Chasing Shadows

By Keith Kloor | June 14, 2012 9:34 am

Last week, I noted that the findings of this Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report were parroted by all mainstream media journalists.

Except this one, who actually vetted the report. Well, turns out that Ron Bailey at Reason magazine is the reason why UCS has now issued a clarification about one of its claims.

The Guardian (which I pointed to as one of those publications that didn’t scrutinize the report) covers the UCS screwup:

The Union of Concerned Scientists has revised a report accusing major US companies of distorting the public conversation about climate change, saying it made a mistake counting donations from General Electric to thinktanks.

When the original report was released, numerous journalists and bloggers gobbled it up uncritically. I suspect that is because it neatly accorded with a meme that even Chris Mooney now admits is outdated:

Despite my praise for [Michael] Mann and his book””and I even gave it a cover blurb””I do have some differences with him. For instance, I think that here and in his public comments, Mann tends to focus too heavily on the idea that resistance to climate science, and his research, is corporate driven. Or as he puts it in the book: “well organized, well-funded, and orchestrated.” In contrast, I have increasingly come to think it is primarily ideological””driven by libertarian individualism, and those who embrace this view and its associated emotions””and the corporate connection is secondary (though often real). I thus think that focusing on it too much misleads us as to the nature of the opposition, which has grown so ideological at this point””and so driven by gut emotion””that it does the traditionally pragmatic business community no favors. If anything, it is out of synch with its own presumptive allies.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, along with others who are still eager to cast big corporations as public enemy number one, might want to ask themselves if their own ideological obsessions have them chasing after shadows.

  • Steven Sullivan

    KK, is it sufficient if they are demoted  to ‘public enemy number two’?  Seriously, do you disagree with Felix Salmon (Reuters finance blogger) who succinctly wrote in his review of Krugman’s new book,  ”This is now a country run by the rich, for the rich. ”? Big corporations here both embody and project the interests of  ’the rich’.  And until and unless they can make profit from it, those interests typically are not going include mitigating global warming — and to the extent they perceive it reducing profit, will be against such mitigation.

  • huxley

    So, according to Chris Mooney, it is a trifling over-emphasis that the UCS, Michael Mann and to an extent Mooney himself, “tend to focus too heavily on the idea that resistance to climate science … is corporate driven.”

    But Mooney’s squishy mea culpa is only an opportunity for turning his guns back on to to the skeptical opposition:

    I thus think that focusing on [the corporate campaign against climate change] too much misleads us as to the nature of the opposition, which has grown so ideological at this point -”” and so driven by gut emotion””that it does the traditionally pragmatic business community no favors. If anything, it is out of synch with its own presumptive allies.

    You see, the real problem remains the skeptics: so ideologically blind and driven by gut emotion that skeptics are even a problem for the now “pragmatic business community” (previously the evil corporate interests).

    Thus, another example of how liberals see ideological bias everywhere except in themselves.

  • jeffn

    Think for a minute about your example again: The UCS issues a deliberately inaccurate “report” mentioning Reason, the media couldn’t care less if it was accurate – they just ran it – but Reason does care so they paid someone to vet the report.
    Sound familiar?
    Change the names- The UCS issues a deliberately inaccurate “report” about nuclear power, the media doesn’t care if it’s accurate or not so doesn’t vet it, the nuclear industry – seeing a real cost looming – pays a think tank to vet the report and get the news out.
    This is the damage done by bias. The greater the bias, the greater the need for companies to spend to influence the debate.
    On another note- still no mention of the fact that in the period studied in the “report,” GE owned MSNBC. So, we think the $400 their employees gave Reason overpowered the millions they spent on Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow?

  • hunter

    You are edging ever closer to analyzing why self-declared progressives are so overwhlemingly prey to the latest social manias.

  • Eric

    Does GE spend million producing MSNBC programming because it has a liberal bias, or simply because it sees that it can make a profit selling advertising to liberals that watch MSNBC?

  • Jeffn

    It was a report on GE-funded political messaging that didn’t mention GE’s biggest political messaging outlet.
    And yeah, GE’s support for progressive messaging netted a little over one third the profits Fox News saw.
    But, one mo time, if you were going to do a story on Rupert Murdoch’s political activism, would you leave out any mention that he owns Fox News?

  • David44

    Chris Mooney:  ” I have increasingly come to think it is primarily ideological””driven by libertarian individualism, and those who embrace this view and its associated emotions”For me, with regard to “climate science”,  it’s about the quality (or lack thereof) of the science and the fact that the shrill and ubiquitous emphasis on AGW sucks all of the air out of the room when it comes the many other important impacts of our species on the natural world that should be demanding our attention.   Confirmation bias, sloppy science and abuse of statistics abound in “climate science”, a new and intellectually undisciplined discipline (to coin an oxymoron) whose members excel at grantsmanship, political advocacy, and tribalism.As a once naive and accepting liberal trained in science and statistics who bought into AGW and the propaganda of liberal  green lobbying organizations like UCS, I now hold the left in as great contempt and anger as I do the right wing ideologues.  (I think the majority of Americans probably a similar opinion.) The lazy intellectual dishonesty of green politicians, scientists, NGOs and reporters has apparently turned me into one of those emotional libertarian individualists Mooney blames for the lack of public interest in his meme.  Too bad, so sad.

  • http://3000quads.com/ Tom Fuller

    I don’t understand something here. Ecomagination is GE’s bet on the future. They have invested billions in this unit and are actively involved in building wind turbines, parts and components and more. They are building a thin film solar panel plant in Aurora Colorado. And Sully thinks they are public enemy number 2? For matching employee contributions to charities? Common sense has left the building…

    Large multinational corporations have donated huge sums of money to environmental causes and GE is certainly not the only one to invest in causes that will contribute to a cleaner environment and energy future. We are talking billions here. Who was the first sponsor of the CRU at East Anglia? Who was the second? Who contributed $100 million to Stanford’s environmental studies program?

    Do I think that corporations work hard to protect the interests of their existence and their shareholders? Yes. Do I think this often interferes with the full exercise of democracy? Yes. Do I think recent trends show a worsening of these phenomena? Yes.

    But in a weird way that is making a skeptic’s argument–that corporations are acting unethically to advance the consensus view on climate change to protect their investments in green technology.

    This is a strange world we live in.

  • Edim

     ”This is now a country run by the rich, for the rich.”It’s always been that way and it’s every country. Of course, it’s been worsening and it will get to a point of collapse (soon).AGW verbiage is promoted by the rich, for the rich.

  • harrywr2

    #8,<i>But in a weird way that is making a skeptic’s argument”“that corporations
    are acting unethically to advance the consensus view on climate change
    to protect their investments in green technology.</i>

    My brother in law builds power plants for a living. He hasn’t been able to find ‘substantial work’ in the US since the 1980′s.We overbuilt our power infrastructure in the 1970′s.  (He is high enough on the corporate ladder that dozens of plants should be under his supervision…most of his work has been in asia for decades).

    GE isn’t doing anything that Proctor and Gamble doesn’t do with it’s endless ‘New Tide’ and ‘New Cheer’…that is promoting a need to prematurely replace whatever product you are using with a new product.

    The ironic part is that GE is promoting the same habits in the power industry that environmentalists have been decrying for decades…I.E. consumerism…throwing stuff out that is still perfectly functional

  • Tom Scharf

    It is clear that NGO’s such as the UCS win these battles of “media ambush by press release”.  The previously unvetted information (propaganda?) gets freely promoted by a compliant media and almost no one will see this retraction.  But are they really winning the war in which they are engaging? 

    The Guardian and similar MSM outlets are environmentalism’s Pravda.

    Action on any agenda change will not happen if the side that promotes this action is found to not be credible.

    In this case, where action critically depends on accepting the “truth” of possible future events that haven’t happened yet, credibility is EVERYTHING from my view.

    The skeptics have a distinct advantage in that if both sides are found to not be credible, the likely outcome is climate stasis, a win for skeptics. 

    This is why I find it almost humorous that the vast majority of the climate community either promote or passively accept statements such as this that are shockingly easy to refute.  The reluctance to self police in environmentalism is their Achilles heel with regards to credibility.

    Fighting perceived lies with even bigger lies from your side is no path to victory.  

  • Jeffn

    Tom, that depends on your definition of “victory.”
    For some folks, it’s enough to keep insisting on ridiculous policy ideas that will never pass as long as everyone thinks conservatives are solely to blame.
    Every single Democrat in the US senate- the body that approves treaties- voted against the Kyoto climate change treaty while Bill Clinton was president. Yet today it is a given that George Bush killed the thing. That’s a wonderful victory for many people involved in this issue.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    Input your comments here…

  • hunter

    Tom Fuller,Who is interfering more in the “functioning of democracy”:GE, whose activities actively create wealth for literally hundreds of thousands of people, or big green NGO’s who produce nothing and live off of donations and shake downs and government largesse?

  • hunter

    David@4,+1

  • hunter

    Ooops,David44 @ 7, +1

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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