On Twisting Words and Dodging Responsibility

On Twisting Words and Dodging Responsibility
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Two items have come up in the DeSmogBlog recently that deserve further analysis. The first is the conversion of Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz who, until very recently, has been directing governments in the U.S. and Canada on how to communicate about climate change. For example, in a 2002 strategy memo to the Republican Party, Luntz wrote:

The Scientific Debate Remains Open. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate, and defer to scientists and other experts in the field.

To give Luntz the benefit of the doubt, maybe he really believed in 2002 that the debate over climate change science was legitimate and not the result of a concerted energy-industry campaign to confuse the public. He says now that he believes the advice was fair when he gave it and we would like to take him at his word.

That being the case, however, you would have expected that his recent conversion from “climate change skepticism” would have come with an apology, or perhaps a messaging update. Instead, when asked about the continuing Republican denial of the science, Luntz said:

That’s up to the [them]. I’m not the administration. What they want to do is their business. And it’s nothing to do with what I write. And it’s nothing to do with what I believe.

The language is a powerful tool and Frank Luntz has a real gift in wielding that tool. With such a gift should come some sense of responsibility. Instead, Luntz offers a total abdication: “What they want to do is their business.”

Given the degree to which Luntz’s advice has defined the Bush administration’s position on climate change science, that response is analagous to saying, ‘I just sold them the guns, officer. I had no idea what they planned to do with them.’ Not good enough.

The second item of note arose last weekend with the excellent Globe and Mail feature by Charles Montgomery on the so-called Friends of Science. In a careful – and carefully balanced – article, Montgomery looked at the scientific position of the “Friends” chief spokesperson, Dr. Tim Ball, and judged that position to be sincere (even if it is ill informed). Again, it’s nice to be able to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Then Montgomery asked who was paying for Tim Ball’s aggressive media and speaking campaign – who was covering Dr. Ball’s expenses as he travelled the country, speaking to 100 different groups and chatting up politicians and journalists at every turn? Montgomery found a direct link to the fossil fuel industry, a link that Dr. Ball has been denying at every turn. Worse, MOntgomery implicated the University of Calgary and Professor Barry Cooper in a clumsy effort to conceal that link.

How is it that a freelance journalist can walk through the front door of an organization like Friends of Science (FOS), ask a direct question about the origin of that organization’s funding and elicit this compromising answer, and yet the self-styled scientific expert, Dr. Tim Ball, can have taken FOS money for the better part of a year without ever wondering who was paying his bills, and why?

This studied ignorance, on the part of Frank Luntz and on the part of Dr. Tim Ball, is part of the problem in the denial of climate change science. When there is bad news about, some people just don’t want to know. And when there is a lot of money about, some people will work extra hard not to tell them.

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