Calvin Beisner, the founder of the Cornwall Alliance and one of the main people behind the attack on Pope Francis’s anticipated climate and sustainability-focused encyclical, states in a recent video that he is an authority on the issued of climate change because he has “read some 50 books… on the science of climate change.”
The video was taken at a press conference held last month in Rome that was organized by the Heartland Institute, an organization that has accepted millions from fossil fuel companies and dark money interests over the years to attack the science of climate change and any efforts to deal with the issue.
Based on his “read some 50 books” credentials, Beisner concludes in the video that he can talk on the issue of climate change with some authority.
This assumption of authority by Beisner goes to the very heart of where climate science deniers get it wrong on how science works, and where at the same time they get it right when it comes to public relations.
Scientific authority on any subject, including climate change, does not come from reading books as Beisner would like us to think. The practice of science is grounded in the testing and challenging of scientific conclusions through study and experimentation that is then scrutinized by a group of your peers — called “peer-reviewed science.”
Most scientists spend many painstaking years getting a single paper published, but that single paper when added to many other papers over time slowly improves our understanding of how the world works.
Beisner read 50 books. (Maybe he’s part of some denier book club?)
Considering Beisner has never published a single piece of peer-reviewed research related to climate change, it is clear that it is not in the realm of scientific literature and research that Beisner is fighting.
After all, for Beisner to move the needle one way or another on the scientific conclusion that the burning of fossil fuels is at the core of the problem of climate change, would mean he would have to actually conduct scientific research proving his hypothesis.
However, in the realm of public relations — and considering the poor journalism standards of many media outlets when it comes to issues of science — Beisner can still get traction in shaping the public dialogue on the issue of climate change.
Beisner, and the other folks at the core of the attack on the Pope’s climate encyclical, are not interested in moving the needle on the science of climate change, but are instead interested in moving the needle on public opinion of the need to address climate change.
This movement has been well-documented over the years here on DeSmog, and its roots go much further back than the issue of climate change. The idea of using false authority to win the public opinion battle on an issue of science, is grounded in the war by tobacco companies to downplay the health impacts of smoking cigarettes.
This history is well documented in science historian Naomi Oreskes’ book Merchants of Doubt (or you can watch the excellent film based on the book that came out recently).
The same tactics Beisner is using today to prop himself up as an expert on the science of climate change were honed and perfected by tobacco companies and their public relations spin doctors more than 50 years ago.
It is likely not a coincidence that the Heartland Institute, the group who organized Beisner to speak in Rome, has a long and well-documented history of taking money from tobacco companies to downplay the health impacts of second-hand tobacco smoke.
The war by tobacco companies against science was a dark period in our modern history and it was based much on this idea of creating an image of authority where there is none. By the looks of it, Beisner the book worm has no qualms in distorting his expertise as we watch history repeat itself.