investigates the history of the Royal Society one finds out that it members have a long and honourable history in appying their considerable intellectual abilites in the prosecution of wars e.g first world war; Second world war etc etc etc.
    If there is a war on science being waged the Dennis the peasants of the denialists better watch out now the RS is on the job.
    As good Australians, just watch out, it is a UK body, and will expect Australians to take up their traditional position in war ie taking disproportionate costs.

  14. wilful
    September 22nd, 2006 at 13:07 | #14

    Taust, you’re being a dill (only mild offence intended). The Royal Society is drawing a line through the sand with regard to the SCIENCE, which is well within their remit. They have nothing to say about exxon lobbying about possible economic and social impacts, and politics, they’re explicitly and politely saying “stop lying about the science”.

    Exxon ahs every right to lobby on its own merits for economic matters, it however is crossing a huge moral line when it funds deliberate lies and obfuscations. I’m sure you’re bright enough to see this, you’re just being contrarian.

  15. Simonjm
    September 22nd, 2006 at 14:02 | #15

    Taust don’t forget apart from the RS that all the leading scientific institutions of the G8 + China, India and Russia all came out to back AGW and to say it was something to be concerned about.

    Should we also be looking into their histories?

  16. derrida derider
    September 22nd, 2006 at 14:26 | #16

    “I fancy that if Isaac Newton were still president of the Royal Society he’d approve, being one for grudges”

    I dunno – outside the realm of celestial mechanics Isaac was quite a nutter (as well as a great hater, as you point out). It’d be just like him to go around saying “The earth is only being warmed up for our own good by extra-terrestrial powers. Hooke and his cronies are only denying this in order to rob me of the credit for this discovery. And anyway I hate winter”

  17. taust
    September 22nd, 2006 at 14:55 | #17

    The RS put their very cogent line in the sand awhile back.

    Their action in monstering ExxonMobile, while no doubt ego satisfying, is crossing the line.

    To say as scientists what somebody else should do with money under those other’s control is not expressing a scientific opinion. The opinion is a matter of politics not science.

    In addition it is trying to remove a source of funding from dissident.

    Science of all human processes should not be frightened of dissidents. Science develops its beliefs on the actions of the real world not on the opinions of others and on substantiating its beliefs when the beliefs are challenged. This is why science has a band of people who respect scientific beliefs as a basis for action.

    To shut people up by other than discussion is an action that should not be undertaken lightly and then only by a body that is accountable for its actions.

    The greenhouse gas mitigation true believers already have a whiff of the centrally planned economy about them, without actions to suppress dissent.

  18. observa
    September 22nd, 2006 at 15:19 | #18

    “They[Exxon] have a responsbility when the importance of their activity to human well being is such that whatever the cause of global ‘heating’ they need to get on board any and every solution to make this heating phase a survivable once in a millenium event. ‘

    So if we measure everyone’s power and gas utility use in Oz and decree that next year everyone will only be able to have half that allowance, then Exxon should get fully behind that? I should note here Howard claimed if Australia stopped ALL its GG emissions forthwith, China’s growth in power stations would gobble up those emissions savings in 9 months (or in other words if we halved our emissions with draconian rationing outlined, China’s power industry would gobble that up in 4.5 months) Ipso facto Exxon needs to get with any such program proposed here? You know- ‘any and every solution.’

  19. observa
    September 22nd, 2006 at 15:32 | #19

    And any Global Warming ATSIC type body that springs to mind from the fountains of all things wise naturally.

  20. September 22nd, 2006 at 16:10 | #20

    Every little bit helps Observa.

  21. September 22nd, 2006 at 16:24 | #21

    taust – “Science of all human processes should not be frightened of dissidents. ”
    Yes absolutely however that dissent should be within the peer reviewed scientific community. Exxon Mobil has been funding dis-information that has not been peer reviewed and is mostly not peer reviewable.

    Practically all the dissenting scientific ideas like relativity and quantum theory and even AGW theory have all had to pass the test of peer review and rigorous tests in Nature. So far the dissenters have not even tried this approach and their ‘research’ consists almost soley of cherry picked items and incorrect critiques of other people’s work. This is the work that Exxon Mobil has been funding not true scientific dissent.

  22. stoptherubbish
    September 22nd, 2006 at 16:26 | #22

    It’s all the fault of the latte sipping, chardonnay slurping post modernist reality denying post marxist elites.
    And now (sob), the Royal society is entering the lists, demanding that corporates at least acknowlege that there is a difference between spin and science!

    What next?

    Policies devised by people who actually know what they are talking about? This is another example of the elites pretending to be elected. They should understand. We decide what’s true, and what’s not!

  23. Terje
    September 22nd, 2006 at 16:44 | #23

    Is there a war on science?

    I did find the following article by one of the founders of Wikipedia (which is about to be forked) quite interesting.


    Ultimately, I think, the debate is about control of what passes for knowledge in our online society, a globally-connected New Leviathan that eats information for breakfast, lunch, and dinner:


    The wikipedia fork: http://www.citizendium.org/

  24. Ernestine Gross
    September 22nd, 2006 at 16:55 | #24

    It is in the area of influencing the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge (research and education), in the area of influencing democratic processes, and in the administration of the law where I believe the question of income distribution becomes serious in a manner which goes far beyond the distribution of purchasing power, measured in terms of consumer goods. Moreover, it is in these areas where ‘safety nets’, which make sense in an ‘exchange economy’ framework, are insufficient.

    Tangentially, it is rather amusing to observe that the impotence of the v. Hayek et al law-economics (as distinct from math-economics) approach to political economy in dealing with contemporary economic problems, such as global warming, is now, so to speak, before court (in California)! I suppose it is one way of influencing relative prices, eventually. But there are income distribution effects. It is not the scientists, the engineers, the math-economists who get rewarded for their work. It is the lawyers. I wonder what will come out of this one.

  25. taust
    September 22nd, 2006 at 18:35 | #25


    How true.

    Elite values are so much better than the values of the rest of us.

    Experts are so ethereal they should not have to addresss the issues of the rest who should show their appreciation by giving proper deference.

    A feudal society based on science is within our grasp. Praise be to the Arrogance of Science.

  26. Seeker
    September 22nd, 2006 at 23:09 | #26

    “Since when do corporations have a responsibility to be the clarions of truth?”

    Since when did they have a legal, technical, or moral right to misrepresent it? Especially when they do it in an underhanded, and unscientific manner?

    Corporations are not natural entities, they do not have an innate right to an existence independent of the societies that create and licence them. They are only tools for human society, and are ultimately subservient to it and the ‘truth’.

    And Taust, that is an awful lot of strawmen/women in small amount of words.

  27. Ernestine Gross
    September 23rd, 2006 at 00:20 | #27

    Good links, Terje. Thanks

  28. Simonjm
    September 23rd, 2006 at 09:38 | #28

    Taust are you really being serious or just taking the piss out of us playing the libertarian clown?

    Seriously where do you go to get the objective info/facts to base gov policy on?

    If its not the the scientists then I suppose the business interests will do; I suppose it really galled you when that wasn’t done with tobacco and cancer.

    Its not just a war on science but the truth good policy and our health.

    Exxon, the Royal Society, and Exxon

    A climate satellite is built and paid for. Nations offer to launch it for free. Scientists say it’s an essential mission. So what’s it doing in a box outside DC?

    You always need more info, that is unless it goes gainst your preconceived position ay Taust.

    How science disinformation campaigns may backfire this November.

    So taust is mercury a beat up as well?

    It also goes to show just like the creationists with science backgrounds, when the cognitive bias is strong enough a science background counts for naught.

  29. jquiggin
    September 23rd, 2006 at 10:22 | #29

    “If its not the the scientists then I suppose the business interests will do; I suppose it really galled you when that wasn’t done with tobacco and cancer.”

    Just to point out yet again that most of the leading climate science denialists (Milloy, Singer, Seitz and so on) are retreads from the tobacco industry’s campaign of denialism on cancer, through bodies like The Advancement of Sound Science Center. When the tobacco pushers were beaten, TASSC and its affiliates were bought wholesale by ExxonMobil.

  30. taust
    September 23rd, 2006 at 17:55 | #30

    Hey guys when you stopped hammering this round peg into a square hole will you give me the arm and leg back,. The five kilo’s off the stomach you may keep.

    Nowhere have I said (or at least meant to say) “do not take the advice of scientists into account in developing a policy on climate change”.

    I would only hope that the scientific specialisations from which advice is taken in developing a comprehensive policy includes for example the agricultural sciences. the laterine hydrology sciences etc etc etc.

    In a pluralist free society it should be acceptable for people to promulgate within wide limits views that assist their interests.

    ExxonMobil has grown large through supplying the demand for energy. It does not employ guns or any other force to get people to use energy. It does not have any government regulations stipulating that you must use oil or gas. I cannot see that the harm it does putting some money to the denialists is such as to require suppression. ExxonMobil has shareholders who can exert limited control. As far as I am aware the Royal Society has even less accountability.

    In this particular thread I am arguing that the august body Royal Society should not in a free society foster the suppression of dissent by any other means other than by discussion.

    I would be very pleased to see the Royal Society get together with the Academy of engineers and whatever the peak body for economists is to argue out the full scenarios for responses including adaptation to climate change and give the advice so developed to the body politic to decide the multiple ways forward.
    Of course members of the RS etc are members of the body politic and can give their twopenny worth. Indeed it is likely that they will be eagerly welcomed onto the hallowed tables of the caffe latte policy elites and thus lost to the rest of us.

    Adaptation is part of both the Kyoto Agreement and the IPCC report. If you read the IPPC report you will see how depaupered the adaptation science is compared to the climate science.

    We know, to probably the greatest extent possible, climate change is occurring. We now need to chart the multiple strategies that we are going to need to respond to climate change.

    I am appalled at the stratagem of the mitigators in keeping the emphasis on the denialists.

    The only rational explanation for the mitigators to keep pouring shot into the denialist straw person is that for some perverse reason the mitigators do not wish to maximise the chances of achieving a rational approach to responding to climate change.

    However I am loath to accept that explanation as I am by nature not a believer in the conspiracy theory as a way of behaviour explanation.


    Mercury when in a insoluble form and in an envirionment where the form of the mercury is unlikely to change is a beat up.

    I am an ancient. In school we flicked mercury balls across the lab benches, H2S weeped from the Kipps apparatus, and every Bunsen burner had an asbestos mat. The only thing I mildly regret the passing of is the slide rule.

    When you find panic coming on by being offered liberty, my previous advice stands get a garlic, a wooden cross and a wooden nail and go forward to liberty.

    I wonder why there is no peak body for economists? Has the absence anything to do with 25 years ago. When some 400 economists gave advice to Mrs M Thatcher advising against the policies she went on to adopt.

  31. jquiggin
    September 23rd, 2006 at 18:36 | #31

    “The only rational explanation for the mitigators to keep pouring shot into the denialist straw person is that for some perverse reason the mitigators do not wish to maximise the chances of achieving a rational approach to responding to climate change.”

    Umm, how about the fact that these guys are still in charge of policy in the US, and are therefore preventing the adoption of a rational approach. And they are helped by claims that pointing out the fraudulent nature of this activity constitutes “suppression of dissent”. As I said right at the beginning of the thread, this was funny when Dennis the Peasant said it, but it’s silly in real life.

  32. Smiley
    September 23rd, 2006 at 19:42 | #32

    taust said:

    “ExxonMobil has grown large through supplying the demand for energy. It does not employ guns or any other force to get people to use energy.”

    smiley says:

    Neither do drug dealers or cigarette companies. In fact, doesn’t fast food have an addictive nature too? I heard (from a boss I had several years ago) that fat molecules are addictive because they are large and complex (in other words “tasty”). But then again, I love to have pickled gherkins on my sandwiches (but most people I talk to find them offensive).

    Just like there are conspiracy theorists, there are also coincident theorists. I really don’t think that it is about suppressing dissent, it’s more about asking: Haven’t we seen this before?

    The jury is still out on Mercury (as used in amalgam fillings). It is one of the most poisonous substances known to man, and it is one of the few metals that remains in a liquid state at room temperature and pressure (thus allowing Mercury to become a vapor much more easily). Amalgam fillings have been banned in many European countries. It is not a one off exposure that is likely to kill you. There are many factors (how much exercise you get for example), but I’m almost certain that the mad hatters are proof enough.

    And to round up my argument, addiction is not liberty. It is a form of slavery. You don’t need force to enslave people.

  33. taust
    September 23rd, 2006 at 19:51 | #33

    you have your place at the table of the cafe latte policy elites. You know that policy is not decided in the way described by you in your post.

    It is not rational for the USA to adopt an effective climate change mitigation practices. My analysis would be the USA emits 25% of greenhouse gases and 25% is emitted by countries who in all equity cannot be restricted, and another 25% is emiitted by countries who trade within a protected block. Unless all countries adopt the ‘same’ measures the USA will be making itself uncompetitive. My guess is that it has taken a rational position that it is highly unlikely all will adopt effective mitigation measures so it is not going to waste time and money attempting it.

    You can argue the USA decision is wrong, but not that it is irrational nor that it believes the dissenters (although they may be useful as a policy spin element, as they are to the mitigators to demonstrate the wisdom of mitigators).

  34. Seeker
    September 23rd, 2006 at 22:47 | #34

    In a pluralist free society it should be acceptable for people to promulgate within wide limits views that assist their interests. Taust

    Provided they are not fundamentally misrepresenting themselves, their interests, or the world, to others, particularly if doing so causes serious harm to others.

    This is a basic prerequisite for a functioning pluralist, free (and decent) society, and survival in general.

    Libertarianism, freedom of speech, and market capitalism do not include the freedom to misrepresent, lie, defraud, etc.

    Which is exactly what Exxon are doing.

    If Exxon want to play fair, and believe their case is solid, then they should submit it to the scientific peer-review process. Like all working scientists have to.

    If they don’t, then as far as I am concerned they are lying, self-serving scum, who should be charged with fraud, defamation, and endangering the public.

    This is too important an issue to allow mercenary PR spin doctors to set the agenda for powerful trans-national companies, who have allegiance to none but themselves.

    I prefer the scientist’s version so far, as scary and unwelcome as it may be.

    The late Richard Feynman, a physicist of some note, said that for a technology to succeed, reality had to take precedence over public relations.

    Sounds like good advice to me.

  35. taust
    September 24th, 2006 at 00:23 | #35

    Human do lie, misrepresent, etc etc, etc, that is why it is important to allow freedom of expression.

    Elites do try and capture the podium and suppress dissent. That is why it is important to protect dissent even when we may think it stupid.

    Blaming the suppliers of our addiction for our addiction is not a useful activity.

    I note with amusement the latest push for regulation of that which children eat on the basis that they will grow up better eaters. I spent the first six or so years of my life on just such a perfect diet rigorously controlled through rationing. (others of my generation had even more restricted diets at the time). I do not note any significant difference in my eating habits from those born later who did not have my advantage.

    I have never yet heard anyone say petroleum fuel does not result in the emission of carbon. I have heard it said that hydrogen is carbon dioxide free. People forget cement and steel will in all probability be needed in the construction of the plant.

    How many recorded cases world wide are there of mercury poisoning from teeth amalgam?
    Who makes the profit from the alternative much more expensive materials (about double in price)? Who pays the poor to have their teeth fixed at the higher price?

  36. Simonjm
    September 24th, 2006 at 09:01 | #36

    Taust then you should take it up with the health dept and medical researchers and make a name for yourself. Better still Current Affair & Today Tonight love a beatup.

    So you think that if the sole superpower decided to take AGW seriously and signed up to Kyoto and the coming sons of Kyoto that it couldn’t bring its considerable diplomatic influence backed with its technical and financial muscle to get them onboard?

    Lastly its not about supressing dissent but about valuing objectivity and the practical limits to who and what is contributed to a debate. That means BS filters must be in place to weed out the time wasters, and those who don’t play by the rules of rationality objectivety and evidence.

    The season that the RS did what it did is that Exxon and its astroturfs muddy the water and hinder contructive debate, the problem is hard enough to deal without these guys throwing a wrench in the works.

  37. taust
    September 24th, 2006 at 09:54 | #37

    who decides for other people what is BS? Is your hand up for the job. If so I would counsel you took learn from the techniques of the taliban who seem to be particularly effective in defining and surpressing BS.

    It is the idealogue mitigators who are giving the denialists the oxgen they need as much as it is ExxonMobil. My advice is to move on to discuss the real problem: what are the range of activities that should be adopted given the fact of c;imate change?

  38. stoptherubbish
    September 24th, 2006 at 15:06 | #38

    Once again taust, slowly this time. The argument simply is this. Who is best placed to contribute to the information needed for rational debate based on the best information available (at the time). On the issue of global warming and the intellectual processes underpinning the analysis of the phenomenon, do we base our democratic debate on the information supplied by actual scientists who have a vested professional interest in being both knowledgable and rational in their work, or, do we trust the opinions of those who have a vested commercial interest in ensuring as far as possible, that people don’t even believe there is a problem?

    That is the question. The issue of what to do about GW, and who should pay for arresting it, are conceptually quite different from the issue of ascertaining whether or not, such a phenomenon exists. One is a matter of scientific enquiry (with all the caveats concerning the state of current knowledge etc appropriate to such enquiry), and the other is a political issue. Itr is true that other areas of expertise may be invoked when considering the best way to deal with the problem, but again, ultimatley it will be political porcesses which will determine what actually happens.

    Got it?

  39. Seeker
    September 24th, 2006 at 16:35 | #39

    who decides for other people what is BS? Taust

    In science, it is all down to hard experimental results. They keep theories (and ideologies) honest.

    In science there is no ‘who’, no person or organisation, who ultimately decide what is the BS. That is the whole point of science, it removes as much of the subjectivity and ideology from the assessment process as possible.

    What is the alternative?

  40. taust
    September 24th, 2006 at 19:01 | #40

    Stopthe rubbish;

    the issue that commenced this discussion was whether to praise or rubbish the Royal society for attempting to suppress dissent.

    In my opinion whether you are a scientist or any other brand of expert, the attempted suppression of dissent is wrong. Attempted suppression of dissent is even more serious when an organised body undertake it (albeit in addition to continuing an acceptable discussion of the issues).

    As a group, scientists have just as many conflicts of interest as any other group. The distinction is that scientists’ process has an inherent accountability for adherence to the scientific process within the process. Like any other human process the scientific process is subject to failure, but even with failure it has a proven track record of getting close to reality.

  41. Ernestine Gross
    September 25th, 2006 at 07:05 | #41

    “The late Richard Feynman, a physicist of some note, said that for a technology to succeed, reality had to take precedence over public relations.”

    Sounds like good advice to me.

  42. Ernestine Gross
    September 25th, 2006 at 08:50 | #42


    Given the information on this thread, I reach the conclusion that it is the Royal Society which is defending the principle that the suppression of dissent is wrong within the context of scientific research.

    It seems to me your contrary conclusion regarding the Royal Society rests on the principle of ‘dissent from the status quo is wrong’, rather than on the principle you advocate, namely that suppresson of dissent is wrong.

    The status quo information set, on which my conclusion rests, is that the effect of human activities on the environment (AGW in this instance) is negligible.

    What is the status quo information set with respect to which ‘dissent’ is defined in your argument?

  43. taust
    September 25th, 2006 at 10:04 | #43

    I think the Status Quo re the Greenhose effect changed in about 1960 when the Climate Scientists changed their mind. An engineer Callender of Steam Tables fame had got to the correct conclusion based on the evidence several decades earlier but we all know engineers wear blinkers. Arrenhius got it right about a century earlier but he was shouted down by the scientists who said his data was not accurate enough.

    The change in Status Quo re believing human influence on climate change is more difficult to fix but probably the historians will in the future fix it at about 1995.

    So my dissent is dissent from the recieved belief that human activites are having a significant and growing effect on world average temperature.

  44. Hal9000
    September 25th, 2006 at 13:05 | #44

    “the issue that commenced this discussion was whether to praise or rubbish the Royal society for attempting to suppress dissent.”

    How on earth is pointing out that certain public statements presented as fact are actually lies and fabrications “suppressing dissent”? Suppressing dissent is what sedition laws and campaigns to sack and smear academics with unpopular views are about. You know, the sort of stuff John Howard and George Bush are right into.

    If I say your views misrepresent reality, I am not suppressing your right to dissent. And that’s exactly what the RS has done. I’m most impressed, though, by the superhuman leap of logic with pike and triple twist you’ve performed to transform the RS into a bully and Exxon into a victim. I look forward to future contributions along the lines of ‘why the rich are the real victims’ and ‘the USA – nation-saint or global whipping boy?’.

  45. Simonjm
    September 25th, 2006 at 13:15 | #45

    Well put Hal9000.

    Along a similar theme some one should accept verbal abuse in lue of Freedoom of speech.

    Taust could you first clarify if you ttake the extreme Libertarian -laughable Penn & Teller line- that humans aren’t haveing a large adverse impact on the global environment via experts like Moore and Lomborg?

    If so soory i’m not up to wasting my time.


  46. Seeker
    September 25th, 2006 at 13:38 | #46

    Taust, you really are playing fast and loose with words here.

    The Royal Society has not attempted to silence (‘repress’) Exxon, or anyone else. That is utter nonsense.

    The RS are quite rightly demanding that they stop conducting unscientific, underhanded and illegitimate political campaigns via ideology soaked third-party proxies, and TRANSPARENTLY SUBMIT THEIR CLAIMS TO PROPER SCIENTIFIC SCRUTINY.

    The RS has every right and obligation to demand this.

    What do Exxon have to fear? Other than the truth.

    Can it be made any clearer for you?

  47. taust
    September 25th, 2006 at 20:39 | #47

    Hal 900 & Seeker;
    my reading is that the RS attempted to shame ExxonMobil into not funding dissenters. (It may even have made public things said at a private meeting but I do not know the facts to be able to allege that).

    Whilst it has able argued the scientific case for climate warning and will hopefully return to argue the options open to us to choose from. The letter at least in part was a political request to ExxonMobil that had the effect of suppressing dissent not in this particular case arguing against dissent.

    I am uneasy about suppressing dissent. I am more uneasy when an organisation suppresses dissent and have an added layer of unease when a scientific society suppresses dissent.

    One underpinning of the scientific method is rational discussion as a response to challenges.

    If I am playing fast and loose with words I do not see where.

    To be pigeon holed as a libertarian for supporting free speech is a tag I will ware with pride, but is not a description I would use.

    I have observed previously that some in the mitigationists’ camp seem to favour a command and control, centrally planned economy. It seems some in the mitigationists’ camp also favour the suppression of dissent. Such tends to be the fate of all belief systems not firmly grounded in rational belief processes.

  48. Seeker
    September 25th, 2006 at 22:12 | #48


    It boils down to this:

    Why don’t Exxon submit their claims to the proper scientific assessment process?

    Until they do, the scientific (and moral) credibility of their claims are approximately zero.

    The Royal Society, and others, are quite right to forcefully point this out.

    That is it.

  49. Simonjm
    September 25th, 2006 at 22:27 | #49

    Taust I’m not aware of any specific medical professionals that came out against Tom Cruise and his opinion’ about Pschiatric drugs and certain mental conditions, but I bet there were quite a few that did.

    Now are they suppressing dissent telling him to butt out of things he isn’t qualified to talk about?

    The thing about rationality and logic is that it relies on the truth of the premises, if you allow any old premise you can still end up with plain BS even if the arguement is valid.

    So the scientific method needs objectivity and evidence as much as rational induction.

    This is similar to a Intelligent Design debate I as involved in when the ID supporters were quite upset that the only evidence accepted was scientific and couldn’t quite get it that unless the information presented adheres to those requirements whatever you want to say its just not science.

    Your guys don’t even fit the bill for dissent as they won’t play by the rules that the science requires, infact they go out of their way to muddy the water so those that do cannot have a rational objective debate.

    If they didn’t have the ears of the pro-business politicians they could just be ignored as the fringe loons that they are, but since they do those that do play by the rules sometimes are forced to step in and point this out so that other politicians and the lay public see these people for what they are.

    Biased liars.

    You talk the talk Taust but you don’t walk the walk. If you did you wouldn’t be defending the indefensible.

    BTW as a champion of free speech does that enable a person to verbally abuse another?

  50. Ernestine Gross
    September 25th, 2006 at 22:50 | #50

    “Perhaps the Royal Society could contact the Pope (One of many sources) on the best ways to achieve conformity with a set of views. ”

    I don’t think so.

    Firstly, on the basis of the information received, I have reached the conclusion that, contrary to the allegation made, the Royal Society does not wish to achieve “conformity with a set of views” but rather uphold the research program of science. Thank you, Taust, for assisting me in reaching this conclusion.

    Second, it seems to me the Catholic Church, at the time, was not ‘clever’ enough, relative to the September 2006 accuser of the Royal Society, to not treat Copernicus’ theory as ‘dissent from the status quo’ but as the “received belief” and then plead suppression of dissent to return to the status quo.

    As an aside, in some game theory contexts, the expression ‘clever’ might be a suitable verbal description of a ‘strategy’ that has a ‘switching of preference’ property and this property is not consistent with a truth telling strategy of ‘self interested players’.

    Who knows what the c.c. (and others) had in mind at the time. (There are details about the relationships between religious leaders and Copernicus, which I leave to the specialists, if they feel it is important in the context.)

  51. taust
    September 25th, 2006 at 22:58 | #51

    I try to avoid personal abuse. More from a point of civilised behaviour, fear of antagonising the other, and a waste of time.

    I feel uncomfortable with laws restricting verbal abuse because sooner or later they are abused.

    Likewise the freedom to abuse can be abused.

    I hope I have not abused your patience with this answer, but in one post I did describe myself as an ancient, middling sort of fellow.

  52. taust
    September 25th, 2006 at 23:49 | #52

    Are the only valid grounds for dissent those derived from science?

    Would you really allow the suppression of dissent if the dissenters’ views had not gained the approval of some august scientific body?

    Would you support the tracking down of the money trial to a dissenting body and attempt to cut the money off, not just if they met a definition of terrorist, but just because their view were unscientific?

    I suppose that civilised people can apparently debate the validity of being uncomfortable about such suppression of dissent is just a sign of how progressive our society has become under the twin threats of terrorism and the voices of the climate change nay sayers.

  53. peterd
    September 25th, 2006 at 23:54 | #53

    Taust: your summary of the evolution of “received opinion� on the connection between CO2 and AGW appears to me to be somewhat dubious. I commend Spencer Weart’s excellent collection of articles at the American Institute of Physics website to you.

    (1) Arrhenius himself doubted that CO2 levels would rise fast enough to cause a doubling within a few thousand years. Also, his estimate of the temperature change corresponding to a doubling of the atmospheric CO2 was about 5-6 C, which is much higher than today’s best estimates. Apparently, the reason is that he neglected saturation of the CO2 bands. (This was quite reasonable, as almost nothing was known on CO2 absorption at the time.)

    (2) Engineer Callender arrived on the scene somewhat less than half a century after Arrhenius. His ideas ran up against objections from physical scientists who were forced to do more experiments to clarify CO2 absorption, the increase of atmospheric CO2, and the role of the oceans in soaking up CO2. The “sea changeâ€? (pardon the pun) in opinion on AGW probably dates from the work of Suess and Revelle in the late 1950s to early ’60s, so you’re not far wrong there.

    (3) In the 1960s & early ’70s, the idea of “greenhouse warmingâ€? co-existed with that of “global coolingâ€?, or “winterâ€?, the reason being that CO2 gave the greenhouse warming while aerosols, also on the rise, gave the cooling. These ideas were in competition and scientists did not know which process would dominate. (As we now know, aerosols did not rise so fast, partly as a result of pollution-abatement measures.)
    The suggestion by certain “contrarians� that predictions of AGW cannot be believed because the people (e.g., Schneider) who now champion AGW were predicting cooling in the 1970s is misguided (to put it mildly).
    I will quote a few lines from the popular “Population, Resources and Environmentâ€?, written by the Ehrlichs (Paul & Anne), 1972 edition. (This was one of my texts when I did Environmental Studies 201, as part of an undergraduate science degree. I’ve just dusted off the cobwebs.) “Since the 1940s there appears to have been a slight decline in the average temperature of the earth, in spite of a continued increase in the CO2 content of the atmosphere. The consensus among meteorologists seems to be that this is a result of increases in the albedo caused by volcanic ash, dust, other particulate pollution, and also increased cloud cover produced by the contrails of high-flying jet aircraft. This increase in reflectivity may have more than counterbalanced the increased greenhouse effect from the CO2.â€? (p.239)
    I wanted to quote this when the “Willis Eschenbach affair� was going down in these pages earlier this year, but missed the chance.

  54. taust
    September 26th, 2006 at 07:21 | #54

    I agree with you about the highly useful Weart’ site.

    I also find the RealClimate site reliable.

    I’m sorry you found my rough guide to Climate change history dubiuos but we seem to agree on the major facts. Although I think Callender’s work was an excellent analysis of very difficult data.

    The history of climate change is a fascinating history well worth taking an interest in and probably got some way to run yet.

  55. Simonjm
    September 26th, 2006 at 13:49 | #55

    Taust science the only grounds when debating science?


    The some of soft sciences you may have a better lay stance; nor do I ignore the possibility of institutional bias but I just find it less likely in the ‘hard’ natural sciences.

    I would rather think this comes under a kick up the backside rather than suppression, after that, its only the biased hardcore loons that take any notice now

    BTW watch the news for the latest on AGW& 2C increase by 2050 locked in?

    You might even get the scientist raising the point that Bush had Michael Crihton at the Whitehouse for an hour -a fiction writer- but couldn’t do the same for the real scientists. I suppose there wouldn’t be much point inviting them and at the same time censoring their work.

    Where was the free speech then Taust?

    I suppose since you are also the champion of rational debates you will strongly condemn this outrage!

    As far as helping your ‘green’ education try reading the CSIRO’s Ecos mag and the work of Lovins at the Rocky Moutain Institute. That would be a good start.

    While you at it listen to the head of Shell on http://www.sciam.com/podcast/
    you may get past the Libertarian mindset that business and eco/sustainable concepts are mutally exclusive.

  56. taust
    September 26th, 2006 at 15:53 | #56


    back in 1963 when I was reading Silent Spring I learnt to view the world through green tinted glasses. I occasionally read Ecos. The high spot of CSIRO scientific publishing for me was CSIRO’s report of their scientific investigation into the Nullarbor Plain for world heritage listing. A publication that really demonstrates the difference between good science and rubbish.

    Your intellectual development would be helped giving Popper a go. Ideas do not destroy you.

    The difference between the environmental performance of the centrally planned economies and the capitalist economies demonstrates that overall business is better protectors of the environment than any other group with the resources to make a difference.

    Simonjm why do you have to keep on pigeon holing me? Just read the arguments I put forward and dispute them. I rather enjoy developing my own points.

  57. Simonjm
    September 27th, 2006 at 10:01 | #57

    Taust talking about pigeon holing, so you wish to pigeon hole environmentalism based on just Silent Spring?

    Hmm so, deserts aren’t worth of world heritage listing? That unique plants and animals of this particular ecosystem isn’t worthy of such a listing just because of your uniformed opinion? Another tick against your ecological ignorance.

    It appears because they dare look into it, that undermines their credibility or any other work by the CSIRO? Cannot beat that logic can we!

    You wouldn’t know good science if you fell over it.

    Oh but I forgot to you guys science is only right when it agrees with your position otherwise it is biased. So you can ignore it, censor it and defend those who seek to undermine it.

    You invite pigeon holing as you are indeed the stereotypical ant-environmental libertarian ignoring mainstream environmental science because of your bias.

    In other words a fair weather rationalist.

    BTW are you saying these scientists across a multitude of disciplines aren’t adhering to the scientific method?

    Why don’t you summarize Popper for me, something new other than falsification and anything to do with institutional bias?

    Also is telling you not to dump your litter in my yard or not to pump toxic emissions into the environment lead to your centrally planned economy?

    You must be pissed at most OH&S and all those silly regulations concerning safety around ‘toxic’ chemicals. This must be another scheme to adopt a centrally planned economy, just like the environmental regulations.

    I can see how you put so much faith in how unrestrained capitalist economies can protect the environment, the decline of the worlds fisheries shows that perfectly.

  58. Doug Clover
    September 27th, 2006 at 13:09 | #58

    Taust says

    “The difference between the environmental performance of the centrally planned economies and the capitalist economies demonstrates that overall business is better protectors of the environment than any other group with the resources to make a difference.”

    Err no, all this demonstrates is that democracies are better protectors of the environment. The environmental records of noncommunist dictatorships are not exactly shining examples of prudent ecological management.

    Perhaps you might be justified in stating that businesses operating within democratic frameworks are better protectors of the the environment. However, if you had a list of businesses that are improving environmental outcomes and businesses that weren’t. I would guess the second list is longer than the first.

    But I would be happy for you to prove me wrong.


  59. taust
    September 27th, 2006 at 14:55 | #59


    dictatorship vs democracy is an interesting point. I would probably agree with your point, with reservations that non-communist dictatorships sometimes run crony capitalism that may ‘muddy the waters’ somewhat (never let a pun go unused).

    I think that numbers of entries on either side of a balance sheet are of less importance than the bottom line ie the environment is on balance better looked after by a democratic/capitalist system than by alternative systems.

  60. wilful
    September 27th, 2006 at 17:20 | #60

    well China’s basically capitalist now, as is India. What wonderful times they’re having with their environmental protection!

  61. taust
    September 27th, 2006 at 18:36 | #61


    from material put out by environmental organisations both have improved their performance quite a lot in recent times.

    I’m not sure the same can really be said about China’s human rights record.

    China’s ability to ignore human rights may be a comparative advantage when China decides to enforce the mitigators ukase

  62. taust
    September 27th, 2006 at 21:42 | #62


    First Popper

    I will not attempt a summary of Popper. In a significant way the reading of Popper with the brain switched on is more important than the ‘message you might finish with.

    The messages as I remember them that have been influenced by my reading of the Open Society and Its Enemies.

    • Do no harm (I know this is not especially unique to Popper) but in the sense there are always unintended consequences of any action or in manager speak do a risk analysis or in economic analysts speak what is the downside?

    • Only take action steps where you identify the unintended consequences in time to take appropriate action to correct for the unintended consequences.

    • Be wary of utopias.

    • The important question is not how do you choose wise leaders but how do you ensure that as far as practical you can get rid of a leader.

    • The ability to dissent is essential for the effective and efficient development of human potential.

    Now see the monstering I will get from the Popper experts, from which I will learn.

    Second Silent Springs

    Still a good example of an ‘investigative reporting’ popular environmental book. I’ve read a good number of books on the environment the last was the Flannery The Weather Makers which was a great disappointment compared to his the Future Eaters. I also have read Lomberg’s book and Does the Weather Really Matter. I am a fan of Lovelock. etc etc etc

    I have spent some time in the arid regions of Australia and unlike the vast majority of the visitors to that region ‘Done that will not go back’ I appreciate the landscape and the sheer survivability of the plants and animals of the region.

    You have not read the CSIRO report on the Nullarbor Plain World Heritage. So you are drawing the wrong conclusions as to my attitude to the Nullarbor Plains.

    Third Regulation

    Most regulation is to a large extent ineffective. That is the reason why it has to be renewed every ten years.

    In regulating we are trying to change human behaviour. A moments thought will show that without changing peoples attitudes first ,regulation is largely a waste of time. If you have changed peoples’ minds do you need the regulation?

    Your litter and fishing examples are solvable by assigning enforceable rights. Our invaluable host may even have written a paper or two on analogous issues.

    Have a go at Popper he is much more complex than my memory does justice to. In fact you have probably talked me into re reading him.

  63. Simonjm
    September 28th, 2006 at 10:38 | #63

    Taust good advice if you can do it objectively.

    So does Lomborg come up to standards when the scientists themselves say he basically cheery picks and draws the wrong conclusions from their work.

    Who do you then believe those qualified and a consensus view within the discipline or a lone individual not qualified?

    Regulation ineffectual? Pretty big claim hmm so I suppose that the regulations say on CFC had no relation to improvements on the Ozone Hole, but I suppose that was another eco myth. Or improvements in some aspects of air quality through emission reductions or scrubbing?

    So what was the problem with the Nullarbor piece? That still also a big call dismissing the CSIRO on just that one piece let alone that they like all mainstream environmental science see global degradation, yet you choose to ignore it.

    Now we get to the bottom of things.

    The poster boy Moore has spoken therefore it must be so.

    Ex Greenpeace Pres Spews Spin Over Science

    Again you talk the talk Taust but cannot walk the walk and I don’t have any more time to try to break your cognitive dissonance. After all the environment is only changing.

    You can have the last word.

  64. taust
    September 28th, 2006 at 17:05 | #64


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