Radically Inept
Friday, May 21, 2004
  Scientific Fears Revisited.

I don't visit Chris C Mooney because I usually just get depressed. I follow enough science and policy that I know Chris is just reporting the truth. Sad.

Well, he links to one of his articles, False Objectivity in Science Reporting - Center for American Progress and depresses me yet again:
"Last week Sen. James Inhofe, a staunch conservative Republican from Oklahoma and chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, received an award for his support of 'rational, science-based thinking and policy-making.' This is the same Inhofe who has suggested that human-caused global warming is a 'hoax' - a fringe view that should hardly form the scientific basis for policy decisions. But no matter: Inhofe's award came from the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy, a group that received 80 percent of its funding from the National Association of Manufacturers as of 1997, according to a contemporary expose in the Wall Street Journal, and that today receives funding from ExxonMobil. For these guys, Inhofe is a regular Einstein.

The astonishing spectacle of Inhofe receiving a science award points to a disturbing truth of American politics today. Science is a highly partisan and politicized issue, and both sides in the climate debate claim scientific support for their positions. In fact, during last year's Senate debate over the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, Inhofe's arguments against the bill were as much scientific - or rather, pseudoscientific - as economic. You can hardly blame him: A wide range of industries, most notoriously tobacco, have realized that sowing doubt about science is a great way of preventing policy action. Given that scientific findings are never absolutely definitive and always open to subsequent revision, this game is almost too easy to play.
Unfortunately, many journalists have been slow in learning how to deal with the strategic manipulation of science to serve political ends. In fact, they're still hooked on an outmoded concept of 'objectivity' that science abusers regularly exploit to their own benefit."
Which is bad enough by itself, but he goes on to present his usual good case for quality media coverage on science, quality science for quality policy, and a more transparent process for both. And gives us this:
For example, in the past year both the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post have published op-eds by James Schlesinger, a former Secretary of Energy, Defense, and director of the CIA who has now taken to emphasizing the uncertainties of climate science (as a way of diminishing what scientists do know). In the Post, Schlesinger discussed limitations to the IPCC's analysis - a scientific critique launched not in a scientific journal but on an op-ed page. Indeed, when asked by Inhofe at a hearing to comment on Schlesinger's writings, University of Virginia climate scientist Michael Mann responded, "I am not familiar with any peer-reviewed work that he has submitted to the scientific literature."
But, that's really not the intent of his post. Rather, he is directing our attention to this (and, gives himself a plug in the process): Media Matters for America:
"Patrick J. Michaels is senior researcher in environmental studies at the Cato Institute; research professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia; author of two books on global warming, The Satanic Gases and Sound and Fury: The Science and Politics of Global Warming; and editor of World Climate Report, a biweekly newsletter on climate studies funded in large part by the coal industry. According to a 1998 article by Institute for Public Accuracy executive director Noah Solomon, the Cato Institute has received financial support from energy companies -- including Chevron Companies, Exxon Company, Shell Oil Company, and Tenneco Gas, as well as the American Petroleum Institute, Amoco Foundation, and Atlantic Richfield Foundation. According to his bio on the Cato website, Michaels is a visiting scientist at the George C. Marshall Institute (GMI) in Washington, DC. The nonpartisan Congressional Quarterly calls the Marshall Institute 'a Washington-based think tank supported by industry and conservative foundations that focuses primarily on trying to debunk global warming as a threat.' According to an ExxonMobil report, the ExxonMobil Foundation donated $80,000 to the Marshall Institute's Global Climate Change Program in 2002."
And later this:
In his Washington Post opinion piece, Michaels attacked the science behind the new film; in the final eight paragraphs, he broadened the attack to a general critique of concerns about global climate change and efforts to address global warming concern through public policy. Michaels expressed hope that the movie would not undermine public support for President George W. Bush's energy policy in favor of more aggressive measures to control carbon emissions favored by Democrats. He concluded the article by citing the 1979 film The China Syndrome as an example of a pseudo-scientific film that influenced energy policy -- for the worse, in his opinion -- by souring the public on nuclear power, and then asked: "Did implausible fiction influence our national energy system? Democrats with their eye on the presidency are no doubt fervently hoping that it did."
Bet he hasn't heard of Chernobyl (maybe I'll find links to places of similar interest later).

See. Sad. We're deciding serious policy matters that directly affect the near and long term health of the American people. First principals. Government functions to provide for the health and security of its citizens. I thought. I've learned that business first principals include return on shareholder investment as second only to my annual bonus/raise and the cash I can pocket. How many companies restated earnings in the past few years? Including Fannie Mae?! That can't be allowed to happen. You can't let people with 'business ethics' decide government policy. They are not looking out for the citizen. It's not their job. Its not. At least not in the real world, here 'business ethics doesn't appear to function as 'ethical business'.

Still, it is also the point of credibility. How does the average citizen know the credibility of a news source? In fact, that should never be a question. The facts in a news story should be just that. But the citizen see more opinion than news. Most of what I've seen in the past few years is a trend to 'isn't this a nice story' or 'wow, wasn't that a bad thing', followed by the latest vacation trends and the hottest new gift items. But though the citizen might see through the obvious commercialism, they still have an expectation that the news presented is real. It has been researched. It can be trusted.

And, losing the fabric of social trust? Well, I think it better we stop the trend, rather than view the results. 
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