Though our focus here is on climate change denial, the tactics used by deniers are hardly unique. The Union of Concerned Scientists has a great new project exploring how exactly fossil fuel giants and other industries spread lies. In The Disinformation Playbook, UCS breaks down the five big strategies that industries have used to deny the science that calls for regulation on their products, and includes multiple examples for a wide variety of industries. Fossil fuels, of course, feature in every category.
First there’s “The Fake,” where industry pays for studies that use various unethical methods to provide the answer they want. UCS uses Georgia Pacific’s asbestos studies as one example, along with similar examples about chromium, the drug Vioxx, and fossil fuel companies funding research on benzene.
Next it’s “The Blitz,” or attacks on individual scientists who raise alarms about the industry’s product. For examples, UCS points to the NFL’s history of intimidating brain injury experts, as well as climate scientist Michael Mann’s harassment at the hands of the fossil fuel industry, Sygenta’s atrazine herbicide protection play, and Glaxo-Smith Kline’s threats over Avandia.
Then there’s “The Diversion”: the injection of doubt and uncertainty where none is scientifically warranted. In addition to the Western State Petroleum Alliance’s network of astroturfed front groups, UCS shows how the corn industry, indoor tanning industry, and American Chemical Association have all used this approach.
Slightly more sophisticated is “The Screen,” in which industry funds legitimate academic institutions, which buys the company goodwill. And just as importantly, it facilitates favorable studies out of those funding recipients, because industry funding biases results. Coca-Cola has done this on sugar, fossil fuel groups on fracking, Philip Morris on smoking, and Exxon with AGU.
Finally there’s “The Fix,” where companies use their lobbying money and government relations to game the regulatory system. As evidence, UCS describes Pruitt’s Dow-friendly decision on chlorpyrifos, the FDA appeasing Pfizer, the NRA on gun research, and fossil fuel companies on offshore drilling.
Fortunately, these tactics are similar enough that they can be addressed with the same sorts of responses. If you’re hungry to learn more about what the playbook for countering disinformation, then you’ll be happy to hear that the Skeptical Science crew’s “Making Sense of Climate Science Denial” free online course has started back up. Given the sad fact that “The Fix” portion of the Disinformation Playbook is about the closest the Trump administration has come to any sort of governing philosophy, there should be plenty of easy examples for the course to cover.
While most reporters have learned the hard way that the Disinformation Playbook is probably the only book Trump’s actually read, and one that Pruitt knows by heart, maybe this course could be part of journalism school in the Trump era.
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