Doubt making goes back to the 1950s when the tobacco industry was advised to create doubt. From the Miller-McCune article (links from original):
The answer, [the PR consultant John Hill] and others at the meeting concluded, was not simply to assure consumers of cigarette safety or to question scientific findings. The industry would also produce its own science and use it to create uncertainty about the results of independent researchers.
More than four decades of collusion and disinformation by tobacco industry leaders created public doubt about the risks of tobacco use and secondhand smoke despite a rising tide of credible, consistent research connecting tobacco and disease. In an internal meeting in the late 1960s, a Brown and Williamson executive famously crystallized the industry strategy: “Doubt is our product.”
Yet the tobacco strategy’s greatest challenge — and, some would argue, greatest success — emerged with global climate change.
When nervous tobacco executives gathered at the Plaza Hotel in 1953, they faced a small handful of disturbing health studies. In the late 1980s, when leaders in the fossil-fuel industry began a concerted attempt to discredit climate science, they had to counter research already endorsed by U.S. presidents, high-level federal science committees and a solid and growing portion of the world’s scientists.
With the help of the tobacco strategy, they succeeded.
When the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its Third Assessment Report in 2001 — detailing “new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities,” fierce terms for a group of scientists — the interests that hoped to delay regulation of carbon dioxide emissions didn’t focus on these broad and solidly supported conclusions. Instead, they attacked a single, iconic, Cartesian graph of temperature over time.
The graph was nicknamed the “hockey stick” for its long, nearly flat start and abrupt upward turn — a turn that showed the 1990s were likely the warmest decade of the past 1,000 years in the Northern Hemisphere and that average temperatures were increasing rapidly. In 2003, astrophysicists Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas — whose research was partly supported by the American Petroleum Institute, and both of whom have served as senior scientists with the George C. Marshall Institute, a longtime ExxonMobil beneficiary [updated link, not article original] — published a critique of the hockey stick in the journal Climate Research; several members of the journal’s editorial board resigned in protest. Michael Mann, the lead author of the paper that produced the hockey stick, was called before Congress by climate science skeptic Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., placed on a Senate panel with Soon and another critic, and asked to defend himself and his work.
(Update on Sept 1, 2008: There’s more research on the hockey stick now, which according to the BBC News confirms that the “earlier analysis was broadly correct.”)
The hockey stick graph looked very familiar… It’s not exactly the same graph but it sounds very close to Frank’s argument. I began to wonder who Patrick Frank is and more importantly, who might be funding his crusade.
Here’s the non-descript description from Skeptic Magazine:
Patrick Frank is a Ph.D. chemist with more than 50 peer-reviewed articles. He has previously published in Skeptic on the noble savage myth, as well as in Theology and Science on the designer universe myth and in Free Inquiry, with Thomas H. Ray, on the science is philosophy myth.
Well, that doesn’t say much. There isn’t any more information in the supporting material either. But googling “Patrick Frank chemist” provided a bit further information. Assuming I found the right Pat Frank, he works at Stanford as a Life Science Research Assistant for the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (a clue was here).
I don’t know if Frank is part of the doubt makers. What I do know is this:
- Climate scientists do not agree with his assessment. (Also, see here and here).
- Skeptic magazine is not a peer-reviewed publication.
- He is spreading doubt about the causes of climate change by attacking graphs and models. (Also see here).
- Some of his arguments have been presented by industry in the past.
- He seems to have some uncomfortable bedfellows.
- I don’t see a motive for making up something like climate change. What would climate scientists have to gain?
- Just like for evolution, there is tons of evidence for climate change.
- Of course, science thrives on doubt and questioning, so in a lot of ways Frank is simply being a scientist.
What’s the evidence for global warming? Back to the Miller-McCune article (source link added):
And yet the political attack on the hockey stick — and myriad other attempts to inspire doubt about mainstream science’s conclusion that climate change was real — worked. A 2004 analysis by Naomi Oreskes, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, found that of more than 900 global climate-change papers published between 1993 and 2003, not a single paper disagreed with the big picture: The climate is indeed changing, and humans are largely to blame. Yet a 2006 ABC News poll reported that although 85 percent of those surveyed believe global warming is “probably” happening, more than 60 percent think scientists are still arguing about it.
Wrapping up the section of doubt making about climate change, Michelle Nijhuis asks the same question I asked Pat Frank (which he never really answered):
But the tobacco strategy can still claim victory: Instead of spending the last two decades debating and testing strategies to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, Congress — and U.S. society — have engaged in an exhausting tussle over the science of climate change, even though its main outlines are firmly established. “Eventually, the science wins,” Michaels says. “But at what cost?”
What are the costs of denying our role in the changing climate? I’d say they are huge, especially when compared to the cost of doing something to reduce our carbon-footprint. Think of that as a modern version of the Public Works program, for example. Maybe we will have to spread some of our wealth to other countries – something that’s long overdue anyways.
Doubt making is not limited to climate change or tobacco either. The tactics employed by the intelligent design proponents are classic doubt making: asking to “teach the controversy” creates the illusion that there indeed is a controversy about evolution. This is a similar strategy that was used against climate science, though it is becoming less and less effective since climate change is obviously happening.