Monday, March 27, 2006

Science vs. What I Happen to Think

This article from the Appleton Post-Crescent is troubling. What's concerning is not that there are people out there who dismiss the negative health effects of secondhand smoke--but rather that this belief is apparently having a significant impact on public policy.

The scientific and medical communities are as united as possible on this: secondhand smoke leads to deadly, debilitating diseases. Thirty-plus years of research all points to that conclusion.

For goodness sake, even the tobacco industry admits there is a connection between secondhand smoke and poor health. According to the Phillip-Morris USA website: "We...believe that the conclusions of public health officials concerning environmental tobacco smoke are sufficient to warrant measures that regulate smoking in public places."

The similarities between the doubt expressed about secondhand smoke and Big Oil's continuous attempts at muddying the waters concerning global warming couldn't be starker.

According to a recent ABC News report (which certainly isn't the first time it was suggested), despite the near universal belief about the negative effects of global warming in the scientific community, oil companies and their buddies (read: the current White House) have undertaken a campaign to plant seeds of doubt in public's awareness of global warming.

Since those who oppose environmental regulations are unable to challenge the facts of global warming--similar to the opponents of smoking regulations who cannot contend the facts of smoking, first or secondhand--the tactic of choice has been to simply create doubt about how unified scientists are on the subject.

Perhaps the most blatant recent piece of evidence for this assertion in terms of global warming is when a few months ago former oil lobbyist Phil Cooney, who at the time was conveniently serving as chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, was caught overtly changing the meaning of reports on global warming put together by scientists. And the fact that Cooney had absolutely no scientific background or training didn't stop him. While he didn't explicitly change facts in the report, he did alter wording to make the conclusions seem more ambiguous about the dangers of global warming.

But another big piece of evidence pointing to a concerted misinformation campaign by Big Oil comes from a 1998 memo by the American Petroleum Institute, the oil lobby group. The memo reads: "Victory will be achieved when … average citizens recognize uncertainties in climate science."

So much for debating the facts.

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