“Emission magician” (Climate change denial)

Conspiracy theories sometimes do exist, just usually not in the way their opponents envision. Consider how executives in the fossil fuel industry have banded together with public relations firms to deny anthropogenic climate change.

Dr. Steven Novella cited a Harvard study which concluded that ExxonMobil “misled the public about basic climate science and its implications. It did so by contributing quietly to climate science, and loudly to promoting doubt about that science.”

Also, the BBC reported on a trio public relations specialists- Don Rheem, Terry Yosie, and Bruce Harrison – who were hired to sow doubt on climate science. They worked for the Global Climate Coalition, an organization intended to sound environmentally friendly and dedicated to solutions, when it was anything but. They were, in fact, comprised of oil, coal, automotive, utilities, steel, and rail executives. All of these industries release significant greenhouse gas. The group rose to prominence after the 1992 presidential election, which saw an oil industry buddy was replaced by an environmentally-conscious one.

Thus began the climate hoax hoax. Harrison employed the methods and strategies he had while resisting auto industry regulations and questioning the dangers of tobacco. His tactics included authoring a string of editorials, background pieces for journalists, and advertising, all of which cast doubt on the consensus of climate scientists.

The tactic worked, as few journalists know much about the hellaciously complex topic. Further, the scientists handpicked for this ruse seemed to present knowledge and balance. I was a print journalist at this time and certainly I would have quoted both sides and lacked the expertise to ask serious questions or throw doubt on any claims.

As to the climate scientists who knew better, what they had in scientific expertise they lacked in media skills and knowledge of how to fend off well-funded disinformation campaigns.

Novella wrote, “Journalists need to learn how to report science in general, controversial science in particular, and how not to become the lap dogs of industry propaganda.” Meanwhile, he continued, those they are reporting on – scientists and professors – should “develop their knowledge and skills in dealing with the public understand of science and other complex topics, and to make it a much higher academic priority.”

Novella and others such as Kevin Folta, Neil Tyson, and Brian Dunning, serve as a mix of skeptics/scientists and journalists, so their contribution help, but more headway is still needed in making more journalists science-literate and more scientists media savvy.

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