Shooting the Messenger

It’s an old trick, but apparently one the denier crowd thought was worth trying anyway: When you don’t like the message, attack the messenger. Especially if you know the messenger is ill-equipped to fight back.

Of course this was more like: When you can’t refute the message, attack the messenger. That is basically all there was behind the so-called “Climategate” controversy. Though it defies all logic, there were evidently several people willing to believe that a few emails between a few scientists could possibly discredit the deep and consistent data produced in institutions the world over corroborating the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory. I know these logic-challenged folks exist because many of them felt the need to comment right here on Repeatedly.

Even if you’re not a denier, AGW is a theory that has been around and accepted much longer than you might think. What’s more, as Grist’s David Roberts wrote yesterday, “it was only when the modern corporatist right’s political agenda was threatened that it suddenly decided the science was suspect. If our political culture had a memory longer than a gnat’s, we wouldn’t be taking them so seriously every time they come up with a new pseudo-scandal.”

Roberts’ post also includes a couple videos worth checking out. One is by the NRDC and does a good job of laying out the more than century’s-worth of scientific inquiry that has led to our understanding of the effect of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, and makes the point that “a handful of emails don’t change the facts.” (Money quote: “I emphasize that climate change is not a theory. It is a documented set of observations about the world.” – Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator.)

The other is from all the way back in 1958, when filmmaker Frank Capra did a series of science programs for TV that included an episode on weather and climate issues. (Money quote: “Even now, man may be unwittingly changing the world’s climate through the waste products of his civilization.”)

Roberts found that video in a post by the NYT’s Andy Revkin, who had dug it up to help illustrate the “the generations-long line of analysis that points to substantial climatic and environmental consequences from rising emissions of greenhouse gases.” Only now that a few powerful industries’ profits are going to be impacted is there all of a sudden a concerted effort to portray this long-accepted scientific consensus as somehow unsettled.

In some ways, though, scientists themselves have been unintentional collaborators with the corporate agenda to discredit climate science. As Chris Mooney wrote recently in the Washington Post: “The central lesson of Climategate is not that climate science is corrupt. The leaked e-mails do nothing to disprove the scientific consensus on global warming. Instead, the controversy highlights that in a world of blogs, cable news and talk radio, scientists are poorly equipped to communicate their knowledge and, especially, to respond when science comes under attack.”

Mooney cites a couple promising developments that could signal a remedy for this situation is already in the works, from journalism courses teaching basic media skills to scientists already undertaking the task of communicating their work to the public.

Of course civil society, journalists, and bloggers can play a role in explaining the science to the public, but ultimately it is more credible and more powerful coming from the scientists themselves. If you’re looking for scientific voices for your own edification or to help amplify, you can start with (written by Joe Romm, a former assistant secretary for the Dept. of Energy who holds a Ph.D. in Physics from MIT) and (Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University is a contributor, and one of the researchers whose emails were hacked).

RealClimate in particular has a host of contributors all of whom are highly credentialed scientists who do a great job of communicating their findings through their blog, in addition to responding to latest climate news and denier salvos. (One of those contributors, Gavin Schmidt, recently wrote a post about an incredibly prescient series of papers published in 1956 by climate scientist Gilbert Plass.) These are the types of voices we need to start promoting in order to silence the faux-controversies and junk science.

Image courtesy of mer de glace via Flickr.

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply