OK

The opportunity for that title was just too good to pass...

In a beautifully written letter to Rex W. Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, John Rockefeller (D-WV) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) take the oil company (which is the merger of the successors to the two largest bits of the Stadnard oil break-up) to task for its support of lobbying groups whose sole purpose has been the obfuscation of scientific discourse on global warming.

We are convinced that ExxonMobil's longstanding support of a small cadre of global climate change skeptics, and those skeptics access to and influence on government policymakers, have made it increasingly difficult for the United States to demonstrate the moral clarity it needs across all facets of its diplomacy.

(...)

Large corporations in related industries have joined ExxonMobil to provide significant and consistent financial support of this pseudo-scientific, non-peer reviewed echo chamber. The goal has not been to prevail in the scientific debate, but to obscure it.

(...)

ExxonMobil and its allies have confused the public and given cover to a few senior elected and appointed government officials whose positions and opinions enable them to damage U.S. credibility abroad.

Climate change denial has been so effective because the "denial community" has mischaracterized the necessarily guarded language of serious scientific dialogue as vagueness and uncertainty. Mainstream media outlets, attacked for being biased, help lend credence to skeptics' views, regardless of their scientific integrity, by giving them relatively equal standing with legitimate scientists. ExxonMobil is responsible for much of this bogus scientific "debate" and the demand for what the deniers cynically refer to as "sound science."

This is one of the best denunciations of astroturf and pseudo-science that I've read in a long time, and I did not do it justice by snipping just a couple of paragraphs. Go read it in full, and enjoy the whole thing.

It includes a stark denunciation of all the actors in the astroturf chain:

  • the "sponsors", who provide endless money and fronts to many different organisations which have grand names (like the "Competitive Enterprise Institute") and appear independent, but are little more than empty shells;

    ExxonMobil is or has been the primary funding source for the "skepticism" of not only CEI, but for dozens of other overlapping and interlocking front groups sharing the same obfuscation agenda.

  • the pseudo-scientists, which are little more than agitators and ideologues (whether they believe what they spew is hard to know), and which claim to be doing a service to science because they are contrarians and go against the consensus, despite their lack of peer-reviewed publications and, usually, any references beyond they co-conspirators;

    The Internet has provided ExxonMobil the means to wreak its havoc on U.S. credibility, while avoiding the rigors of refereed journals. While deniers can easily post something calling into question the scientific consensus on climate change, not a single refereed article in more than a decade has sought to refute it.

  • the naive spineless media, who feel obligated to provide "balance" between obviously incompatible view points and treat these as equally valid opinions instead of trying to understand facts, scientific processes and validation, and who mistake scientific prudence with ignorance or lack of belief in the validity of facts;

    Mainstream media outlets, attacked for being biased, help lend credence to skeptics' views, regardless of their scientific integrity, by giving them relatively equal standing with legitimate scientists.

  • the politicians, who take advantage of the existence of these noisiy dissident voices to claim scientific uncertainty and do nothing, because it's easier - especially as it would require annoying big corporate donors.

    ExxonMobil and its allies have confused the public and given cover to a few senior elected and appointed government officials whose positions and opinions enable them to damage U.S. credibility abroad.

Again, this is one of the most cogent analyses of the whole concept of astroturf, and it is quite appropriate that it is printed in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. Predictably, the Editors of the WSJ sputter with indignation in an accompanying article which ignores all the arguments made by the two Senators, cry blackmail because they have dared compared the industry to the tobacco industry, and claim that they are all in favor of science and truth but are oppressed by the big fat coalition of environmentalists, media, liberals and, now, clueless opportunistic hypocritical Senators.

Let's compare the balance of forces: on one side, CEI; on the other, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense, the U.N. and EU, Hollywood, Al Gore, and every politically correct journalist in the country. We'll grant that's a fair intellectual fight. But if the Senators are so afraid that a handful of policy wonks at a single small think-tank are in danger of winning this debate, they must not have much confidence in the merits of their own case.

Of course, the WSJ does not give a damn about the merits, but only worries whether evil taxes or evil regulations will come out of this. No solution, by definition, can come out of government or taxes, thus a problem that very obviously requires both should be denied or "discussed" more.

I'll grant them that: at least they published both texts, so that both can be analysed on their merits for one day. But will they reach the obvious conclusion? And will let their readers reach their own conclusions by posting the non-WSJ-compliant position as frequently as they post the deniers' viewpoint? Inquiring minds want to know...

Originally posted to Jerome a Paris on Mon Dec 04, 2006 at 09:50 AM PST.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.