“Bring on the Reality-Based Community”

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“The truly poisonous legacy of the past eight years is one that spread to much of society and will therefore be much harder to undo: the utter contempt with which those in power viewed inconvenient facts, empiricism and science in general,” writes Sharon Begley in the November 17 Newsweek. “Look at how Bush justified inaction on greenhouse gases.”  We talked about this problem with Newsweek for Begley’s August 2007 cover story, “Global Warming Deniers: A Well-Funded Machine.”


Bring on the ‘Reality-Based Community’
Sharon Begley
NEWSWEEK
From the magazine issue dated Nov 17, 2008

It took a while to discern the guiding ideology behind the Bush administration’s poisonous science policies….The truly poisonous legacy of the past eight years is one that spread to much of society and will therefore be much harder to undo: the utter contempt with which those in power viewed inconvenient facts, empiricism and science in general.

Look at how Bush justified inaction on greenhouse gases. Not by arguing that cuts would have cost too much, a stance that would at least have been intellectually honest, albeit debatable. Instead he had political appointees eviscerate scientific reports on climate change, censor climatologists and exaggerate scientific uncertainties, with the result that tens of millions of Americans think that the existence and cause of global warming are matters of opinion….

It turned out that the Bush administration had about as much respect for scientific facts as it did for facts about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As one official explained to author and journalist Ron Suskind in 2002, the administration had nothing but disdain for what it called “the reality-based community,” people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” That would be science. Instead, said the official, “we create our own reality.“… The message that expertise and facts do not matter has had a poisonous effect…

In its August 13, 2007, issue Newsweek ran a 4,700-word cover story, ”Global Warming Deniers: A Well-Funded Machine,” by Sharon Begley, which included this:

Since the late 1980s, this well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change. Through advertisements, op-eds, lobbying and media attention, greenhouse doubters (they hate being called deniers) argued first that the world is not warming; measurements indicating otherwise are flawed, they said. Then they claimed that any warming is natural, not caused by human activities. Now they contend that the looming warming will be minuscule and harmless….

Killing bills in Congress was only one prong of the denial machine’s campaign.  It also had to keep public opinion from demanding action on greenhouse emissions, and that meant careful management of what federal scientists and officials wrote and said. “If they presented the science honestly, it would have brought public pressure for action,” says Rick Piltz, who joined the federal Climate Science Program in 1995.  Following the playbook laid out at the 1998 meeting at the American Petroleum Institute, [administration] officials made sure that every report and speech cast climate science as dodgy, uncertain, controversial—and therefore no basis for making policy.

We had first used the term “global warming denial machine” in an interview with Canadian TV’s the fifth estate, for their investigative documentary program “The Denial Machine,” which aired on CBC on November 15, 2006.)  Webcast archived on CBC site.

 

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