iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Shawn Lawrence Otto

GET UPDATES FROM Shawn Lawrence Otto

Meet America's Anti-Science Assailants

Posted: 09/02/11 01:43 AM ET

Virtually all the climate data we've gathered over fifty years points to the same conclusion: humans are warming the planet by burning fossil fuels. But the data have no credibility with global warming deniers, who view science and knowledge as opinions that can be argued into submission. There is a vast Army of Armchair Antiscientists - a shadow AAAS - intent on doing just that across a wide range of science findings they disagree with. They are militant, impassioned, cunning and deceitful, and they seek to quash any messaging that does not agree with their narrative.

My book, Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, due out from Rodale Press on October 11, is being attacked by such activists before it has even been published, and so serves as a good example. In this case, they are enrolled in customer review programs at online retailers like Amazon Vine - where frequent customer reviewers are given pre-publication books, and their reviews receive exclusive early posting. These activist reviewers are self-described "climate skeptics" - code for global warming deniers - and they are using their reviews as a platform to spread climate misinformation and promote their political agenda.

To see what I mean, consider the book's reception by other reviewers first. Fool Me Twice received the best possible review from Kirkus, - "the world's toughest reviewers since 1933" - a star for "remarkable merit." They call it "a gripping analysis of America's anti-science crisis." Harvard's Steven Pinker says "This book illuminates the alarming hostility to science in contemporary America." Bill Nye the Science Guy says "Otto makes a case that can't be refuted...He backs it up with peer-reviewed studies, with carefully researched numbers, and with his own extensive experience," and Bill McKibben says "We're seeing right now a titanic battle between the power of science and the power of money - and money is winning. This book explains why."

In contrast, the activist reviewers gave the book a single star, the worst possible review, and characterize it as "rambling," "cobbled together," "biased," and "anti-Republican, anti-religious, anti-anyone-who-disagrees-with-Mr.-Otto." The reviews are full of politically motivated misinformation. For example, one reviewer writes that "climatologists are puzzled as to why average global temperatures have stopped rising over the last 10 years" - which a) has nothing to do with reviewing the book, and b) is totally false. The review goes on to promote the names of "eminent" scientists paid to deny global warming - many of whom have been identified in the book Merchants of Doubt. By contrast, this reviewer gave five stars to Brian Sussman's Climategate: A Veteran Meteorologist Exposes the Global Warming Scam.

This activism is further illustrated by, as of this writing, the 10 out of 14 people who rated one of the reviews on Amazon as "helpful," even though the book has not yet been publicized or published. Such responses are clearly being solicited by the reviewer herself.

Deceit is a common theme in antiscience assaults, and so it is here. In their write-ups, the reviewers attribute the statements of others to me as author, quote parts of sentences in ways that change their meanings and make the book appear partisan, and otherwise cherry-pick bits and pieces of information to give a dishonest portrayal that supports their political agenda.

Similar tactics were used against climate scientists Phil Jones, Michael Mann, and others in the "climategate" email scandal, which turned out to be nonsense, or the CERN CLOUD study, as deniers present a concocted conspiracy story about how the paper disproves anthropogenic global warming... or in the revisionist edits to the Paul Revere entry in Wikipedia to make it comport with Sarah Palin's mistaken historical account of his ride. If reality does not agree with the narrative, it seems, these people seek to change reality - which is, of course, the antithesis of science. It is antiscience.

In attempting to paint the book as partisan the activists don't mention that it includes interviews with senior republicans like Doug Holtz-Eakin, chair of President George W. Bush's council of economic advisors. In calling it anti-religious, they neglect to report that it devotes a chapter to an interview with the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, president of the National Council of Churches. In calling it biased, they never say that it takes on antiscience on the political left as well as the political right, because that doesn't fit the reviewers' narrative.

All of this is, of course, to be expected when one writes a political book - especially one defending science from its attackers. In fact, the attacks prove the book's point: science is under assault in America. But they are also a reminder to anyone who doubts just how impassioned, organized, articulate, granular, and cunningly deceitful that assault really is.

Pre-order Shawn Lawrence Otto's Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, "a gripping analysis of America's anti-science crisis." --Starred Kirkus Review. Like him on Facebook.

 
 
 

Follow Shawn Lawrence Otto on Twitter: www.twitter.com/shawnotto