“Thank You, Doctor. And Now, for the Opposing View, Here’s Joe Camel.”

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Oct. 16 2013 11:39 AM

“Thank You, Doctor. And Now, for the Opposing View, Here’s Joe Camel.”

One of the more pernicious things about climate change denial is how its promulgators get attention in venues that should really know better.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

In today’s example of this, USA Today is the culprit. The editors wrote a solid piece talking about the dangers of climate change, but for some reason they decided to run an “opposing view” article. This factually challenged op-ed was penned by Joseph Bast, who is the president of the Heartland Institute, which receives generous funding from fossil-fuel companies. You may remember this organization as trumpeting the manufactroversy of Climategate or as the classy folks behind the billboard campaign comparing people who know climate change is real to mass murderers.

Heartland Inst. bilboard
The Heartland Institute compares you to the Unabomber if you understand the reality of global warming.

Photo from The Video Catalyst Project in YouTube.

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Bast’s op-ed is more of the same noise we’ve already seen, trying to smear the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and trying to downplay their fifth Assessment Report that shows that climate change is real, it’s due to human pollution, and we’re in a lot of trouble if we don’t do something about it.

Media Matters for America has already taken on the op-ed's main point and shown it to be something less than accurate. As for the other points, I've already covered them in my recent debunking of deniers’ claims.

And while it chaps my hide, stuff like this is what I expect from Heartland. What really gets me is that USA Today gave Heartland a place to confuse the public about global warming. If they ran a piece about satellites, would they get an “opposing view” from a Flat Earther?* Unfortunately, running such articles is still de rigeur in some places, including op-ed pages of major newspapers. I hate to have to add USA Today to that list.

My advice for USA Today is to take a page from the Los Angeles Times. Giving space to the Heartland Institute is a bit like running an op-ed from Joe Camel telling people cigarette smoking is fun. In fact, the analogy is apt, since the Heartland Institute worked with Phillip Morris to sow doubt about the dangers of second hand smoke, and Bast himself has ardently supported Joe Camel. Ironically, I'll note that a recent article in USA Today makes a similar point.

Doubt is what climate change deniers work with because it’s what they have. What we have are the facts, the science, and the actual climate scientists themselves. Heartland's noise would get no traction if venues didn’t provide them air time. USA Today has done great work in real coverage of climate change, but they stumbled with this one.

* Second prize for this sort of thing this week goes to Texas Weekly for printing a piece by Lamar Smith … that is, global warming denier Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who I will remind you is the head of the House Science Committee. I have the imprint of my forehead on my desk to prove I read it, too. I’ll note that on the same day, they also printed a more reality-based article by Scheleen Walker, director of the Sierra Club's Lone Star Chapter. Printing this sort of “balance” is just bizarre.

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