by revere, cross posted at Effect Measure

Our post on what is behind the Right Wing attack on science drew a lot of attention and numerous comments. I’d like to emphasize some key points that may have gotten lost in the details (for the details, please see the original post). We’ll use climate change skepticism as an example, but the principles hold for other kinds of assaults, for example, on public health concerns regarding bis phenol A.

The cardinal point is that the attacks aren’t about science. Refuting false statements about whether CO2 is or is not a driver of global warming may seem (and be) necessary, but it is not the objective of the attackers. Karl Rove is famous for his doctrine that you attack your adversary at his strongest point. Environmental science’s strongest point is the scientific integrity and credibility of the developing consensus that human activities are driving a significant increase in mean global temperatures. It is not the science of global warming that the Right Wing is concerned about but the policy consequences it entails. It is therefore necessary to destroy its authority and credibility.

The attack on the science has two components. The first is the most obvious: to use what appear to be scientific arguments to cast doubt on what the scientific community deems valid arguments about climate change. But the second may be the most important: to do it in a way that casts aspersions on all kinds of scientific argument. The attackers don’t care if they are accused of political or economic bias in making their own scientific arguments because one of their objectives is to establish a covert narrative that says science is always biased and tainted by political corruption. The aim is to destroy the moral authority of science, not its factual basis. They then erect a new standard based on economic promise and the virtues of “progress” and modernity.

In our view an important element in countering the attack is not only to respond by pointing out what is behind the attack (which we have just done), but who is behind the attack and why. Our original post discussed this in some detail, where we document that, almost without exception Far Right ideologues and wealthy elites are the material force behind the assault on mainstream environmental science. Is this a conspiracy theory? There is nothing theoretical about the demonstration that over 92% of books in English questioning the science supporting climate change, endocrine disruption, air pollution effects and other environmental issues with obvious consequences for policy are directly and explicitly affiliated with Right Wing think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation and their ilk.

That’s not a side issue. That’s the issue.


  1. #1 Dick Clapp
    June 16, 2008

    Check out the firestorm that was unleashed on Effect Measure by Revere’s penetrating post. It’s really quite remarkable, and the comments illustrate exactly the types of ideological positions on scientific topics. I tried to post my comment and got a message that the site was inundated and I should try later. Rather than do that, I’ll say it here: it seems like environmentalism is the new communism and green-baiting has replaced red-baiting in the post-Soviet era. Presumably, Revere has identified a hot button by pointing out who is behind the right wing attacks on science and is now getting baited himself by some of the authors of comments. It’s as if he had woken up the proverbial junkyard dog. Luckily, Revere has a strong group of supporters who have rallied to his side with their comments.