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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of January 7 - 13, 2004

Opinion Column

Spinning science for profit and power

Commentary by Dick Dorworth

"Laypeople frequently assume that in a political dispute the truth must lie somewhere in the middle, and they are often right. In a scientific dispute, though, such an assumption is usually wrong."

Paul Ehrlich

Science can be said to be the search for empirical truth about the universe, politics the struggle for power in the affairs of man. While scientists certainly use politics to their personal and professional advantage all too often, science itself does not compromise. If it claims to do so, it is not science, but rather, something else. For lack of a better term (and because there might not be one), this something else can be called "spinscience."

Spinscience takes many forms and has, unfortunately, become a part of all our lives. It has been around for as long as science, but under the Bush administration spinscience has reached new levels of cynicism, misrepresentation, deceit, fantasy, and fiction presented as fact. It is the Bush way, and both he and his handlers are very good at it.

But it is not only the Bush way. It is the way of many major corporations, particularly those in the oil, coal, gas, automobile (and snowmobile) and mining businesses which, coincidentally, are the largest financial supporters of Bush, Cheney, et al, and which are, not coincidentally, the major beneficiaries of the Bush way.

The subject of global warming offers just one example, albeit a large one, of spinscience in action in modern American government, in American business and, sad to say, in the minds of all too many citizens who should but somehow cannot be expected to know better. There is a worldwide scientific consensus that the earth’s atmosphere is warming up as a result of human activity. These same scientists recognize the uncertainty about the long term outcome of this warming and about many of the consequences along the way. The minions of spinscience, at the behest of the business interests paying them, have managed to twist legitimate scientist’s uncertainty about the outcome of global warming into uncertainty about the phenomenon of global warming. This is not just disingenuous. It is a lie.

There is a well funded network of organizations involved in the spinscience of global warming. For the most part they are funded by the oil, coal, gas, mining and automobile industries, which, apparently, will do anything to keep the truth about global warming from being accepted by the American public. These organizations are not scientific bodies, but, rather, public relations, propaganda and lobbying groups, using science the way some politicians and some terrorists use "God" as an excuse for saying and doing anything that fits their agenda. That is, they make the mythical claim to having science/God on their side, but they do not. They only have spinscience on their side and they include:

Global Climate Coalition. It was founded in 1989 by 46 corporations and trade associations as "a voice for business in the global warming debate." Global warming is not a debate. The atmosphere is either warming up or it is not, and business interests are not the proper ones to determine that question.

George Marshall Institute. This conservative think tank shifted its attention from Star Wars to climate change in the late 1980s. The Marshall Institute issued a report in 1989 claiming that "cyclical variations in the intensity of the sun would offset any climate change associated with elevated greenhouse gases." That report was completely refuted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but was still used to determine climate change policy in the Bush Sr. administration.

Greening Earth Society. (This is my personal favorite cynically misrepresented name in this list, almost as good as the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory). The GES was founded on Earth Day in 1998 by the Western Fuels Association, a cooperative of coal-dependent utilities working to discredit climate change science and to prevent regulation of their industries. The GES promotes the unscientific and nonsensical concept that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are actually beneficial for humanity, a conclusion obviously reached by GES spindocktors after breathing too much carbon dioxide in a small, airtight room.

Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. This group teamed up with the George Marshall Institute in 1998 in a deceptive campaign, known as the Petition Project or the Global Warming Petition Project, to discredit the science (and scientists) pointing to the reality of global warming. It was used by the Bush administration as a pretext for not signing the Kyoto Protocol.

The petition claimed: "Research data on climate change do not show that human use of hydrocarbons is harmful. To the contrary, there is good evidence that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is environmentally helpful."

Think of that assertion. Think of it carefully. Go to, say, Mexico City on a hot summer day and take a few deep breaths, and then think of it carefully. The ‘data’ mentioned is not presented and it has not been peer reviewed (a foundation of scientific inquiry) by, say, the National Academy of Sciences. The bogus science of these organizations is not science; it is part of the political/corporate/economic (and environmental) debate that marks our time.

Spinscience has no place in an honest debate.

Think of that.



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