In 2007, oil giant ExxonMobil was caught with their pants down. According to a Union of Concerned Scientists report at the time, "...ExxonMobil has funneled nearly $16 million between 1998 and 2005 to a network of 43 advocacy organizations that seek to confuse the public on global warming science." They documented how the corporation had turned to the same PR firms and scientists-for-sale that Big Tobacco had in the past to cast doubt on their own problem with reality.
"ExxonMobil has manufactured uncertainty about the human causes of global warming just as tobacco companies denied their product caused lung cancer," said USCS's Alden Meyer. "A modest but effective investment has allowed the oil giant to fuel doubt about global warming to delay government action just as Big Tobacco did for over 40 years."
Included in the report was a leaked internal memo that laid out everything; ExxonMobil had a plan to not only confuse the public on the issue of global warming, but also had a sophisticated strategy to track their progress toward that goal with market research polling and focus groups. In addition to lying to the public about the science behind climate change, they'd keep track of which lies worked best and which lies didn't, in order to determine which were most effective. It was a fullscale marketing campaign.
Of course, once the media got a whiff of this story, there was a huge firestorm. Talking heads freaked out. FOX's Neil Cavuto reassessed his entire belief system -- on live TV. The global warming skeptics and denialists folded up shop. The UN and the US held investigations.
Or, so you'd think from reading about the so-called "ClimateGate." After all, if climate scientists pulling a fast one is earth-shattering news, surely an oil corporation doing the same thing would be too.
But then we have the American media. Proportionality is a foreign concept here and when serious adults in boardrooms try to pull the wool over your eyes, that's business -- even a shrewd move. But when those tree-huggin' hippy scientists do it... Well, that's the worst thing ever.
But are they the same thing? In a word; no. Where the ExxonMobil scandal-that-should've-been was a case of turning blatant dishonesty into a science, the hacked emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, UK are just a bunch of emails. There is no plan to deceive, laid out bare for all to see, no bullet points listing goals a campaign of BS should achieve, no detailed strategy to follow the public's receptiveness to the plan with market research surveys. It's just a handful of emails being interpreted by flatearthers who've already made up their minds.
Some of the "revelations" show only how badly the deniers are stretching to back up their assertions. For example, a scientist in one email refers to a "trick" of using one data set to "hide the decline" in another. Let me show you my trick of stirring pastry dough with two butter knives sometime -- my burger pasties are totally dishonest.
"As for the 'decline'," explains RealClimate, "it is well known that Keith Briffa’s maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the "divergence problem"–see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while 'hiding' is probably a poor choice of words (since it is 'hidden' in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens."
In any case, we can apply logic here; even if some researchers were dishonest in their work, it doesn't mean that global warming has been "debunked," as some are claiming. After all, Piltdown Man doesn't disprove evolution. You might as well argue that airplanes debunk gravity. Scientists stand by the science.
But the question to be asked here is why can ExxonMobil get away with something that is clearly a campaign of lies, while the Climatic Research Unit is under fire from every corner for something that may very well be nothing? This is especially frustrating when you consider the lopsidedness of it all; ExxonMobil's multi-million dollar campaign of lies is lesser than a scientist using questionable math how? On what scale is this measurement being made?
On climate, the scale and scope might as well be universal and the consequences of giving global warming deniers the time of day are too dark. "[I]t is not enough to argue that the science is uncertain," writes the Financial Times' Martin Wolf. "Given the risks, we have to be quite sure the science is wrong before following the sceptics. By the time we know it is not, it is likely to be too late to act effectively. We cannot repeat experiments with just one planet."
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