In 1925, John Scopes was tried and convicted of violating Tennessee’s Butler Act. His trial was ginned up as a constitutional test case by the ACLU and as an economic stimulus plan for the town of Dayton, TN. The trial was promoted as “the trial of the century,” celebrity lawyers were recruited for both sides, and the town did all it could to attract journalists and onlookers.

The trial wound up famously embarrassing William Jennings Bryan, who died shortly after the trial, and before an appellate court overturned the conviction he won on a technicality. While laws like the Butler Act stayed on the books for decades (an enduring legacy of Bryan’s lobbying efforts), H. L. Mencken’s sharp reporting on creationism ultimately left the notion of creationism fatally wounded, labelled as the province of yokels and fools.

For some reason, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants to put science on trial again, this time focusing on climate science:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, trying to ward off potentially sweeping federal emissions regulations, is pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to hold a rare public hearing on the scientific evidence for man-made climate change.

Chamber officials say it would be “the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century” — complete with witnesses, cross-examinations and a judge who would rule, essentially, on whether humans are warming the planet to dangerous effect.

“It would be evolution versus creationism,” said William Kovacs, the chamber’s senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs. “It would be the science of climate change on trial.”

The goal of the chamber, which represents 3 million large and small businesses, is to fend off potential emissions regulations by undercutting the scientific consensus over climate change. If the EPA denies the request, as expected, the chamber plans to take the fight to federal court.

I don’t know why they would compare their position to that of Bryan in the Scopes trial, trying to disprove established science. Bryan lost that argument, and made sure that a sympathetic judge excluded scientific testimony wherever possible. And of course, those who worked so hard to put science on trial ultimately experienced the backlash when examination showed them to be ill-informed on the science, appealing to anti-intellectualism rather than evidence.

Furthermore, the Chamber of Commerce isn’t doing themselves any favors by blocking action on climate change. Big retailers like Walmart have been making an effort to reduce their carbon footprint because it saves them money. Establishing a cap-and-trade system would even let especially efficient companies develop new revenue streams, while also expanding the US export base by developing cutting edge green industries.

Instead, the Chamber is out to make themselves look bad, analogizing themselves to the anti-science Bible-thumpers of the early days of fundamentalism, and to delay a policy which would ultimately help their members.

Comments

  1. #1 Comrade PhysioProf
    August 25, 2009

    It’s probably worth emphasizing that while “US Chamber of Commerce” sounds like some kind of reasonable non-partisan organization, it actually is a far-right-wing corporate lobbying/propaganda group.

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