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Is Naomi Oreskes Using the Same Merchant of Doubt Tactics She Criticizes?
There is a lot of hypocrisy in the way Naomi Oreskes attacks four renowned climate scientists.
The book Merchants of Doubt by Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes is described as
“The troubling story of how a cadre of influential scientists have clouded the public understanding of scientific facts to advance a political and economic agenda.”
It makes a damning case against corporations, principally in the tobacco and chemical industries, for knowingly distorting scientific evidence to protect economic interests.
But Oreskes herself is now engaging in similar behavior, cherry-picking and distorting scientific evidence to cloud the public understanding of scientific facts to advance a political agenda. In an opinion piece in The Guardian, Oreskes attacks four world renowned climate campaigners as “deniers” ... because they argue that nuclear power must play a role in decarbonizing energy production, and they don’t believe renewable energy alone will be enough to stave off serious climate change. Here’s how Oreskes uses the loaded language of denialism;
“A strange form of denial that has appeared on the landscape of late, one that says renewable sources can’t meet our energy needs.”
“We probably won’t get very far if the alternatives to fossil fuel — such as renewable energy — are disparaged by a new generation of myths. If we want to see real solutions implemented, we need to be on the lookout for this new form of denial.”
Oreskes has been roundly criticized for her ad hominem and polarizing use of "denier" semantics. (See Michael Specter’s How Not to Debate Nuclear Energy and Climate Change)
But she must also be taken to task for intellectual hypocrisy. She does just what she has made her name criticizing in Merchants of Doubt, knowingly playing fast and loose with the evidence, and selectively citing scientific experts, to support her view of “the facts” in a way that clouds public understanding of scientific evidence in order to advance a clear political agenda.
Oreskes’ piece focuses on the old-school environmentalist support for "natural" energy — solar, water and wind — and knee-jerk opposition to human-made nuclear, a values-based, simplistic, and counterproductive either-or dichotomy. But her essay is riddled with tactics right out of the Merchants of Doubt playbook.
To support her argument that “we can transition to a decarbonized economy without expanded nuclear power, by focusing on wind, water, and solar, coupled with grid integration, energy efficiency and demand management,’” she cites “numerous high-quality studies, including one recently published by Mark Jacobson of Stanford University,“. It’s entirely fair to cite evidence to make one’s case. But Oreskes certainly also knows, but fails to mention, that many high-quality studies refute Jacobson’s work, and that many of the world’s most respected energy experts believe that solar and wind alone can’t do nearly enough to combat climate change. She is purposefully “using influential scientists” to cloud public understanding of the evidence.
She accuses the four climate scientists of proposing that “the only way we can solve the coupled climate/energy problem is with a massive and immediate expansion of nuclear power." That’s distorting the truth, and professor Oreskes knows it. Those scientists, James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Tom Wigley, and Ken Caldeira, argue that nuclear needs to be a major part of an energy solution, but not the only part. In fact in the letter they published in 2013 advocating for nuclear energy, they advocate for renewables as well:
Renewables like wind and solar and biomass will certainly play roles in a future energy economy, but those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires.
In another glaring half-truth about the evidence, Oreskes argues against nuclear power because it requires government subsidies, but dishonestly neglects to mention that solar and wind rely on subsidies too. (I couldn't have put panels on the roof of my home without them.) And she ignores the basic truth that subsidies are a common tool that helps society accomplish things that solve problems, like establishing the electric and hybrid car industries.
Repeating old-school environmentalist dogma, she attacks U.S. government support of nuclear energy because that support was intended “... to prove that the destructive power unleashed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki could be put to good use.” Inaccurately associating nuclear energy with nuclear weapons is blatant manipulative dishonesty intended to cloud public understanding of scientific evidence to pursue a political agenda.
She also repeats the common fear that nuclear energy “carries the spectre of catastrophic risk.” That’s another denial (oops!) of well-known scientific evidence. Based on 70 years' worth of study of the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world’s experts in radiation biology agree that exposure to even high levels of radiation poses only a surprisingly small human health risk. (A-bomb survivors had an increased lifetime cancer death rate of two-thirds of 1 percent.) What’s happened to people and the environment around Chernobyl and Fukushima has confirmed that nuclear radiation just doesn’t do nearly as much environmental damage as is widely assumed. This evidence is far more robust than the evidence professor Oreskes cites to support her case that renewables alone can decarbonize electric power. It is disingenuous to ignore such evidence, unless you’re trying to influence what people think (cloud their understanding of the evidence) to advance a political agenda.
To be fair, professor Oreskes is only doing what all advocates do, picking and choosing and emphasizing the facts that help her make her case. And she’s not doing it for personal gain, as are the Merchants of Doubt she rightfully criticizes. But it is hypocritical for her to criticize those Merchants for doing harm when her own tactics mirror what she criticizes, and when the effect of her distortions are also potentially harmful. Public beliefs shaped by such distortions, especially the ones that play to people’s fears, lead to public policies that don’t do the public the most good. Continuing to promote excessive fear of nuclear energy may support the tribal goals of some old-school environmentalists, but it impedes the global battle against the real enemy professor Oreskes is concerned about: climate change.
We should protest when corporations behave this way. And we should protest when our scientists and academic experts do it too.
photo by Getty Images, Kris Connor
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.