A lot of public relations technique rests in language. It is built in the nuanced choice and combination of
words that are developed and tested through public opinion research – through polling and focus groups.
For example, Republican pollster Frank Luntz has made a career of massaging language to his clients advantage. In Luntz’s now infamous enviro-speak memo (pdf) to the republican party, he advises the following:
“The three words Americans are looking for in an environmental policy, they are (sic) ‘safer,’ ‘cleaner,’ and ‘healthier.”
“If you must use the economic argument, stress that you are seeking ‘a fair balance’ between the environment and the economy.”
You get the picture. Language – both suble and shifty – can be a powerful tool when trying to convince or, as in this case, confuse your audience. Luntz is good, but when it comes to twisting words – and doing so without conscience – no one can beat Steve “the Junkman” Milloy, who has made a handsome living for more than a decade twisting the truth for big tobacco and, now, big oil. It was Milloy who flipped the terms “junk science” and “sound science” to the advantage of industries that are willing to risk public health for private profit.
According to Elisa Ong and Stanton Glantz (pdf) in their peer-reviewed American Journal of Public Health (Nov. 2001, Vol. 91, No. 11) article, the terms “sound science” and “junk science” orignated in the tobacco industry’s battle to cast doubt about whether secondhand tobacco smoke is a Group A human carcinogen. The overall strategy, led by Philip Morris, was: “to form local coalitions to help us educate local media, legislators and the public at large about the dangers of ‘junk science’ and to caution them from taking regulatory steps…”
It was around this time that the PR masters at a huge D.C. firm called APCO Worldwide decided to create an Astroturf group called The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC). The title alone is telling of their overall mission, which was to label any science calling for regulation on secondhand tobacco smoke as “junk science,” and any science minimizing the risks of secondhand tobacco smoke as “sound science.” It’s no surprise that the head of TASSC (pdf) was none other than Steve “the junkman” Milloy.
Fast-forward to the present day and the issue of climate change and we still see Milloy and other industry apologists using the terms “sound science” and “junk science” – to infuriatingly good effect.
To illutstrate, here are a few of the “sound” scientists Milloy holds up on his alter of scientific integrity:
Dr. Sallie Baliunas, who sat on the board of the Greening Earth Society, an industry front group created by the Western Fuels Association, and the George C. Marshall Institute a US “think” tank and sweetheart of the oil industry.
Dr. Fred Seitz, chair of Fred Singer’s SEPP project, and former chief scientific advisor to none other than RJ Reynolds. Ironically, in 1998, Phillip Morris labelled Seitz as “not sufficiently rational to offer advice.”
As far as “junk science,” Milloy would warn you against: the UK‘s Royal Society, the American Meterological Society, NASA, the American Geophysical Union, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and finally the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
You get my point. The entire concept of “junk science” and “sound science” has been turned on its head, not through any logical means, but purely through public relations trickery at the hands of smokin’ Steve Milloy.
What are we to do? There is only one thing to do. Turn this back on its feet by recognizing that Milloy and his colleagues are peddling “junk science” – an afront to the eminent scientists throughtout the world who submit their work to peer-reviewed, respectable journals (not to Fox News columns) to assure that their science is sound.
In other words, I am calling for a “junk science” coup d’etat.