Climate change “scepticism” and Spiked Online
Spiked Online‘s Rob Lyons seems (understandably, I guess) riled by my recent comments on this blog about his magazine’s editorial record, and in response has published an impressively-detailed critique of “Don’t Get Fooled Again”.
While I’m not sure Rob really addressed the points I made about Spiked, he does have some interesting things to say about DGFA, taking me to task for (among other things) more or less ignoring the viewpoint sometimes described as “climate change scepticism”.
Actually it does get a mention in the book, but Rob could be forgiven for missing it, as the mention is very brief (p84), taking up marginally less space than I give to the self-described “sceptics” about Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Though it seems undeniable that the climate change doubters have had a major cultural and political impact, I’m just not convinced that in scientific terms their views are any more significant than those of the people who believe that MMR causes autism, or that homeopathy can cure cancer, or that the moon landings never happened, all of whom also get ignored in the book.
While I do have my own views about climate change “scepticism” (some of which have made their way onto this blog, and some of which I allude to here), and while I do think that there are some easy inferences we can draw based on other examples given in “Don’t Get Fooled Again” (perhaps especially AIDS denialism), I also feel that the subject’s already been very well covered elsewhere (eg. here), and wanted to concentrate on some issues that hadn’t had such a wide airing.
Rob’s criticisms go a fair bit wider than that, and given the emphasis that the book places on debate and discussion, I wish I had a bit more time to respond properly, but I guess this will have to do for the moment…
*Update* – One other key criticism Rob makes is that the book exaggerates the success of the PR firm Hill and Knowlton in defending the image of the tobacco industry during the 1960s and 1970s. He cites figures from the American Cancer Society which show that smoking rates among both adult males and females in the US, UK and Japan actually fell quite steadily from 1960 onwards. Adults are defined as over 18 in the US, over 16 in the UK, and over 20 in Japan.
This is a fair point, but I’m not sure it gets H&K off the hook. For the US at least (H&K’s home market, and the case study I focus on in the book), while there was a decline in the percentage of adults who smoked, the actual number of cigarettes sold each year continued to grow until the mid 1970s, (see p227 of Allan M Brandt‘s “The Cigarette Century”) – and lung cancer cases only began declining in 1995. Whether this was because the industry was managing to sell more cigarettes, year on year, to the minority of adults who continued to smoke, or because another group of potential smokers not included in the ACS figures – children, began to play a more important role in the market, or because of some combination of factors, the continued rise in sales for more than two decades after the link between smoking and cancer was first proven suggests that the Hill and Knowlton PR strategy was hardly a commercial disaster.
What Rob doesn’t do, so far as I can see, is clarify the nature of Spiked’s own relationship with Hill and Knowlton, as discussed here.