Attack on science

Hayhoe: These days, to get attacked, all we have to do is step foot off campus and tell anybody, even a local Kiwanis club, or a local church, or even a group of elementary school kids, that climate change is real, and then the angry letters start to flood in. Mann: Typically the attacks are not really about the science. The attack on the science is a proxy for what is really an effort to discredit science that may prove inconvenient for certain special interests. Oreskes: That’s when I started getting attacked. And that was when life sort of changed, it was a bit going through the looking glass. I started getting hate e-mail. What happened then was I mentioned to a couple of colleagues what was going on, and one of my colleagues at Scripps, at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said to me, “You should talk to Ben Santer.

Something sort of similar happened to him.” Santer: I remember sitting in a bar in Madrid with Stephen Schneider, the late Stephen Schneider, immediately after the final sentence had been agreed on in the 1995 report, a sentence that’s forever engraved on my memory. The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate. Here we are at this bar, and Steve says to me, “This changes everything, you know. Your life is going to be changed forever.” I had no idea what he was talking about. I really didn’t. Hayhoe: There is definitely a pattern of what happens: nasty e-mails, complaints to your university, requests for your e-mails, and a lot of attacks online. Mann: Often it takes the form of an attack on individual scientists. It’s part of the strategy of ad hominem attack.

Santer: Go after the scientist. Go after their integrity. Go after their funding. Make life miserable for them. Mann: I have received letters in the mail that in one case contained a while powder that I had to actually report to the FBI. They had to come to my office and investigate this and send this off to a lab to make sure that it wasn’t anthrax or some very dangerous substance that my entire department would have been subject to because of this. Santer: Then there’s the power of the Internet, which really was not available back in 1995, to harness your supporters to go after individual scientists, send them threatening e-mails or worse, and let them know, “We’re watching you. We don’t like you. We don’t like what you do.

” Mann: One of the tactics that you see in climate change denialism is an effort to spin and misrepresent peer reviewed scientific studies. So often studies that say one thing, for example, show that some aspect of climate change is even worse than we thought, will somehow be spun by climate change deniers as if it doesn’t provide evidence for concern. Oreskes: Clearly misrepresenting scientific information, cherry picking scientific data, one egregious example that we talk about in the book is an early work by Jim Hansen that Bill Nierenberg, Bob Jastrow and Fred Seitz take out of context and use it to argue that climate change is caused by the sun when, in fact, if you go back to the original paper, Hansen is arguing exactly the opposite. Santer: I think an additional weapon in the arsenal is Freedom of Information Act requests, which are being used not really to advance understanding or, again, shed light on complex scientific issues but as a tactic to threaten, to intimidate, to throw a spanner in the works to take up your time.

Mann: They will bully editors to try to get them to retract articles that are a threat to their case, their case being that climate change isn’t real, it’s not something to worry Oreskes: The weirdest day of my whole life practically was the day I got a phone call from a reporter in Tulsa, Oklahoma ,who said to me, “Are you aware of the fact that Senator James Imhofe is attacking you?” [laughter] I was like, at that time, I honestly didn’t know who Senator Imhofe was. In fact, I think I had been to Oklahoma maybe once but, I mean, and so I said, “No, I have no idea.” At first I thought he was making a mistake, this was some other, well, I have a very unusual name, so it didn’t seem plausible it was some other Naomi Oreskes. And then he had, he read to me from this speech that Imhofe was making and it was part of what we all are very familiar with now that I was a part of the “global conspiracy,” the scientific conspiracy to bring down global capitalism. And I remember thinking, “Conspiracy?!? Scientists are not that organised.” Santer: hacking e-mails, releasing them, all of these things. The technology has moved on since 1995, but it’s the same playbook: don’t really focus on the science and advancing understanding, contributing, but tear down, destroy.

Hayhoe: I think the best we can do is shield ourselves from the attacks and try not to dwell on them, unless it’s a safety issue, in which case we should take appropriate steps, and try to move on, focusing on what we want to achieve rather than what’s trying to hold us back. Mann: So if you are a prominent scientist, if you participate in the public discourse, as I’ve often said, you better develop a thick skin because you will be attacked personally. Hayhoe: My number one rule of thumb is: do not Google myself. I don’t want to see. My number two rule of thumb is to not read the comments section. I don’t want to know. Oreskes: One of the things that I think is really important us that by writing about these things and by documenting about it in a scholarly way with high standards of documentation, we can explain to our colleagues, our institutions, editors at journal, and the public and the media what this is. Because this is not a scientific debate.

I mean if I have one message that’s what my message has been all along and it still is: this is not a scientific debate; it’s a political debate. But it’s a political debate being made to look like a scientific debate. We now know why people do that. Because it’s a very very effective strategy because if you can make people think it’s a scientific debate then people will think it’s too soon to act. But if people see the truth, if they realise that this is a political debate, that it’s related to people’s ideologies to their values, structures, that gives a whole different cast. So it’s very very important for people to understand the character of what this thing is. Santer: Some things are worth fighting for. That perhaps was the most profound lesson for me back then: that a clear public understanding of the science, doing the kind of thing that you’re doing here, that was truly worth fighting for..