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Propaganda, Journalism and Science - nhpeacenik
Propaganda, Journalism and Science
A discussion in the Grassroots Radio Conference mailing list caught my eye this morning, and I hope the participants don't mind my quoting a little of it. I t summarizes something I've been thinking about a lot lately. This is from Frieda Werden of Women's International News Gathering Service (WINGS www.wings.org) :

I think there's a lot of propaganda in science.  You might even say that to the extent a scientist is setting out to prove a hypothesis (which is how he/she usually keeps her/his research money - a current, but not a new phenomenon), he or she is as liable to be a propagandist as a politically motivated journalist is.
What a good scientist and a good journalist have in common, IMHO, is that even if they have formed a hypothesis/opinion/bias, they don't close their eyes to  data/information that contradicts their hypothesis or opinion or bias, they keep looking for an accurate way to describe and explain the part of reality they are examining that doesn't falsify its complexity.  

I have been struggling with how to respond to some disturbing features of web-based propaganda about global warming. Blog after blog asserts that global warming is not happening, that if it is happening it is not caused by humans, or that if it is caused by humans it is not worth the cost of doing something about it. These blogs often include well-produced videos, in which it is casually asserted that climate scientists are under the heel of some kind of oppressive "new world order" overlords who demand that they stick to the "party line" if they want to keep their grant funding, never expressing doubts about the reality or importance of global warming. These blogs take the purloined-climate-emails scandal as evidence that scientists are  unscrupulous, that they are only in it for the money and are falsifying research. Often they quote the work of people like  S. Fred Singer as "proving" that global warming is not human-caused. The sheer volume and repetitiveness of these blogs and videos seems to be convincing lots of open-minded but ill-informed people that there is a conspiracy afoot, and that neither government nor scientists should be trusted. Even people who are making new cutting-edge art, music and literature are now weaving these themes into their work without looking deeply into whether there is any truth behind them. This propaganda tidal wave is causing political leaders who are fearful about taking bold action on urgent climate concerns (which  the science now confirms), to hold back, because they fear the voters will not back them.

I'm recommending the book, "Climate Cover-Up" by James Hoggan, along with the DeSmogBlog (http://www.desmogblog.com/global-warming-denier-database) . Hoggan makes it clear that the vast majority of scientists actively working in the climate change field are convinced by the evidence that global warming is happening and is human-caused, and understand that it is beyond urgent that we humans stop its upward trend by taking joint action internationally. He outlines the costly and effective PR campaign that has been waged for decades to convince ordinary citizens that this consensus does not exist.

Hoggan gives information about Mr. Singer and the "think-tanks" with which he is associated that might well change your mind about the reliability of his facts and analysis. Large contributions from fossil-fuel companies underwrite his, and their, writings. In the past, he has championed Ronald Reagan's scientifically unfeasible "Star Wars" program, the massive use of DDT, and rejection of regulation of second-hand tobacco smoke, seemingly at the behest of the industry lobby groups concerned.

I value the opinions of scientists actively engaged in climate-change research over those of retired professors who work for industry lobbies. A letter in my local paper asserts that the active scientists "are corrupted by all the government money being doled out to study climate change," and that retired scientists such as Singer are more trustworthy because they are no longer beholden to the government.  I would be much more suspicious of Singer's asociation with the large quantities of money from fossil-fuel-industry sources being used to confuse the issue in the public mind.

I am working on the hypothesis that scientists are honest and have institutions that prevent rather than encourage falsification of data in the long run. I am also mindful of the warning above,  that good journalists and scientists must keep their eyes and minds open about any new information that may come their way that brings their hypotheses into question. The key is that it must be new information rather than just new opinions or actual fabrications. For example, when I recently saw an assertion in a video documentary  that sea-ice was increasing in area rather than decreasing over the last decade, as my hypothesis would predict, I diligently searched for sources of facts. By way of a reference in one of George Monbiot's excellent articles in the Guardian, I located a reliable source and verified that sea-ice was indeed actually diminishing in area.
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From: (Anonymous) Date: December 30th, 2009 01:12 am (UTC) (Link)

Thanks for listening

When I posted the comment you quoted on the Grassroots Radio list, I didn't know if anyone was "listening" to it. Nice to know it provided a jumping-off point for your thoughtful reflection on the influence of propaganda in the global warming arena. All best wishes for your having more influence than you anticipated as well. Yours, Frieda Werden
kengara From: kengara Date: January 1st, 2010 01:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Something I've heard that makes sense to me, is that any scientist who had solid evidence against man-made climate change would be very eager to publish it, because the best way to make a good reputation for oneself is to successfully challenge the accepted theory.
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