Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Science, journalism, balance, shills, again

May 3: minor wording

(related to previous posts' exchanges with local "balance" advocates)

Mother Jones has a special project on global warming online, As the world burns. It includes a Chris Mooney article on ExxonMobil's funding of the "skeptics". Excerpts:
Tech Central Station (link)...received $95,000 from ExxonMobil in 2003
In 1998, the New York Times exposed an API [American Petroleum Institute] memo... The document stated: "Victory will be achieved when...recognition of uncertainty becomes part of the 'conventional wisdom.'" It’s hard to resist a comparison with a famous Brown and Williamson tobacco company memo from the late 1960s, which observed: "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy."

From Snowed by Ross Gelbspan:
Why the lack of major media attention to one of the biggest stories of this century? The reasons have to do with the culture of newsrooms, the misguided application of journalistic balance, the very human tendency to deny the magnitude of so overwhelming a threat, and, last though not least, a decade-long campaign of deception, disinformation, and, at times, intimidation by the fossil fuel lobby to keep this issue off the public radar screen.
...a prime tactic of the fossil fuel lobby [has] centered on a clever manipulation of the ethic of journalistic balance.
Quote from Upton Sinclair:
It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.*

Related, It is a bit like farming - Effect Measure on Adriane Fugh-Berman's article (PDF) exposing pharmaceutical companies' "ghost authorship" of medical articles and other such strategies. They're planning way ahead. Includes this nugget from A.F-B:
Companies regularly fund articles and talks that never mention the targeted drug, but are meant to disadvantage the competition. One of my colleagues was paid handsomely by a drug company to give a hundred talks a year presenting negative data on alternative therapies, a competitor for an infinitesimal share of the market dominated by the company’s blockbuster drug....there would be no reason for the audience to suspect that a talk that mentioned no pharmaceuticals was funded by a pharmaceutical company.
And the punch line -
These efforts may begin years before a pharmaceutical is approved for sale. It is a bit like farming; weeds are removed, the soil prepared, perhaps a cover crop planted, to be tilled under before seeds are sown in the receptive soil...

We'd like to award last week's halo (they improve with age, and we're late) to Adriane Fugh-Berman for bringing these industry practices to light. "Sunlight is...the best of disinfectants" - thank you, Dr. Fugh-Berman, for your contributions toward disinfecting medicine.


Russ Steele said...


I read the Chris Moody article, very interesting. What about the others who found problems with the IPCC and hockey stick, not funded by ExxonMoblie. Why spend so much time attacking the scienctist and not challenging their science. Are NASA measurments wrong? Did the Russian and Sweeds, miss read 400,000 years of ice cores. Did the Little Ice Age and Medievall Warming Period not happen.
So, who funded the IPCC Scientist? No ballance. Best Russ

Anna said...

Hello Russ, welcome back. I don't have time to look into it (where DOES the time go? I swear there is a gigantic leak in my life somewhere) so - "Myth#4, realclimate.org".

I'll also recommend the 3-part series in the New Yorker - starting here.
("As best as can be determined, the world is now warmer than it has been at any point in the last two millennia, and, if current trends continue, by the end of the century it will likely be hotter than at any point in the last two million years."
"I think there is a surprisingly large—you might even say frighteningly large—gap between the scientific community and the lay community’s opinions on global warming...there has been a very well-financed disinformation campaign designed to convince people that there is still scientific disagreement about the problem, when, as I mentioned before, there really is quite broad agreement.")

BTW, some followup questions for you in my April 10 post.
Also, a request - when you link to this blog to criticise a post, could you please use a permalink to the post, not just a link to the homepage? That way the link will still be informative in the future.

Anna said...

(or rather, questions for you in my comment on the Apr 10 post)