Advice to climate scientists on how to avoid being Swift-boated and how to become public intellectuals
By Juan Cole / February 28, 2010
Climate Scientists continue to see persuasive evidence of global warming and climate change when they speak at academic conferences, even though, as Andrew Sullivan rightly put it, the science is being 'swift-boated before our eyes.' (See also Bill McKibben at Tomdispatch.com on Climate Change's OJ Simpson moment.)
This article at mongabay.com includes some hand-wringing from scientists who say that they should have responded to the attacks earlier and more forcefully in public last fall, or who worry that scientists are not charismatic TV personalities who can be persuasive on that medium.
Let me just give my scientific colleagues some advice, since as a Middle East expert I've seen all sorts of falsehoods about the region successfully purveyed by the U.S. mass media and print press, in such a way as to shape public opinion and to affect policy-making in Washington:
Many journalists (and even Colin Powell) reported with a straight face the Neocon lie that Iraq had "mobile biological weapons labs," as though they were something you could put in a Winnebago and bounce around on Iraq's pitted roads. No biological weapons lab could possibly be set up without a clean room, which can hardly be mobile.
Back in the Iran-Iraq War, I can remember an American wire service story that took seriously Iraq's claim that large numbers of Iranian troops were killed trying to cross a large body of water by fallen electrical wires; that could happen in a puddle but not in a river. They were killed by Iraqi poison gas, of course.
The good journalists are aware of their limitations and develop proxies for figuring out who is credible. But the social climbers and time servers are happy just to host a shouting match that maybe produces 'compelling' television, which is how they get ahead in life.
I certainly have been calumniated, e.g. by powerful voices such as John Fund at the Wall Street Journal or Michael Rubin at the American Enterprise Institute. But if an issue is important to you and the fate of your children and grandchildren, surely having an impact is well worth any price you pay.
The Rag Blog
28 February 2010
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