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Naomi Oreskes' Merchants of Doubt Australian tour

Posted on 15 November 2010 by John Cook

A must-read book for anyone following climate science is Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. If you're at all familiar with the arguments of global warming skeptics, you'll have many a sense of deja vu as you read through the history of the attacks on science over the last 40 years. If you're in Australia, you also have the opportunity this week to hear Naomi Oreskes speak at a series of free public talks throughout the country, starting in Sydney tonight (then onto my hometown Brisbane tomorrow).

Merchants of Doubt examines the organised attack on scientific evidence and on science itself over the last 40 years. In the 1950s, as scientific evidence began to accumulate that smoking caused cancer, a small group of scientists actively campaigned to cast doubt on the evidence. When scientists calculated that nuclear war would cause a devastating nuclear winter, the same group of scientists sought to cast doubt not only on the science but on the entire scientific establishment.

What is striking is the same scientists keep appearing, casting doubts on each scientific consensus. A name that regularly appears is Fred Singer who continues to publish articles on global warming to this day. In 1983, Singer argued that evidence of acid rain damage was lacking, that much acidification was natural and was in some cases actually beneficial. When the ozone layer was found to be shrinking, Singer argued that ozone depletion was a natural variation being exploited by scientists eager for more grant money. When second hand smoking was found to cause cancer in non-smokers, Singer blamed the messenger, attacking the EPA.

Also striking is that the arguments used against acid rain, DDT, CFCs and smoking are the same arguments encountered now in global warming skepticism. Over the last 40 years, they argued that there's no evidence. It's not us. It's beneficial. It's a conspiracy. There's no consensus. Ozone depletion was blamed on volcanoes. Human activity is too small. All the same arguments were being repeated over and over... by the same people.

So be sure to read Merchants of Doubt. If you're in Australia, don't miss Naomi Oreskes' free public talks this week. If you can't attend any of her talks, you can also hear her speak in the media:

UPDATE 10 Nov 2010: A document distributed privately among skeptics has been uncovered which advises skeptics on how to smear climate science (the key is to avoid facts and use pictures). It's written by David Evans - here in Australia, we have our very own Merchant of Doubt.

Details of Naomi Oreskes' Australian events

Place Time Details
Sydney Monday
15 Nov
6.00 to 8.00pm
Where: University of New South Wales, Law Theatre (Law Building)
RSVP: No booking required.
Presented by: Climate Change Research Centre and Faculty of Arts & Social Science
(Prof. Oreskes will be introduced by Robyn Williams, Presenter of the ABC’s The Science Show)
Brisbane Tuesday
16 Nov
5.30 to 6.30pm
University of Queensland, Abel Smith Lecture Theatre, St Lucia.
VP: http://gci.uq.edu.au/naomi-oreskes
Presented by: The Global Change Institute.
(Prof. Oreskes will be introduced by Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Director of the Global Change Institute. Merchants of Doubt will be available for purchase.)
VIEW THIS TALK ON SLOW TV
Melbourne Wednesday
17 November
5.45 to 7.00pm
Where: Experimedia, The State Library of Victoria, 328 Swanston St, Melbourne.
RSVP: No booking required
Presented by: The Monash Sustainability Institute & The Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute. (Prof. Oreskes will be introduced by Prof. Karoly, with Q&A moderated by Prof. Dave Griggs, MSI. Merchants of Doubt will be available for purchase before the lecture, with signing and sales afterwards.)
Adelaide Thursday
18 November
6.00 to 7.30pm
Where: RIAus @ The Science Exchange, 55 Exchange Place, Adelaide.
RSVP: http://www.riaus.org.au/events/2010/11/18/merchants_of_doubt.jsp
Presented by: RIAus
Perth Monday
22 November
6.00pm
Where: University of Western Australia, Social Sciences Lecture Theatre (parking P3, Hackett Entrance)
RSVP: No booking required.
Presented by: The Institute of Advanced Studies.
(Merchants of Doubt will be available for purchase from 5.30pm with the author signing afterwards.)

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 95:

  1. Rats. Adelaide's fully booked. Someone'd better do a video.
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    Response: Hmm, I didn't even think to book, I was just going to turn up (slaps forehead). Thanks for the tip!
  2. Read the book. Highly recommended.

    There are several videos on You Tube featuring Naomi Oreskes e.g.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T4UF_Rmlio
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  3. "When scientists calculated that nuclear war would cause a devastating nuclear winter, the same group of scientists sought to cast doubt not only on the science but on the entire scientific establishment."

    Just an aside: Steve Schneider, in his 'Science as a Contact Sport', argues that Sagan's case for a nuclear winter wasn't as scientifically certain as Sagan was making out. He also points out you hardly need the nuclear winter argument to conclude that global nuclear war is a bad idea. He bought it up in the book to make clear that we have to follow the science at all costs. I haven't read Merchants of Doubt, so I don't know what Oreskes argues (or indeed if Sagan is the 'nuclear winter' proponent) but thought it worth mentioning.
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  4. Her book appears to be an example of using the method: 'Guilt by association as an ad hominem fallacy' (wikipedia):
    If you are skeptic towards the AGW hypothesis, you are just like those people who did not believe that acid rain, DDT, CFCs and smoking was dangerous. Also, because the arguments used in global warming skepticism look similar to those false ones used against DDT or whatever, consequently AGW must be true.
    Quote:
    ''Guilt by association can sometimes also be a type of ad hominem fallacy, if the argument attacks a person because of the similarity between the views of someone making an argument and other proponents of the argument.
    This form of the argument is as follows:
    A makes claim P.
    Bs also make claim P.
    Therefore, A is a B.
    Example I: Social justice is a philosophy shared by Nazis and Communists, therefore churches that teach social justice are equivalent to Marxists and Fascists.''
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    Response: You probably should read the book before posting such criticisms. Her book doesn't make that argument at all. Her point is that the people who are skepticial towards AGW are the same people who used the same arguments against other areas of scientific consensus. It's not 'Guilt by association' if you're talking about the same person.

    AGW isn't true because the skeptic arguments are similar to skeptic arguments against DDT, etc. AGW is true because of the multiple lines of evidence. Scientists built a consensus on smoking, acid rain and ozone depletion by gradually accumulating multiple lines of evidence painting a single, consistent picture. Similarly, scientists have built up many lines of evidence that humans are causing global warming. And when the evidence is so strong, the only way to refute it is the diversional and rhetorical techniques employed by the Merchants of Doubt.

    But Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway explain it a lot better than I do and in much greater detail, so I'd recommend reading their book.
  5. I read both books this year. Schneider's modelling predicted a "nuclear autumn" that was somewhat less disastrous than the "nuclear winter" predictions. Schneider (and many others - Oreskes quotes Kerry Emanuel in her book) thought Sagan had jumped a gun by going public with the "nuclear winter" scenario in news publications before the science was fully tested.

    Oreskes does not deal with Schneider's part in the controversy, but is critical of Sagan for "violating scientific norms". Her presentation has the dispute on two levels - firstly, the science, and then, how it was publicized. On the science, she emphasizes that "scientists broadly agreed that a nuclear war would lead to significant secondary climatic effects". It was at the conclusion that deniers took aim.
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  6. Argus, #4

    The book goes more like this:

    X makes argument A and uses tactic B against scientific proposition M
    X makes argument A and uses tactic B against scientific proposition N
    X makes argument A and uses tactic B against scientific proposition O

    M could be "acid rain", N could be "nuclear winter", O could be "tobacco smoking increases cancer risk" or "the ozone hole" ...

    And so on ... X has been demonstrated to be wrong in each case, but the use of argument A and tactic B have been invaluable in confusing the public, influencing key politicians and delaying corrective action. This has been worth $billions to important interests. X has been handsomely remunerated for his/ her work in propagating argument A and using tactic B.

    Now, X is using argument A and tactic B against P, which is global warming. What can you deduce from the foregoing?
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  7. I haven't read the book yet, but listened to Dr Oreskes on the ABC today. One of the points she made was that this tiny group of people appeared to be in it for ideological reasons rather than for monetary gain. They appear to be some sort of anarchists (my interpretation not Oreskes) and against any government guidance let alone intergovernmental cooperation or intervention.

    The other point was that they used their scientific qualifications and position of influence to try to boost their credibility. However none of them are specialists in the areas they criticised. In effect they are just Joe Bloggs. In fact it's worse, because they are peddling falsehoods, whereas Joe Bloggs knows that smoking tobacco carries high health risks, the earth is warming and the climate is changing.
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  8. Thanks, tobyjoice: "What can you deduce from the foregoing?:

    - Most likely that I should not trust Mr X, and now I do not have to read that book.

    But are all "the people who are skeptical" wrong because Mr X (and Y and Z) is wrong?

    And are all "the people who are skepticial towards AGW" today, "the same people who used the same arguments against other areas of scientific consensus" ?
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  9. Argus, I think the larger argument is that just as these efforts at attacking science and confusing the public had some success in past incidents (tobacco, asbestos, evolution, et cetera) so to are they in part responsible for the 'debate' over global warming. This site includes dozens of examples of 'skeptic' arguments which are provably clearly false... doubt has been created by the same deceptive tactics used in the past attacks on science Oreskes and Conway identify.

    No, that does not mean that all 'skeptics' are being deliberately deceptive or that all 'skeptic' arguments are wrong. However, it does mean that the discussion has been poisoned by deliberate misinformation. Which logically should lead everyone interested in the truth to want to identify provably false arguments and shut them out so we can deal with these issues from a foundation of reality.
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  10. Response to 4.Argus

    In an attempt to refute Argus' accusation of guilt by association you immediately repeat the idea.

    "Her point is that the people who are skepticial towards AGW are the same people who used the same arguments against other areas of scientific consensus."

    You cannot right off all skeptics as Fred Singers, you lose credibility by suggesting such a thing. It would be like me suggesting all climate scientist have the same agenda driven position as James Hansen.

    Taking the details here at face value Singer essentially seems to be an anti-state libitarian who is oppposed to regulation against industry, it seems like the only thing that links all these issues. Not all skeptics are coming from this position, I know this for a fact. Even if this is true it's still only right that Singers ideas are engaged, it shouldn't be so difficult if "AGW is true".

    People ultimately have the right to dissent no matter how unpleasant (or pleasant) they are. But then I'm an old-fashioned democrat.

    "AGW isn't true because the skeptic arguments are similar to skeptic arguments against DDT, etc."

    There seems to be no logic in this comment. What have clouds got to do with DDT? Guilt by association???

    (BTW Argus you seem to be falling for the same fallacy with your linking of Nazism and Communism. These are both historically specific movements, both require critiques independant of each other.)
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  11. Re: HumanityRules (10)

    Much of what the moderator had to say in this response to Argus above also applies to you as well.

    I suggest you read the book and then form an opinion of it. That would be the skeptical thing to do.

    The Yooper
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  12. By Godwin's Law HumanityRules has lost the argument. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law. More seriously, the book is worth reading. There are also some very good, if long (60 minute) Youtube clips. Real skeptics have, of course, viewed those before posting.

    On the other hand when person X tells fibs A and then B it is perfectly reasonable to question whether his statement C is a fib or not. Skeptics note trends.
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  13. Argus, #8

    This is a case of inductive logic ... X had used standard argument A and standard B in denial of demonstrable scientific propositions several times before. Inductively, X is also wrong about P (global warming) and this has been shown to be the case.

    The point is that argument A and tactic B are used continuously and repeated ad nauseam in and by the popular media, even after they have been refuted scientifically. In a way, that is part of tactic B.

    X, in fact, left the realm of science long ago, and entered the realm of the patron saint of marketing, P.T.Barnum. Barnum said "There is a sucker born every minute". In the Barnum world, every unprincipled tactic is justified to gain the desired result. This may be stronger than the way Oreskes puts it, but it is my interpretation. X may even have passed away, but his/ her successors, the Legion of X, are repeating his/ her arguments and tactics.

    Inductive logic tells us that X (or his/her Legion of Successors) are wrong but will be successful for a while. The point is how long will their tactics of delay postpone the inevitable?
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  14. Re: jsam (12)

    In HR's defense, he did not fire the opening salvo needed to invoke the Godwin rule. He was, however, caught in the resulting firefight.

    The Yooper
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  15. Just a comment to HumanityRules #10: (BTW Argus you seem to be falling for the same fallacy with your linking of Nazism and Communism. These are both historically specific movements, both require critiques independant of each other.)

    What you are referring to here is not my opinion; it is part of a quoted example of a faulty argument, borrowed from: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guilt_by_association
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  16. Let me preface these observations by saying that I have seen several video presentations by Dr. Oreskes on the Web, and admire her work. Nevertheless, I feel there is something to question about this tour.

    A few months ago, our community green group put on a presentation of the film No Impact Man, followed by a Q & A session with Colin Beavan.

    The Q & A was done by Skype, and worked very well. We had personal interaction with Colin, we could see him on the big screen, even though he was not physically present. Environmental impact - very low! Results - very satisfactory. Information exchange - just as good as it would have been by personal travel.

    I fully realize that individual efforts to reduce carbon footprint/climate impact (CFL or LED bulbs, driving a small car, cycling more, etc.) will be insufficient to curb climate disruption. However, I believe that such efforts are necessary, along with more sweeping measures on regional, national, and international scales. Partly it is a question of changing attitudes, and reinforcing that change

    It is unfortunate that the IPCC reports, and the general community of those addressing the problem of CO2 emissions, refer to the danger of "BAU" (Business as usual). In reality, the danger derives from "LAU" - Living as usual - which more expressly includes the fact that we must change our lifestyle practises, as well as our practises at work.

    I find it ironic that Naomi Oreskes is flying half way around the world, and then all over Oz, to do something that could just as well be done from her home, with perhaps a minor inconvenience due to time zones.

    I find it ironic that such organizations as the presenters ( Climate Change Research Centre, The Global Change Institute, The Monash Sustainability Institute, The Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute) have invited her to do this. This is sustainable? This is change? Or is this unthinking BAU/LAU which could easily be changed to a more sustainable format?

    One factor that we must include in any effort to combat climate disruption is better use of our amazing modern technology.

    People purporting to be concerned about climate impacts must begin to walk the walk - talk is not enough - and do so in obvious ways which make a public demonstration of the changes we can implement easily. Is it worth the impact to have Dr. Oreskes flying all over, so that a few people can actually shake her hand, and get a personally autographed copy of her book?
    -------
    A small final point - in her all her major video presentations on the web, Dr. Oreskes is drinking bottled water. Another unnecessary modern convenience with disproportionately high impact. Check out The Story of Bottled Water.

    I do hope the presenters at these sessions will at least provide her with a glass of tap water, or a re-usable water bottle filled with tap water, instead of the pre-bottled stuff, especially if she will be on a video which will then be widely seen.
    ------
    Enjoy the tour - but consider the alternatives....
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  17. Re: KeenOn350 (17)

    Appreciate the perspectives and the personal experiences with green telepresenting. But do not underestimate the power of networking and physical presence that in-person tours such as Dr. Oreskes is performing now have. Much interaction goes on behind the scenes that also has value, interaction that would not occur in a green tour.

    If a physical tour, such as is being undertaken, gets the job done then I'm OK with that. For there are many who would not attend such a program without a live speaker present. And if the glad-handing at a book-signing is what it takes to convince someone, then I'm OK with that, too.

    The Yooper
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  18. Another example of mixed messages was the Copenhagen meeting a year ago. 1200 limousines (a negligible number of them electric or hybrid) were used. The prominent guests used 140 private jet planes to get there, in addition to all the regular airplanes that transported the 15000 guests and journalists. We can only dream about the buffés with caviar and lobster and so on. Of course the top guys want to live in their usual luxury even if it is a climate meeting.
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  19. #10 @humanityrules

    What's your problem with "AGW isn't true because I like Oreos ... AGW is true because (a large list of real causes behind an AGW that is true)"?

    Why your "There seems to be no logic in this comment. What have clouds got to do with DDT? Guilt by association???" looks like it works with an "is" in the assertion you criticize instead of the "isn't" that is indeed written? Why don't you explain it again -including the original "isn't"-?
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  20. All the comments of "walk the walk" in relation to people using carbon emitting forms of transportation is a bit like telling someone they should become a vegetarian at a time where there are few vegetables available.

    Yes. Let's move toward solutions. Yes, use reasonable low carbon options where available as they become available. But let's not kid ourselves that it's currently possible to be productive in the quest to reduce CO2 by eschewing all carbon based transportation.
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  21. Re: DBailey (18)

    There is some merit in what you say about networking, physical presence, etc. given our current lifestyles and expectations .

    This is precisely the question - who will begin to implement and to demonstrate the lifestyle changes we need? And when?

    A tour such as this would have been improbable 50 years ago, and virtually impossible 75 years ago. (I expect that sometime in the not-too-distant future, it will again become very unusual, unless we find much greener air transport.) A book would still sell (or not), based on recommendations by friends, local advertising, intrinsic worth of the contents, etc. People would not expect personal meetings/glad-handing - this is Madison Avenue creating the norm in our current (unthinking) world.

    Inter-continental networking in the past was done by snail-mail. People networked based on their ideas, on paper. Today we have e-mail and Skype - much more accessible. The expectation of personal presence for networking is in large part a consequence of easy air travel. We have to revise our "normal" expectations in this "post-normal" world.

    Live tele-presenting is still somewhat unusual. It could be advertised positively, as low-impact communication with the author. Emphasis on the Skype Q&A...pose your own questions live!

    As to the question of how many converts Dr. Oreskes' personal presence will bring on board, I wonder to what extent she will be preaching to, and meeting with, the "converted", as opposed to the doubters, or the deniers. Entrance and exit polling at the presentations might be an interesting study.

    Re: RHoneycutt (20)

    Right now, there are lots of vegetables available. The shortage of vegetables (and flights to Oz) are in the future. I am just trying to suggest that we can start to demonstrate that people can live quite happily and healthily while eating a lot less meat.
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  22. Re #18, I cant see what that has to do with ACC. We burn 30 billion barrels of oil per annum (4.5 billion tonnes) so its hardly an issue now is it?
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  23. Argus wrote : "Another example of mixed messages was the Copenhagen meeting a year ago."


    It isn't perfect, and shouldn't be used as an excuse by anyone to do nothing at all (a la "Gore flies everywhere and burns loads of electricity in his mansion(s), so why should I do anything ?" - um, why should we judge anything by what he, or any other individual, does ?), especially because of the following :


    An initial estimate of overall emissions result in a figure of 40,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

    To ensure the conference will be climate neutral, the Danish Government, in partnership with Bangladesh and the World Bank, has decided to replace outdated brick kilns in Dhaka. It will see the heavily polluting, existing kilns replaced by 20 new energy efficient ones, which the Danish Energy Agency calculates will cut more than 50,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions each year and improve air quality in one of the world’s most polluted cities. The Danish government has set aside 0.7 million euro as part of this year’s state budget for this purpose.
    Fact sheet: Minimising the Copenhagen carbon footprint
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  24. KeenOn350 wrote: "This is precisely the question - who will begin to implement and to demonstrate the lifestyle changes we need? And when?"

    You are proceeding from a first assumption, that we must make significant lifestyle changes, which I do not agree with.

    In reality that is only one theoretical option, and in my opinion not a very plausible one. It seems far more likely that we will convert most of our energy production to low carbon emitting alternatives and continue with our current lifestyle largely unchanged.
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  25. CBDunkerson at 08:05 AM, whilst some may feel content to continue existing lifestyles if energy production changes to low CO2 alternatives, what goes hand in hand with energy usage in lifestyles is that other form of energy, namely food.
    This is perhaps the real problem that should be addressed as so far, unlike the nuclear option for power generation, there is no alternative for the essential nutrients that are stripped from the soil to produce the food, be it meat or vegetables.
    So there should be no thought of being able to continue an existing lifestyle by phasing out fossil fuels if half the food that leaves the farm gate is going to be continued to be wasted by an indulgent lifestyle that is partly reflected by increasing obesity in the developed, mainly western world. That is the real problem coming that people should be wringing their hands over.
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  26. JMurphy (#23): "To ensure the conference will be climate neutral, the Danish Government, ..."

    That is good news, thank you, I did not know about those plans. I hope they went through with the programme, and that it worked out as it was planned a year ago. Is there any follow-up report available yet?
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  27. Re: CBDunkerson (8:05 am)

    I like to think that there will be a future civilization, when global population has been stabilized at around 1.5 - 2 billion, and most energy is green, and lifestyles are equitable globally (i.e. most residents of future Africa, India, etc., have a lifestyle comparable to most residents of the future USA), and that those lifestyles for all will be, in many ways, similar to those of today.

    I like to think that in the very near future, we will take some control of our destiny in a more rational fashion, to deal realistically with the crises we face (of which climate disruption is only one).

    I like to think that we may have a rough landing, but it won't be a crash.

    But meantime - planet Earth, we have a problem. The scale is greater than that of WW II, the threat may be greater than (or may include) WW III.

    In WW II, people accepted the need to constrain their lifestyles and consumption habits to address their problem. (They also accepted a lot of government controls - voluntarily, understanding the need.)

    I see no way that we can address our multiple problems effectively without accepting similar constraints for the near future, given that we have wasted 40 years or so. Had we started to address the two major problems of clean energy and population growth effectively in the early 1970's ( when both problems were already in evidence), then I would be more inclined to agree with you. Given where we are today, and what seems to be in the international plans for the near future (not much!), lifestyle changes will be coming.

    As John Holdren has said -
    "We basically have three choices: mitigation, adaptation and suffering. We're going to do some of each. The question is what the mix is going to be. The more mitigation we do, the less adaptation will be required and the less suffering there will be."

    Right now we seem to be opting for the suffering - i.e., a serious and forced change in lifestyles, which will, before long, affect those of us in the USA and Canada, as it is now affecting many in other parts of the world.
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  28. Argus wrote : "Is there any follow-up report available yet?"


    Well, to stop going further off-topic, I can start you off and you can then find out further information for yourself hopefully :

    Brick Kilns
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  29. #16 KeenOn350

    There is a carbon cost on just about any activity - from eating your lunch to building wind turbines or nuclear power stations. The point surely is to spend that carbon wisely.

    As far as I am concerned, the trivial carbon costs associated with Oreskes tour is a very wise expenditure of carbon indeed. If Oreskes, Hansen and other outstanding individuals want to fly around the world 100 times a year in the political fight against AGW deniers and that activity can bring forward an organized collective effort to reduce emissions by even a tiny amount, then that carbon cost would be repaid by orders of magnitude.

    Youtube videos are no substitute for physical presence. Why do people like live music? Why do we still have teachers in classrooms?
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  30. johnd:

    That is the real problem coming that people should be wringing their hands over.

    This seems like a false dichotomy. Acknowledging the problems you mention does not require us to see AGW, or any other problem, as less than "real."

    Also, "wringing their hands" has a rather contemptuous sound. Saying something like "a problem people also need to address" might be a bit more constructive.
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  31. quokka... This is exactly my point as well. We would all love it if we could jump on a jet airplane that was burning algae based bio-fuel that was being produced at a cost comparable to current jet fuel. I'm sure Al Gore would be the first to book limousine service from a company who had an all electric fleet.

    We are not there. (We don't have the vegetables for our veggie diet.) We need people like Oreskes flying around doing these tours to promote her book. We need politicians flying to Copenhagen for such events. To stop - or even slow this process down - is to stop the process of addressing this issue.
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  32. Excuse me if this is too off the topic. I really don't know where else I might post this. I was debating someone at a party recently who opined that "science is about dominant factions of science bullying those who disagree". The person saying this claimed to have a PhD in archeology and to have escaped the field in part because a rival scientist got her in trouble with a foreign government, which caused passport trouble, simply because she disagreed with this scientist's hypothesis about horse domestication. She went on to compare "modern science" to science done in Nazi Germany and to suggest that peer review was a sham, made venal by government monies in science.

    I'm not a scientist, as I was forced to admit, and this made her seem like the authority who was giving me the truth about how "science really works". I wonder if any practicing scientists posting here could comment on this view of "modern science".
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  33. JohnHarrington. That sounds less like "how science works" than how any workplace can go wrong. How many people do you hear grumbling about dopey or biased or bullying management in any activity? Quite often there's something in it.

    Two things to consider. One, it may be true, but not nearly as often as unsuccessful people blaming others for their own failures. Two, the fact that one person / manager / senior scientist is a pain in the neck or any other part of the anatomy says more about that person than it does about the field of endeavour.

    What this woman said might, possibly, be true about the person she was dealing with or about that particular sub-specialty. It says nothing about the larger field of science generally and it certainly does not lead to conclusions about greed or Nazism or Lysenkoism or corruption or any of the other general criticisms of science. (My personal view is that anyone who plays the Nazi card automatically deals themselves out of the game.)
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  34. Phila at 10:51 AM, the point I was making is that perhaps there are other problems that may reach a crisis point well before any climate change realistically impacts to any great extent, and priorities and attention be adjusted accordingly.

    If people need to feel better being described as "needing to address" rather than agonising over many of the issues whilst little is being achieved, or wringing of their hands, then perhaps that is the most telling point of all with regards to being able to set priorities.
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  35. In response to comments about a webcast or similar being preferable to a tour, I have to say the Oreskes is getting a large amount of publicity here that she would not have garnered from a webcast; including on national radio and television.

    I agree (and promote the use of) video conferencing - eg for meetings of national and international groups - for dealing with ongoing matters. But only if there are also regular (if less frequent, eg annual) face to face meetings. There is a huge amount of 'value added' by meeting people in person and having hundreds of people come together to listen and discuss face to face.
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  36. johnd:

    Phila at 10:51 AM, the point I was making is that perhaps there are other problems that may reach a crisis point well before any climate change realistically impacts to any great extent, and priorities and attention be adjusted accordingly.

    So I gathered. Regardless, it's a false dichotomy, not least because some of these problems have the same root causes or ideological obstacles, and the same people counseling inaction and complacency (or recommending that we shift our attention to "real" problems, a la Bjorn Lomborg).

    If people need to feel better being described as "needing to address"

    Since my comment had nothing to do with how people "need to feel," this reply is puzzling. My suggestion was more for your benefit than anyone else's, and was less about making other people feel better than helping them (possibly) to take your statements a little more seriously.
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  37. sout:

    There is a huge amount of 'value added' by meeting people in person and having hundreds of people come together to listen and discuss face to face.

    Agreed, and I think this is especially true of Q&A segments. That's often the most important part of these events, and it's much harder to connect with audience members — undecided ones, especially - through videoconferencing. It's very important to do presentations like this one in person, IMO (and to make the footage widely available online, during and after).
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  38. John Harrington 11.42 AM

    While it is true that genuine areas of scientific debate/disagreement can get heated and divisive, the story you relate seems very outlandish.

    I would also disagree with her view of "modern science". Getting papers through peer review can be hard and the system doesn't work perfectly, but it's neither a sham nor corrupt.
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  39. The list of things attacked don't just have in common the people doing the attacking (eg Singer), and the methods used (down to a fine art, or what?), but also the nature of the argument. In every case these people are determined that (a) nothing will get in the way of business and (b) that nothing humans do can possibly damage the planet (or themselves). There is no doubt that the opposition is ideological, and business-related, nor any doubt that the techniques used, and the motives for using them, are found on blogs all over the world, including, not least, this one.
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  40. Oh and John Harrington at #32 - why, I wonder, would you repeat an anonymous anecdote like that, and, what's more, to use it as an example of "how science works" in general? It couldn't be, could it, that you are intending the reader to say "Oo yes, that must be what is happening with global warming, all the honest skeptics are being bullied, so the truth can't come out." That wouldn't be the intention would it John?

    I have been a scientist for over 40 years - the scenario you suggest is nonsense.
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  41. The message of the book is that these people that do things for their (weird) ideological reasons. These people are good enough for the special interests. In fact, any denier voice is good enough for the special interests.

    The special interests are not in for the science. They just want to keep polluting and getting away with it.
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  42. @John Harrington #32

    (BTW I am not a practicing scientist, I am an engineer and speaking from my point of view)

    In view of all technological progress made in the last centuries, I would say in general the scientific process seems to work pretty well. If we only look back 100 years, we can see how much our world has changed thanks to the new insights developed by the scientific community. This is not so much due to individual scientists – although of course talented scientists can have a big impact – but it is mainly due to the scientific process, that validates, connects and consolidates knowledge.

    Many things we take for granted nowadays wouldn’t be around without this scientific process. For instance: cars, airplanes, spaceships, television, cell phones, computers, robots, all sorts of electronics, medicines, operating equipment, power plants, …
    Non-scientists generally don’t have a clue as to what tremendous combined effort in various disciplines has been necessary to develop these products. I am thinking of materials science, crystallography, astronomy, mechanics, electronics, information theory, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, chemistry, biochemistry, chaos theory, etc.

    If it were true that "science is about dominant factions of science bullying those who disagree" you would never see this kind of progress. Actually, you would see no progress at all.
    I rest my case.
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  43. @David Horton, I had meant to make clear, but apparently didn't, that the conversation happened in the course of discussing global warming. No, I certainly don't intend to imply that that's what is happening with global warming science. That was her implication, not mine. I'm not a denialist of any kind. I accept the science, and always have. I came here because, as I said, I wanted to hear from practicing scientists who could offer their experience to counter the claims of my scientist-manque acquaintance. I wanted this because a friend was present who was taken in by her description of "modern science" and I'd like to offer him another perspective.
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  44. @ John Harrington #32

    Some personal perspective...

    There is an old truism that holds that academic debates can get as vitriolic as they do precisely because there is so LITTLE at stake. I can imagine that in certain corners of certain fields there can be a bit of bullying primarily because the outcome concerns very few people and bullying pays. The same scenario is possible in any walk of life with similar paramters(although it doesn't really occur often if you think about it).

    That said, in my 25 years in science I have never seen anything on the scale you describe. I have certainly seen personal biases and conflicting personalities play a role in scientific exchanges (some much more unjustifiably aggressive than evident in those darn climategate emails) - but in the end it is the intellectual/empirical side that eventually holds the field in those exchanges. That's what matters.

    That result is possible because in my science, as in climate science, it is impossible for one person to gain much control over opinion precisely because there are a reasonable number of peers working in the field. Scientists hate despots more than most people -- scientists are usually fierce individualists, and the abuse of power conflicts with the free flow of scientific ideas.

    I also know that if I work on a problem or an approach that is outside the mainstream, I have to work a bit harder to gain acceptance. I don't complain about it -- that is as it should be given that scientists should be critical. But, in the few times I have followed that less trodden path in the past, I have never once felt that I have been blackballed or censored for my positions. Not once.

    It is very hard to get any consensus in science on anything without overwhelming evidence in one direction or the other. Those who claim that there is some conspiracy among scientists regarding AGW (by which I mean CO2 effects on climate) have no clue how the process works or how fiercely independent scientists are in general (or they depend on others not knowing).
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  45. I wanted to add that in this interview Oreskes is really pithy and bang-on. Clearly she has benefitted from practice honing her responses over time. Soon after the book was published her interviews tended to be a bit more rambling -- now she is sharp as a tack.
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  46. JohnHarrington:

    There's another, very simple, explanation - the possibility that the woman you were talking to is incompetent, and has chosen to blame circumstances and other people rather than face up to the reality.

    I'd say that it's far more likely than the entire field of archeology being corrupt and incompetent.

    Also ... archeology is far more subjective than physical sciences like atmospheric chemistry, etc. We're unlikely to ever know just when or how the horse was domesticated, but we know for certain that CO2 absorbs long-wave IR.
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  47. Re: Poptech (47)

    Good one. Those who say you don't have a sense of humor are now corrected.

    The Yooper
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  48. Poptech #47

    Indeed, very funny. Check the link to the audio in the main article for a demolition of the critique.
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  49. Poptech, I have some relevant personal information on this subject.

    My brother was, for a number of years, one of the public faces of a major tobacco company. His job was to deny the connection between second hand smoke and cancer.

    He gave me a copy of Thank You for Smoking shortly after he started, telling me that "This is me. This is my job." To deny, confuse, obscure, delay, and otherwise block the science and political action resulting from it. To make s**t up.

    The science of tobacco and cancer is quite clear; I don't know why Dr. Seitz, Fred Singer, and others pushed the tobacco side of things, but ideological reasons seem to match their behavior. They certainly weren't doing good science in claiming tobacco was harmless. And they weren't operating in their fields of expertise - physics knowledge != biological knowledge.
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  50. Poptech:

    Please explain what's wrong with her argument. The Marshall Institute PDF you linked to confuses personality with science, and ignores/misrepresents the USDoJ's successful prosecution of the tobacco industry under racketeering laws.
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