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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Laurence Lessing's "Independence 2.0"

An important reflection on how big oil money has influenced public perception of climate change science:

Or consider perhaps the most profound misfiring of modern American government—global warming. Davis Guggenheim's film of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth lecture was a tipping point in public recognition of the threat global warming presented to America and the world. But that tipping point came long after a consensus had developed among policy experts about the threat of global warming. As Gore describes the consensus:

The debate's over. There are five points in the consensus. No. 1: Global warming is real. No. 2: We human beings are mainly responsible. No. 3: Consequences are very bad. No. 4: We need to fix it quickly. And No. 5: It's not too late.

Researchers have tried to measure just how solid this consensus is. They conducted a study of 1,000 articles published in peer-reviewed journals between 1988 and 2003. Of the 1,000, 0 percent (or exactly 0) questioned the consensus around global warming. Yet a comparable study of articles published in popular news media found over 53 percent questioned that consensus.

The difference is accounted for by the extraordinary effort by oil companies and the like to fund and spread the results of junk science, questioning global warming in a manner that threw certain views into doubt. The result was political cover for the Republican Party's campaign of Global Warming Denial.

As strategist Frank Luntz put it in a memo to Republican leaders, 

"Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate."

The list could go on—for a very long time. None of these questions are rocket science. Not all are esoteric matters about the regulation of culture. Indeed, some are among the most important public policy questions government considers. Yet all these, despite the ease, government got wrong. And wrong in a predictable way—the product of a dependency tied to money. Among the reasons for reform, this certainly reaches quite high.

This is an excerpt from an essay on the dangers of monetary influence on our government representatives by Stanford University copyright law professor Lawrence Lessig (Independence 2.0, MetroActive, 8/6/08).

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