Researchers are Fighting Back Against the Conservative War on Science


Science doesn't have a political bias, liberal or conservative, it's simply a methodology for examining the world. However, because science tends to break down traditional beliefs and exposes the potential hazards of well entrenched economic interests it is often seen as the enemy by conservatives.

Science ran headlong into religious dogma when Darwin published "Origin of Species" in 1859, and many conservative Christians are still fighting a rear-guard action against LGBT rights based on centuries-old ideas of human sexuality.

In the 20th century scientists rang the alarm about the potential pitfalls of unbridled capitalism, especially on the environment and human health. Climate change denial is simply the latest example of industry digging in against scientific research that threatened their bottom line. The tobacco industry and the makers of chlorofluorocarbons, which cause ozone depletion, created the modern game plans to undermine science. Oil and coal companies perfected those tactics with the help of conservative talk radio, Fox news and small-government conservative politicians with ties to the energy sector. Professor Jean-Daniel Collomb wrote a wonderful piece about conservative efforts to discredit climate science that you can read here.

In a paper released yesterday, Professor Justin Farrell of Yale has identified many of the same interests which aligned against climate science.

News.Yale.edu: "Just as the scientific community was reaching a consensus on the dangerous reality of climate change, the partisan divide on climate change began to widen, a new study finds."

"That might seem like a paradox, but it’s also no coincidence, according to Justin Farrell, a professor of sociology at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). It was around this time that an organized network, funded by organizations with a lot to lose in a transition to a low-carbon economy, started to coalesce around the goal of undercutting the legitimacy of climate science, Farrell said."

Professor Farrell, however, has also devised a strategy to support the work of researchers and push back against those that seek to undermine science with disinformation campaigns. Writing in the Journal Nature Climate Change, Farrell outlines a 4-part strategy.

News.Yale.edu: "Public inoculation: While a growing body of research shows that an individual’s perceptions of science are informed by “cultural cognition” — and thus influenced by their preexisting ideologies and value systems — there is evidence that society can “inoculate” against misinformation by exposing people to refuted scientific arguments before they hear them, much like one can prevent infection through the use of vaccines. This strategy can be strengthened by drawing more attention to the sources of misinformation, and thus similarly build up resistance to their campaigns, say the researchers."

Legal strategies: "Research has also shown the extent to which some industry leaders tied to the climate misinformation network knowingly misled the public about the dangers of climate change. In response, cities and states in the U.S. and U.K. have filed lawsuits alleging that fossil fuel companies, such as ExxonMobil, downplayed the risks of their products. While such lawsuits can be expensive and time-consuming, notes the report, media coverage has the potential to influence public opinion and “perhaps to further inoculate the public about industry efforts to deliberately mislead them.” The authors also describe how an improved understanding of these networks has helped in the legal defense of climate scientists who have come under attack for their research."

"Political mechanisms: The authors argue that more social science research is needed in order to reveal and better understand how the political process is often manipulated. For instance, they identify a case in which the energy company Entergy Corporation acknowledged hiring a PR firm that in turn paid actors who posed as grassroots supporters of a controversial power plant in New Orleans. The researchers suggest making targeted efforts in geographic areas where skepticism of climate change is widespread, including promotion of stronger media coverage of candidates’ views on climate science, clearer understanding of funding sources, and lawsuits highlighting the effects of climate change in these areas."

"Financial transparency: A growing share of funding for campaigns that promote science misinformation comes from donor-directed foundations that shield the contributor’s identity from the public; in fact, financial giving from these groups quadrupled in the past decade, topping $100 million. While it is often difficult to identify the flow of dollars, say the authors, nonpartisan organizations tracking money in politics have become important resources for researchers who seek to understand this dynamic. The authors call for new legislation to improve funding transparency."

You can read the entire paper, "Evidence-based strategies to combat scientific misinformation" by Justin Farrell, Kathryn McConnell & Robert Brulle here.


#news #science #climatechange

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