AGU 2014 – Day 5

AGU Fall MeetingThe last day of the AGU Fall Meeting which is considered one of the less interesting days. Why some would say this is beyond me though as I attended one hell of a session.

The session I went to today was Understanding Why People Reject Sound Scientific Information and How Scientists Can Respond which was held at Moscone South from 10:20 AM – 12:20 PM. The session started with an introduction by Ann Reid, Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education.

She was then followed by Naomi Oreskes who gave a short overview of how the merchants of doubt work. While also giving a “shameless plug” (her words, not mine) for the movie The Merchants of Doubt. She again emphasized that the merchants of doubt aren’t confused, so explaining the science better doesn’t work. Of course it is a good thing to teach about science and explain it in a clearly and accessible way. It’s just not enough, it’s necessary, but it’s not sufficient. You have to deal with the ideology and politics that make people reject the science. It’s important as a community to understand this and effectively counter it.

The session started with the presentation After the storm: Lessons learned from the IPCC’s “discernible human influence” finding by Ben Santer. Santer gave a nice overview about how he became a prominent target for deniers and the lessons he learned from it. I’ll be diving into his lessons deeper into a later post as they’re well worth exploring in more depth.

Though one difference I noticed in the talk from Santer compared to Naomi is that Santer does say to engage the climate science deniers. Though I got the impression that Santer just worded it just differently than Oreskes did. After his presentation I asked him how to distinguish between chasing rabbits and because of that missing the fox making off with your chickens.

Oreskes was invited by Santer to kick off the answer and she explained that it’s difficult to find this balance, but you need to take charge and be smart about what you address and how. Santer affirmed this and added that you should not try to go after all the nonsense, you won’t have time for anything else. He also said that you shouldn’t be afraid to lean on others that are so good at doing this and help them do what they do.

The next presentation was ‘Cigarette makers pioneered many of our black arts of disinformation, including the funding of research to distract from the hazards of smoking. Ten Nobel prizes were the result. By funding distraction research, the cigarette industry became an important source of academic corruption, helping also to forge other forms of denialism on a global scale.’ by Robert Proctor.

Proctor gave a very good talk about how the tobacco industry created and implemented the handbook for spreading doubt about well established science. These tactics were successful in delaying action for about 50 years before the tobacco industry was held accountable for what they did.

However, they were so effective that still discussion about tobacco is framed by the original disinformation tactics. Any attempts of regulating, or even banning, tobacco products is still framed in the freedom discussion. Someone has the freedom to smoke something that can easily kill them. It’s not the fault of those selling a harmful product. It was a very detailed talk with a lot of good points that were often delivered with a good dose of humor.

The last talk in this session was But it’s “Only a Theory!” Responding to Evolution Doubt, Distortion, and Denial by Kenneth Miller. Miller had a great talk about the tactics used by evolution science deniers to try to get their ideology taught in school and the tactics that they use to cast doubt on the science. There are many similarities between the tactics used by evolution deniers and climate science deniers.

The talk had a lot of interesting anecdotes as Miller has been a prime target for evolution deniers due to his books on biology. His experience provided an enormous amount of information and showed some powerful research. Like how the level of education you received will make you accept the science more. Doesn’t matter if you’re considered a religious fundamentalist or more moderate.

This session was recorded and I’ll link to it in my AGU overview article. This will also give you the opportunity to laugh at me fumbling my question towards Santer as I was so tired that I could barely think straight (happens when you work ridiculous hours to get all the interviews you can get).

That last day I didn’t attend anything else as I needed to swap footage with Peter. I also missed my last chance to visit booths because of that. I’m still regretting not being able to visit the booth of the Union of Concerned scientists and having chats with other interesting exhibitors. There’s always so much you won’t be able to attend at an AGU meeting.

The coming weeks I’ll be working on more in-depth articles based on the science that was presented at AGU. I’ll also be working on new video releases with all the great footage that I now have. You can look forward to a lot of new content the coming months.

My thanks to AGU for the great meeting they held this year and the support they gave use while we were there.

Collin Maessen is the founder and editor of Real Skeptic and a proponent of scientific skepticism. For his content he uses the most up to date and best research as possible. Where necessary consulting or collaborating with scientists.