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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Doubt allows individuals to question the unknown, in hopes of finding a truth that pleases them. A lot of the time, we query to protect ourselves, but under certain circumstances will distrust to an extent that potentially leads us to self destruction. This concept was illustrated in society with the overwhelming amount of cynicism surrounding climate change; the warming of our planet at alarming rates, usually spurred by excessive amounts of carbon dioxide emissions. Climate change has been scientifically linked to phenomena like prolonged droughts, higher wildfire frequencies, and increased severity of natural disasters (NASA, “How Climate is Changing,” n.d.). The prevailing nature of the suspicion concerning whether or not humans are somehow connected to these worrisome warming weather patterns, makes it difficult for one who is relatively unfamiliar to this concept to distinguish fact from fiction. This skepticism, known as “climate change doubt”, created misplaced and potentially dangerous confusion among society as to the gravity of climate change, and was fabricated by self-interested individuals with forged credibility and the manipulation of information regarding climate science.  

Those who peddle doubt regarding climate change today, apply methods formed in the fifties, when uncertainty was strategically interwoven with scientific fact concerning the danger cigarettes posed to human health. Historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, in their book Merchants of Doubt, reveal that these tactics, referred to as the Tobacco Strategy, were implemented to cultivate a sense of unsureness within the scientific community in hopes of confusing the public, and protecting those that profited off of the tobacco industry (Oreskes and Conway, 13). Much like the acknowledgement of the dangers of tobacco use tainted the tobacco business's image, scientific climate change awareness threatened the livelihood of those who fed off of the industry surrounding carbon dioxide emissions. This included big businesses like Exxon Mobil who depend on burning fossil fuels (an industry that contributes to enormous amount of carbon dioxide emissions, fueling climate change), politicians who depended on the vote of the environmentally ignorant, and scientists like Fred Singer, Fred Seitz, and William Nierenberg with personal agendas that focused on attacking climatologists; atmospheric scientists who study the Earth's climate (Merchants of Doubt 2014). To each their own motive, these “merchants of doubt” were able to utilize the Tobacco Strategy as a blueprint to imbed uncertainty within the minds of the public, keeping acknowledgement of rising global temperatures to a minimum (Oreskes and Conway 186).

The tobacco industry's inevitable failure provided modern seeders of doubt with a rough draft of approaches that were used in previous years to instill uncertainty. Today's outline, for the strategic establishment of doubt, is a revised version of previous years', and an A+ draft at that; giving cynics the ability to implement tactics that worked best for the tobacco industry, while avoiding the ones that failed it. Oreskes and Conway drew light to the most effective methods employed by those marketing doubt; those being to question natural scientific uncertainties, misplace blame, manipulate scientific information, and tie it all together with fabricated credibility (186). The incorporation of the Tobacco Strategy into the climate change discussion painted the dangers of warming weather patterns, and our connections to them, as something arguable rather than scientific fact, making the public think that social change is a choice. Because society has a tendency to believe the more convenient “truth”, climate scientists today are stuck with the task of proving something that has been established as a fact, over and over again.

One of the most widespread misconceptions reinforcing the controversy surrounding climate change is the depiction that scientists are in disagreement with each other about both the existence, and causes, of global climate change. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group whose sole purpose is to provide an objective source of data regarding the climate, stated that, “all but a tiny handful of climate scientists are convinced that Earth's climate is heating up,” (Oreskes and Conway 169). The general consensus, that these warming weather patterns are real and connected to human action, is not disputed by most climatologists. If this is the case, where is the public getting the idea that climate scientists are butting heads? The general public confuses a scientist as one who is knowledgeable in any and all fields of study regarding science, climatology (the study of the Earth's atmosphere and climate) included. Science is a broad field composed of spectrums of each discipline, including, but not limited to, biological, earth, and physical, thus it is not surprising that one would deem chemists, biologists, and engineers all as “scientists”; however, each are experts in their own specified field of study. Expertise is what provides credibility in one's commentary on a scientific matter, hence climatologist's reliability on all matters regarding the climate. Unfortunately, the public's generalizations that scientists are proficient in all disciplines of science result in their lack of ability to differentiate between who is qualified enough to provide their two-cents, and who is not. One would take an astronomy teacher's advice on a biological concept with a grain of salt, knowing their expertise concerns celestial knowledge rather than science regarding living organisms.

When all scientists are depicted as equally knowledgeable about a certain topic, or a matter like climate change is presented by the media as a debate (Oreskes and Conway 32), the public has a hard time determining who to lend ears to. This is where physicists Fred Singer, Fred Seitz, and William Nierenberg exploited their titles as “scientists” and the public's mislead generalizations to propel their doubt mongering agenda. Why would scientists, physicists or not, purposefully employ tactics to generate public doubt regarding such a threatening issue like climate change? Herein lies the matter of self-interest. Fred Seitz, specifically, was motivated by a personal vendetta, holding, “…an enormous grudge against the scientific community he once led,” (Oreskes and Conway 26). Additionally, because all three were prominent scientists during the Cold War, the attention on environmental policy introduced possible “environmental alarmists” which, in their eyes, could spark a future of immense regulation and governmental control (Oreskes and Conway 186).  With solid motive, Singer, Seitz, and Nierenberg were propelled into a state that encouraged them to tear down an entire scientific community.

Fred Singer, Fred Seitz, and William Nierenberg, “…were catapulted into positions of power and influence on the basis of brain power,” in the 1950s, and maintained a kind of scientific authority with both the general public and Congress, even centuries after working on war effort projects like the atomic bomb and Manhattan Project (Oreskes and Conway 25). This authority granted the three a source of political influence, especially during a time when the republican party needing reasoning behind their, “do-nothing attitude,” (Oreskes and Conway 204). Singer, Seitz, and Nierenberg provided just that with their misrepresentation of the climatology community's scientific research. An example of this being their cherry-picking of data in a graph developed by James Hansen (a prominent climate scientist) that demonstrated carbon dioxide's role in the warming of our planet (Oreskes and Conway 188). It was here where the three misrepresented the graph in a way that diminished carbon dioxide's responsibility regarding climate change, when, in reality, it played an enormous role in the Earth's warming patterns (Oreskes and Conway 187). The parallels between the political motives of Seitz, Singer, Nierenberg, and the primarily republican Congress (at the time), granted the three political clout that led to a government willing to listen to them, regardless of their lack of professional education concerning climate change. This allowed the three to thrive and continue to drive their agenda further into the Whitehouse, blocking any potential reform.

In addition to their political influence, Fred Seitz', Fred Singer's, and William Nierenberg's titles of scientists repeatedly reminded the public of their “credibility”, though misplaced it was, and proposed a sense of reliability regarding their opinions on the warming of our planet. This meant that any other tactic the three employed would be magnified, being that there was a continual invested public trust in their judgments. The support received from both the public and Congress further solidified as Singer, Seitz, and Nierenberg maintained support from big businesses. With a seemingly tag-team effort, the three physicists misconstrued information, fortified their false credibility, and manipulated the public (Oreskes and Conway 169-215) with the help of the Whitehouse and big-usiness to bury the research of the IPCC and nearly all climatologists and the IPCC.

The fabricated opposition to the existence of climate change, and its causes, posed a huge challenge for climatologists desperate to do something about rising temperatures and potentially dangerous weather patterns. The difficulty of their challenge increasing with the strategic misrepresentation of information, falsified credibility, and manipulation of the public by scientists Fred Seitz, Fred Singer, and William Nierenberg, in addition to big business and Congress. Society's tendency to generalize every scientist as an “all-knowing” individual in regards to the field of science, placed the trust in the wrong hands now an overwhelming amount of the general public feel uncertainty towards a phenomenon whose existence has been prove time and time again.  As self-interested individuals worked to discredit and misrepresent the views of scientists whose profession concerns the changing weather patterns of our planet, uncertainty rooted itself deeper in the minds of the ill-informed, thus society's tendency to doubt the truth.

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