Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Disinformation, Part I: Seitz

Al Gore's 2006 film,  "An Inconvenient Truth," resinated with me. I had known about global warming for most of my adult life, but since my departure from ORNL in August of 1971 to attend graduate school in Memphis, I had not focused a great deal of attention on the Issue. The Gore movie did not so much inform me, as to wake me up. My health had deteriorated to the point where I felt I could no longer work, so I retired. With Nothing to occupy my time but blogging, I began to write about AGW. As I surfed the Internet looking for material to write about, I began to encounter Global Warming skeptics. For a year I focused on global warming skepticism in my blog, bartoncii. The debate on global warming was an artificial one. Industries like EXXON, paid people with scientific credentials or quasi scientific credentials scientists to create a public front of scientific opposition to the idea of Anthropogenic Global Warming. My research eventually lead to a series of posts on the business of global warming skepticism. And a business it was. I was able to the trace the flow of money from American businesses and right wing foundations to right wing think tanks, skeptics front organizations, and people whose credentials were for sale to the highest bidder. Businesses like EXXON had consciously patterned their anti-global warming efforts after the tobacco health public relations disinformation campaign of the tobacco companies. Tobacco companies had spent millions of dollars on the creation of disinformation with the intention of sowing public doubt and confusion about the scientific evidence concerning health problems caused by smoking.

Documents existed showing that fossil fuel based businesses like EXXON had made the conscious decision to engage in the same sort of disinformation campaign that the tobacco companies had used. Furthermore, in many cases the same people who had participated in the tobbacco Industries Project Whitecoat Scientific Witness Project disinformation campaign, were willing to play the same game of EXXON and other energy concerns for money.

One such figure was Frederick (Fred) Seitz, a former President of the National Academy of Sciences, and of Rockefeller University. After retiring from what had seemed a distinguished scientific career, Seitz was hired as a consultant by RJR Tobacco. Seitz responsible for distributing $45,000,000 in grant money for scientists, ostensively intended to find scientific evidence concerning the relationship of smoking to health problems. The actual purpose of the program was to create a scientific disinformation campaign. At least $585,000 of RJR money ended up in Seitz's personal bank account, even though Seitz did not generate any peer reviewed papers. For 10 years seitz served as the tobacco Industry's poster boy. "They didn't want us looking at the health effects of cigarette smoking," Seitz recently acknowledged in "Vanity Fair." Finally in 1989, Bill Hobbs of RJR decided that Seitz was no longer of use to RJB. In an internal memo, Alexander Holtzman, another RJR executive explained Holtzman's decision:

"I spoke to Bill Hobbs about arranging an appointment for you with Dr. Fred Seitz, former head of Rockefeller University and the principal scientific advisor to the R. J. Reynolds medical research program. Bill told me that Dr. Seitz is quite elderly and not sufficiently rational to offer advice. Bill said that he would strongly recommend your speaking to Dr. Alfred G. Knudson Jr. of the CTR Scientific Advisory Board."

Seitz continued, however, to prove useful as a tobacco industy front man. Only a month after Reynolds CEO Bill Hobbs had declared Seitz to not rational enough to offer advice, Seitz's name was attached to a report from RJR denying problems with second hand smoke.

Seitz acknowledged his willing to take money from the tobacco interest, "as long as it was green." "I'm not quite clear about this moralistic issue," he added. Seitz moved on to the George C. Marshall Institute, a front for right-wing foundations, and recepiant of Exxon largess. There in 1994 Seitz allegedly authored a 1994 report entitled "Global warming and ozone hole controversies. A challenge to scientific judgment." That study ostensively written by Seitz concluded, "there is no good scientific evidence that passive inhalation is truly dangerous under normal circumstances."

It was questionable if Seitz, whose rationality RJB's Bill Hobbs had questioned five years before, was rational enough to assess the judgment of other scientist. Despite his advancing years Seitz remained active in the energy industry's global warming disinformation campaign. The money was, after all, green. In 1995, Seitz's name appeared on top of an Op-Ed, in the Wall Street Journal, whose right-wing editorial staff was loyal to the Republican Part line, that global warming was not really happening. Seitz had lent his name, irony of ironies, to an attack on the integrity of a 1995 IPCC report.

Seitz greed, his prostitution of his scientific credentials, as long as the money was green, and his judgement, which former employer RJR found questionable, were ignored by the press, which treated Seitz as a legitimate figure in a supposed scientific debate. For example, in 1998 Seizt was reported by the New York Times, as believing that CO2 emissions did not cause climate problems, instead they were "a wonderful and unexpected gift from the Industrial Revolution."

In 2006, Seitz was still regarded as a credible source by the media. That year he was interviewed by the PBS program Frontline. The Frontline interviewer, did what journalists had not done in the past, gently buy critically tore Seitz's statements apart, and exposed Seitz's incompetence and mendacity. Seitz name no longer appears in the news, but others of his ilk, Fred Singer and Tim Ball, still give interviews and appear on television. Journalists are just as willing to give them free rides for their fossil fuel industry paid for views, just as Seitz received in the past.

Alvin Weinberg warned Congress of the dangers CO2 related climate change in 1975, but the EXXON disinformation campaign succeeded in delaying public recognition of the problem until 2006. The era of denial may be over, but confusion reigns. No where is that confusion more evident, that in the statements of political leaders.

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