Denialist Demagogues and the Threat to Science

by Donald R. Prothero

Shortly after Texas Governor Rick Perry announced his candidacy for President of the United States, he made additional news by not only topping the field of GOP Presidential candidates in denying climate change, but upping the ante by claiming it was all made up by a conspiracy of greedy scientists. The same position has been articulated by all the GOP candidates except Jon Huntsman. That one of these people could very well win the presidency in 2012 should worry us with not only their ignorance of science, but the even more alarming tactic of using ad hominem and “shoot the messenger” tactics to try to discredit the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists around the world.

That consensus is well represented in James Powell’s new book, The Inquisition of Climate Science, a masterful compilation of nearly all the evidence, not only for the reality of anthropogenic global warming, but especially answering point-by-point the ridiculous attempts by climate deniers to cloud and distort the issues by raising one bogus charge after another. As many people have noted, the global warming deniers use many of the same tactics that creationists use to attack evolutionary science. These tactics include quote-mining statements out of context (the entire “climategate” email kerfuffle, which Powell shows was nothing more than careless use of language); and cherry-picking data and repeating discredited statements even though they’ve been debunked (such as the false meme about “it’s been cooling since 1998,” perpetuated by right-wing media again and again). There are many other similarities between the tactics of evolution-deniers and climate change-deniers, many of which are documented in Powell’s book in great detail.

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