The Shadow of Scientific Opinion

    Wall Street's shadow in New York City

As the education reformer and philosopher John Dewey once stated, "politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance." Unlike other critics of scientific communication, it is my contention that as long as we only address the shadow we will never create substantive change on such pressing scientific issues as health care and the climate crisis. Today James Hrynyshyn at Island of Doubt has linked to an excellent post highlighting this very concern. The post is from an anonymous employee in a public relations firm who points out how the PR industry is completely dominant in our media culture, shaping and controlling public opinion in what Walter Lippman once called "the manufacture of consent." Here is a sample from the post James links to:

Barack Obama has indeed sold you out. He and many of his Democratic colleagues have sold you out on healthcare, and they've sold you out on financial reform. You were looking for a savior, and you've been had--not an altogether atypical result for those looking for a strong leader to "save" them.

He hasn't done this because he's a bad guy. In fact, he's a great guy. I think he's doing pretty much the best job he can. He's sold you out because he's not afraid of you. And really, if I may be so bold, he shouldn't be afraid of you. You don't know who really runs the show, and you're far too fickle and manipulable to count on. . .

The problem is people like me, and the people I work for. I'm what they call a Qualitative Research Consultant, or QRC for short. Here's my website. There's even a whole association of us who meet regularly to discuss ideas and tactics. Together with the AAPC, the MRA, the AMA, ESOMAR, and a whole host of other organizations you've never heard of, we have more power and control than you know. We're extremely good at what we do, and we do it all behind the scenes, appealing to and manipulating your subconscious brain in ways that your conscious brain has little to no control over. . .

So much attention has been paid to Naomi Klein's outstanding Shock Doctrine, that few pay much attention anymore to her far more provocative and important work No Logo. If all Americans truly internalized the message of No Logo, people like me would be out of work, and we could really reform this country.

So here's what you have to understand. If the health insurance and financial industries really felt scared by any particular politician or political party, or their lobbying efforts were inadequate, they could throw them out of power in a heartbeat.

I've discussed Naomi Klein's work before, but what this post emphasizes is how relevant her work on globalization and media culture is for scientific issues such as health care and the climate crisis. While the loony left concoct their grand conspiracy theories of omnipresent secret societies and smoke filled rooms, the powers that be simply funnel a few million dollars to the American Association of Political Consultants or the Marketing Research Association and that "public option" that might have dipped into their profit margin is handily disposed of. Likewise, while 99% of scientists may agree that we need to cap global warming at 1.5°C, the opposition has some quote mined passages from stolen e-mails and a well oiled conservative noise machine. Presto, the majority of Americans doubt climate science.

I wrote the following in the comments on James' post, and I will reproduce it here.

Naomi Klein's No Logo is still incredibly relevant. I read it ten years ago and it continues to shape my thinking on media culture. I would encourage people to e-mail that post to everyone they know, buy two copies of No Logo (one for you, the other for a like-minded friend) and then get active. There's a reason why the measly 9/12 project had nationwide coverage while the equally large gay rights march was invisible (or that the 100,000 strong march in Copenhagen was eclipsed by a few shots of people getting arrested). If you want change, you have to make it. If you don't want it that badly it's not going to happen. That's about all there is to say on the subject.

However, I would add one more thing to that statement. Before you get active you have to understand just what it is that you're up against. If you aren't aware of where the problem really lies you will continue to jump at shadows rather than face the actual culprit. The following is a mini documentary that was produced soon after No Logo was published in 1999. It's somewhat dated, but still relevant. Along with the PBS Frontline series, The Persuaders and the documentary The Corporation (which Greg Laden has linked to in full), it presents an excellent examination of how the modern world functions and how ideas are molded into a "politically realistic" cast that promotes the interests of big business.

As parting advice, and something to think about as you watch the documentary, I will leave you with the following from the PR insider:

If you want to win, ORGANIZE. Develop parallel organizations willing to persuade with the power and intensity of a corporation. As long as people like me are out there, and most of them are willing to work for the highest bidder, you'll need to stop looking for saviors, and instead learn to fight fire with fire.

The upcoming battles won't wait for us, and there won't be anyone coming to save us but ourselves.

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In global capitalism there should be blue-green new deal to solve financial and climatic crises rightfully. Roosevelt did best he can. Sometimes it is not enough. But in global capitalism military complex have too much power. Eisenhover warned about this. I have some John Kenneth Galbraith´s books. I´m for them till I die.

By Ollitapio Pursiainen (not verified) on 17 Dec 2009 #permalink

Hmmmm. You talk about loony left conspiracies, but in the same sentence you seem to make one yourself. This after you publish the scare-mongering of some "insider". Then you say, "If you aren't aware of where the problem really lies you will continue to jump at shadows rather than face the actual culprit." Sounds suspiciously close to being bought into some kind of conspiracy theory because you don't actually identify this culprit.

Where/who is the actual culprit, and how much power do they actually have to prevent us from improving our lives? I ask seriously. I think it is not a conspiracy theory to say that there is a monied class who can rally PR firms with slush funds to change the public discussion, and threaten politicians' careers with the same kind of power. And that the press is being bought up to prevent it from uncovering their activities. It's kind of evident. Is that all you are implying?

If so, what kind of "activism" towards the monied class are you recommending?

Perhaps I'm just exposing my ignorance of social activism here. I'm a middle class geographer working in a government office. Are you assuming a certain background of your readers?

By robinottawa (not verified) on 23 Dec 2009 #permalink

It sounds like you're halfway there. There are some useful links and a documentary embedded in the post that might answer many of your questions.