Back Again: The Assault on Science

04/14/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

San Francisco -- The assault on science, which seemed to have been rebuffed by the Obama victory in the 2008 election, is back in full force. This week the controversy over climate science and the role of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which had been fanned to a fury in Britain and India, made a major splash in the U.S. with a front-page story in the New York Times. The Times story was headlined "Skeptics Find Fault With U.N. Climate Panel" but, as Kate Sheppard pointed out in Mother Jones, the article itself doesn't justify the headline, mainly pointing out that there in fact is no evidence of serious flaws in the IPCC report or of ethical lapses by the IPCC's chair, Rajendra Pachauri.   

But the Times story is a textbook case of how the anti-knowledge lobby works: fabricate a claim, use right-wing media megaphones to broadcast it, and then keep going until it finally bleeds into the mainstream media -- in this case the Times. This particular attack on the IPCC has been centered in Britain, where the right-wing Sunday Telegraph has taken the lead, and it's impossible to know specifically who's really behind it -- but the prominence of classic climate denier Lord Monckton in the story is a clue.

Monckton has been heavily involved over the years with ExxonMobil. For example, back in December 2006, Monckton defended Exxon's funding of anti-climate science, know-nothing groups by saying  "that great corporation has exercised its right to free speech -- and with good reason -- in openly providing support for scientists and groups that dare to question how much the increased concentration of C02 in the air may warm the world."

And in spite of Exxon's claims that it no longer funds anti-science climate groups, it turns out the oil giant is still pouring money into such activities. And ground zero for its activities seems to be Britain, where The Independent reported that "free-market, anti-climate change think-tanks such as the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in the US and the International Policy Network in the UK have received grants totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds from the multinational energy company ExxonMobil. Both organisations have funded international seminars pulling together climate change deniers from across the globe." And both of these groups have been heavily involved in the attack on the IPCC and Pachauri. So the plain fact is that the attack on science is once again being funded by Big Oil -- as it has for decades. Unfortunately, the New York Times didn't bother explaining that to its readers.

But ExxonMobil is not alone. When the EPA announced that it would protect schools and neighborhoods against dangerous concentrations of nitrogen pollutants near highways, the American Petroleum Institute weighed in, claiming that the EPA was over-regulating and that there is no scientific evidence that a short-term nitrogen dioxide standard is necessary to protect public health.

The EPA's new, health-based standards for smog are being attacked by the oil and chemical industry as well. At a hearing in Houston, Christina Wisdom, vice president and general counsel for the Texas Chemical Council, said the standard would "have a devastating impact on the chemical industry."

"I really don't think we think we can meet the standard," said Debbie Hastings, of the Texas Oil and Gas Association.

So when you read articles questioning the validity of basic public-health and climate science, remember (even if the media doesn't remind you) that the original source, likely as not, was Big Oil -- the biggest and richest Know-Nothing in today's world.