Back to previous post: The End of Author Productivity In Our Lifetime

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Papal din

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

September 20, 2006

The Royal Society vs. Exxon’s astroturf
Posted by Teresa at 05:24 PM *

The Royal Society—the world’s oldest learned society—has publicly taken on Exxon. Just so you know: this is the first time in the Royal Society’s 364 years that they’ve done something like this.

Britain’s leading scientists have challenged the US oil company ExxonMobil to stop funding groups that attempt to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change.

In an unprecedented step, the Royal Society, Britain’s premier scientific academy, has written to the oil giant to demand that the company withdraws support for dozens of groups that have “misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence”.

The scientists also strongly criticise the company’s public statements on global warming, which they describe as “inaccurate and misleading”.

Exxon’s been funding astroturf and disinformation campaigns. They’re not big on level playing fields.

In a letter earlier this month to Esso, the UK arm of ExxonMobil, the Royal Society cites its own survey which found that ExxonMobil last year distributed $2.9m to 39 groups that the society says misrepresent the science of climate change.

See how cheaply you can fund astroturf campaigns? To Exxon, $2.9m is practically small change.

These include the International Policy Network, a thinktank with its HQ in London, and the George C Marshall Institute, which is based in Washington DC. In 2004, the institute jointly published a report with the UK group the Scientific Alliance which claimed that global temperature rises were not related to rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

“There is not a robust scientific basis for drawing definitive and objective conclusions about the effect of human influence on future climate,” it said.

At this point, no reputable climatologist would make such a statement. Anyone who holds that position is doing so as part of a PR campaign.

In the letter, Bob Ward of the Royal Society writes: “At our meeting in July … you indicated that ExxonMobil would not be providing any further funding to these organisations. I would be grateful if you could let me know when ExxonMobil plans to carry out this pledge.”

The letter, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, adds: “I would be grateful if you could let me know which organisations in the UK and other European countries have been receiving funding so that I can work out which of these have been similarly providing inaccurate and misleading information to the public.”

Translation: Exxon is being given an opportunity to confess and do penance. You can read the entire letter here.
This is the first time the society has written to a company to challenge its activities. The move reflects mounting concern about the activities of lobby groups that try to undermine the overwhelming scientific evidence that emissions are linked to climate change.

Just in case you’ve missed it, here’s the straight dope:

1. Carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming. This is not in doubt.
2. Scary global climate changes have already begun.
3. However, there’s a surprisingly strong chance that prompt action now will start reversing the trend.
4. The alternative: if we don’t take action soon, we’re going to hit one of those fast-acting climate tipping-points that aren’t so easily reversible, and the results will be catastrophic.
5. Some of the unbelievably expensive results: a rise in sea level. Lots more hurricanes like Andrew and Katrina. Slowing down or stopping the Gulf Stream Current, which would trash Europe’s climate and agriculture for the next several centuries.
6. Various corporations which feel it would be inconvenient for them to have to deal with carbon dioxide emissions over the next few years have been funding disinformation campaigns which preach that global warming isn’t a problem.
7. Cost of disinformation campaigns: chump change, by corporate standards. Cost of dealing with carbon dioxide emissions: not exactly cheap, but can be done without severely damaging our economy or business interests. Cost of tipped-over climate changes: catastrophic. Incalculable. And it comes out of your pocket.

The groups, such as the US Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), whose senior figures have described global warming as a myth, are expected to launch a renewed campaign ahead of a major new climate change report. The CEI responded to the recent release of Al Gore’s climate change film, An Inconvenient Truth, with adverts that welcomed increased carbon dioxide pollution.

No one who knows anything about the subject honestly believes that increased carbon dioxide pollution is a good idea. These advertisements are the moral equivalent of the “studies” apologists used to write on behalf of the big tobacco companies, purporting to show that cigarettes don’t increase your risk of cancer.

The latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), due to be published in February, is expected to say that climate change could drive the Earth’s temperatures higher than previously predicted.

What was previously predicted was already scary enough.

Mr Ward said: “It is now more crucial than ever that we have a debate which is properly informed by the science. For people to be still producing information that misleads people about climate change is unhelpful. The next IPCC report should give people the final push that they need to take action and we can’t have people trying to undermine it.”

The Royal Society letter also takes issue with ExxonMobil’s own presentation of climate science. It strongly criticises the company’s “corporate citizenship reports”, which claim that “gaps in the scientific basis” make it very difficult to blame climate change on human activity. The letter says: “These statements are not consistent with the scientific literature. It is very difficult to reconcile the misrepresentations of climate change science in these documents with ExxonMobil’s claim to be an industry leader.”

This isn’t just another distinguished scientific organization decrying corporate irresponsibility. If any body can lay claim to having invented science, and defined what science is, it’s the Royal Society. What they’re doing with their letter is authoritatively denying the scientific legitimacy of Exxon’s position and its PR campaigns.

Environmentalists regard ExxonMobil as one of the least progressive oil companies because, unlike competitors such as BP and Shell, it has not invested heavily in alternative energy sources.

For “least progressive,” read “dumbest.” It’s impossible for them to not know that the days of happy petroleum profits are coming to an end.

ExxonMobil said: “We can confirm that recently we received a letter from the Royal Society on the topic of climate change. Amongst other topics our Tomorrow’s Energy and Corporate Citizenship reports explain our views openly and honestly on climate change. We would refute any suggestion that our reports are inaccurate or misleading.” A spokesman added that ExxonMobil stopped funding the Competitive Enterprise Institute this year.

Exxon has replied with mindless and impenitent corporate-speak. We’ll have to see whether they ever wake up. In the meantime, huzzah for the Royal Society!
Comments on The Royal Society vs. Exxon's astroturf:
#1 ::: Samantha Joy ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 05:46 PM:

In other (related) news, James Lovelock says it's already past "too late."

Within the next decade or two, Lovelock forecasts, Gaia will hike her thermostat by at least 10 degrees. Earth, he predicts, will be hotter than at any time since the Eocene Age 55 million years ago, when crocodiles swam in the Arctic Ocean.
"There's no realization of how quickly and irreversibly the planet is changing," Lovelock says. "Maybe 200 million people will migrate close to the Arctic and survive this. Even if we took extraordinary steps, it would take the world 1,000 years to recover."

It's tempting to dismiss Mr. Lovelock as a kook, and it's been done before, but some of his other kooky theories (ike the time he predicted that chlorofluorocarbons in the stratosphere would develop holes in the ozone layer, exposing the earth's surface to ultraviolet radiation) have been borne out.

And the Saudi Royal Family are worried that the money will stop flowing.

I think they're on the wrong track, there.

#2 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 05:52 PM:

The final triumph of capitalism: the desire to maximise profit results in the extinction of the human race.

#3 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 06:02 PM:

Jawdroppingly stunning and brilliant (british usage) move by the Royal Society. While there is concensus on global warming, there are notable holdouts like William M. Gray of Colorado State who was the lead long-range forcaster of Atlantic Hurricanes until recently who thinks that the ocean will start to cool again soon. Methinks he's not looking at data from outside his field (Greenland and Siberia loosing ice cover and thereby reducing albedo, forex).
A lot of the people who don't understand statistics and the normal variability of the weather will be pointing to this thankfully mild hurricane season as instant disproof of warming (just like they did for the few exceptionally cold winters we've had in various places recently).

#4 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 06:03 PM:

I need an editor to keep me from using archaisms and neologisms in the same sentence.

#5 ::: Michael J. "Orange Mike" Lowrey ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 06:28 PM:

The unpaid deniers are still out in force. Little things like truth and honesty won't persuade them out of their conviction that the entire environmental movement is made up of drug-crazed Luddites.

#6 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 06:30 PM:

10 years ago, when I was taking an atmospheric physics course at university (apparently it would have qualified me to learn to be a BBC weather presenter) our professor was saying almost exactly the same thing as you've said here. Since I know he's a member of the Royal Society I'd like to say both:

'Yay!'; and

'What took you so long?'

He scared me enough at the time that I still don't have a car.

#7 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 06:35 PM:

In related news:

California Sues Carmakers Over Global Warming

Maybe a side-effect of global warming is large organizations suddenly growing a pair.

#8 ::: David S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 06:42 PM:

I can't help thinking how much like Ford and GM in the mid to late '90s Exxon is today. Ford and GM failed to see the future beyond SUVs and short-term profits, now they're almost bankrupt and scrambling to catch up with their more farsighted competitors.

Exxon, if you want to see your future go to Detroit and listen to the wind blowing through the vacant factories and offices there, and remember that smart people learn from their mistakes, really smart people learn from the mistakes of others.

#9 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 06:45 PM:

You just gotta know . . .

. . . the resentful sorehead contingent will take a look at this and think:

"Damn European eggheads peddling junk science! Yet another attempt by jealous lefty intellectuals to drag Americans out of safe, comfortable S.U.V.s and promote socialistic mass transit schemes."

(Hey, I should send the above pp to George Will. I bet he could turn it into another pompous, tut-tutting column.)

#10 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 07:34 PM:

It's tempting to dismiss Mr. Lovelock as a kook, and it's been done before, but some of his other kooky theories (ike the time he predicted that chlorofluorocarbons in the stratosphere would develop holes in the ozone layer, exposing the earth's surface to ultraviolet radiation) have been borne out.

Minor quibble: Did Lovelock really predict that? The Wikipedia article on ozone depletion credits him with discovering that CFCs were accumulating in the atmosphere, but says that Frank Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina were the ones who suggested that CFCs could reach the stratosphere, be dissociated by UV light, and destroy ozone (for which I think they shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry).

There's a review of Lovelock's book by an actual climate scientist here.

#11 ::: Samantha Joy ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 08:12 PM:

#10 - Your quibble is correct; Lovelock merely produced the data upon which Rowland and Molina built their hypothesis.

#12 ::: Dave Klecha ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 09:34 PM:

Why do you blame those poor, defenseless corporations? They're only doing what they need to in order to survive.


In all seriousness, if those in favor of exposing the egregious excesses of capitalism and corporatism ever hope to succeed, they're going to need to do much more of this. So far, it seems to me that the efforts at countering astroturfing and similar corporate intiatives have largely gone unchecked because the opposition fails (or refuses) to organize and make common cause. The infamous anti-globalization protests of recent memory come close but, really, they're making their appeal in front of the wrong people. The world leaders and giants of commerce are not going to be swayed by protesters in the streets, but the rank-and-file that support them may well be. Assuming they find the right approach, of course. Getting tear-gassed en masse did not seem to be very effective.

#13 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 09:36 PM:

And the Administration will say, "All the facts aren't in."

Then we say, "Well, as long as there's a one percent chance global warming is as serious as they say, we have to treat it as a certainty and proceed accordingly."

#14 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2006, 11:25 PM:

For a fairly scary look at what a hurricane season might be like after the tip-over point, John Barnes' Mother of Storms gives a decent, if fictional, overview.

I keep trying, with varying rates of success, to explain that "global warming" doesn't just mean hotter, it's about extremes of climate in general. Has anyone been keeping track of the number of hot and cold daily temperature records being set over the past 10 years or so? It sure seems to me as though we've been having record-setting numbers of record-setting days!

#15 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 03:36 AM:

Miss Teresa, thank you so much for finding this. It might just be the thing to convince my father, the closet Anglophile, wannabe scientist. He likes to think he's all rational and scientific and stuff, but when we last discussed global warming, he talked about how Al was a Bore, and he needed to get that book by Michael Crichton(!)

I just sighed, not wanting to bring up the fact that Crichton is a hack novelist who happened to go to med school and knows no more about climatology than Rona Jaffe, but whaddya do?

He told me when I got my ears pierced that if they got infected, I'd get brain damage because your ears are close to your brain. I gave up on him as an authority at that point, and I was eleven.

Thing is, he has this utter self-assuredness, as well as a mellifluous voice and flawless diction, so he can bullshit a telephone pole.

But he does learn. He's conceded the Bush Presidency (in 2002, because of our old neighbor Poindexter and TSA) and Howard Dean. I haven't hit him with the Iraq War because I don't want to be a dickhead know-it-all, but I'll probably lord my superior judgment and predictive mojo over him on the Iran War Dance.

#16 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 04:34 AM:

John (#3): The problem is that there are also lots of people who don't understand statistics and normal variability of the weather who are pointing to things like Katrina (for example) as proof positive of global warming and climate change. It's just as fallacious in that direction, and I suspect that a lot of smart but underinformed people see claims like those and think that they're the bulk of the proof of global warming. And it's obviously bunk.

I also think, in the case of Lovelock, that we may need to be a bit careful about believing people just because they're "on our side". 10 degrees in two decades is, unless I'm quite mistaken, at least as far outside of the consensus predictions as no change at all.

#17 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 04:57 AM:

"To Exxon, $2.9m is practically small change."


I can't find gross sales just now, but ExxonMobil's net earnings in the second quarter of 2006 were $10.36 billion. At that rate, the cost of the campaign means about as much to Exxon as buying two gallons of gas means to someone making $50,000 a year. Obfuscation is cheap.

#18 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 05:00 AM:

The irony about this particular case, for me, is that for the past three years I was employed as a student research assistant by Stanford's Global Climate and Energy Project, which has the charter of investigating long-term energy-technology solutions to the problems likely to cause climate damage. The particular (small) group that I was working in had the goal of producing engineering models to do good solid studies of various proposed and existing technologies, to separate the hype from the real possibilities, and figure out what parts of the system are most important to improve. One example I remember in particular that we looked at was carbon sequestration methods that could be retrofit to existing coal powerplants. (Conclusion: Producing electricity from coal without releasing any CO2 into the atmosphere looks quite feasible with current technology, and doing it that way represents a cost increase in the electricity that's probably considerably less than doubling it.)

Guess who our major sponsor is, with planned investments of $100 million (over about a decade)? ExxonMobil.

(And, no, I don't think it excuses them. That $100 million isn't altruism, it's "We want to know what's coming along that's going to eat our lunch, so we can join it before it beats us.")

#19 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 10:07 AM:

#18 Guess who our major sponsor is, with planned investments of $100 million (over about a decade)? ExxonMobil.(And, no, I don't think it excuses them. That $100 million isn't altruism, it's "We want to know what's coming along that's going to eat our lunch, so we can join it before it beats us.")

ExxonMobil sounds more like a herion pusher... Let's give them cheap money (heroin) until they're activities are completely dependent on cheap money (herion), then we'll use that leverage to control the output (criminal behavior to fulfill heroin need) of the environmental group (junkie).

Perhaps Mr. Shrub should halt his daily circle-jerks with the Oil Lobby (The Pusher) and listen to some Steppenwolf instead...

"Well, now if I were the president of this land
You know, I'd declare total war on The Pusher man
I'd cut him if he stands, and I'd shoot him if he'd run
Yes I'd kill him with my Bible and my razor and my gun

God damn The Pusher
Gad damn The Pusher
I said God damn, God damn The Pusher man!"

Will Stanford be able to walk away from so much funding (heroin) when ExxonMobil (the Pusher) eventually (as Pushers always do) one day "suggests" that the Stanford group (junkie) bury some new-but-especially-damning report (raises the price of heroin)?

Because it's Stanford (a junkie with the balls to go to treatment), I think/hope they would, but ExxonMobil (the Pusher) is willing to invest $100 million on the bet that they won't have the willpower to walk.

#20 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 10:23 AM:

Kip (13), the Administration jumped directly from "all the facts aren't in" and "it's not a problem yet" to "it's such a big problem and so far advanced that there's no use in us trying to do anything about it."

#21 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 12:05 PM:

#18: Brooks, I applaud Exxon for investing and investigating the problem and looking for solutions. But as you say, it doesn't excuse the astroturfing now. They seem to be playing to win, which would be fine except that a lot of people, myself included, take that to mean 'win, honestly', and astroturfing is winning by deceit.

#22 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 12:15 PM:

Teresa, that's just like their 'We aren't going to do anything about pollution and mileage requirements for vehicles. Instead we'll talk about how wonderful hydrogen-fueled vehicles will be.' (Another wonderful example of making a mess worse, if not creating it, and leaving it for someone else to clean up later.)

#23 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 01:34 PM:

$2.9m practically small change to Exxon? No practically about it, and you can be damn sure there is an awful lot of other cash being pumped into other institutions of influence that hold Dr Goebbels as their patron saint.

My first wife had an uncle who was chief accountant at an oil company that makes Exxon look small. He told me that oil company accounts were nothing but a deliberate attempt to mislead governments everwhere. He wasn't lying.

'Corporate citizenship'. Now what is it makes me think that is an oxymoron? Oh yes, the fact that they're taking the oxygen out of our lungs and you'd be a moron to believe them.

#24 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 02:21 PM:

$2.9 billion as chump change to Exxon-Mobile?


Depending on depths and problems encountered during drilling, that'll buy 3-6 shallow gas wells, or a moderately risky exploration well in difficult terrain (such as the interior of British Columbia), or 1/10 of a high-risk offshore deepwater well in a country like Nigeria.

I used to work for a company that cleared less than a tenth of what Exxon-Mobile clears. Said company drilled between 300 and 700 wells per year, depending on market conditions. Exxon-Mobile probably does not drill a mathematically larger number of wells; they go for higher-risk more often, and get out of areas where the biggest fields remaining to be found are likely to be less than 100 million barrels of recoverable oil. Each.

Just thought y'all might like to know that.

#25 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 02:40 PM:

@24, Renee:$2.9 billion as chump change to Exxon-Mobile?

Renee, you seem to have inadvertently added three zeroes to Teresa's number. The number she claimed was $2.9 million.

So, I guess what you thought we all might like to know is that the amount Exxon spends on surprisingly effective astroturf wouldn't be enough money to buy even one shallow gas well?

BTW, I'm with Brooks and Greg with respect to Exxon funding research. I guess Edward's scenario is also plausible, but that seems extremely short-sighted to me. Exxon has to plan for the eventuality of a petroleum shortage if they plan to stay a huge, multinational corporation.

#26 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 02:54 PM:

Bah. Million, not billion. I can't type worth beans today.

#27 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 03:10 PM:

Arco/BP and Shell do solar power R and D. I wouldn't be surprised if one or more Big Oil Companies was also into wind power.

#28 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 04:11 PM:

I can't type worth bleans today, either.

Discovery Channel had a program on renewable energy. Some kind of grass, switchgrass?, apparently is the best producer of ethonal. corn is so inefficient that for every gallon of fuel to plant/harvest/convert it, it produces 1.3 gallons of ethonal. Diesel engines burning soybean oil was another alternative.

They said that there isn't enough farmland to make all the fuel we need for our cars and feed everyone. Maybe switchgrass would do it?

The netherlands? is harnessing geothermal and tidal energy and has a long term plan to be running completely off of renewable energy at some point in my lifetime.

Windmills are 200 feet tall and put out a megawatt of electricity. Not sure how much it costs when you factor in cost of manufacturing the windmill and maintenence.

Solar has had some breakthroughs in making it much cheaper to produce electricity. Israel law requires all residences have a solar water heater.

A lot of power sources during the industrial revolution were not petroleum. Diesel engines were designed to run on peanut oil and the model T burned ethonal.

When I look at all the alternatives, I almost get the feeling that petroleum came along and was so cheap compared to the others, that it almost made us stop thinking. Which is probably what the petroleum companies would like us to do. and which is what astroturf does.

#29 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 04:53 PM:

#28: petroleum came along and was so cheap compared to the others, that it almost made us stop thinking
Correct. Over the past 100 years or so we've become totally hooked on petroleum. We can live far away from our work; drive anywhere anytime; fly anywhere anytime; get cheap imported products from the Far East; get food from far away; and so on. That whole lifestyle will come tumbling down as the world runs out of oil. It's debatable whether we've reached Peak Oil yet - the point at which global production begins to decline - but if not, we're close. The oil companies know this, of course, and that's why they're moving to keep oil usage up, on the one hand, and research new business opportunities, on the other. Because the western Big Oil think they're "energy companies", renewable energy is natural, though some are diversifying into other businesses.

But don't forget that Exxon isn't really big on global scale, only big on western capitalist scale. The real Big Oil is the national oil companies of Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Venezuela, and the rather murky collection of Russian oil companies (also Gazprom, the world's biggest gas producer). Do any of them give a damn about global warming? The Russians might, before long - melting permafrost is already giving them big problems - but I doubt if the others care at all. And we have no infuence on them at all, so they don't need to bother with astroturf.

#30 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 07:25 PM:

Don't discount the possibility that Exxon is just not all that organized. They're a big organization, capable of having one part funding good research, another part funding astroturf, another part donating money to build schools and hospitals, another part buying off corrupt governments to keep their oil franchise, etc.

#31 ::: Ross Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 08:50 PM:

Just for a change, some good news on the big business vs global warming front:

Billionaire Richard Branson on Thursday committed to spending all the profits from his airline and rail businesses -- an estimated $3 billion over the next 10 years -- on combating global warming.

The Virgin Group chairman said the money would be spent on renewable energy initiatives within his company and on investments in bio-fuel research, development, production and distribution, as well as projects to tackle emissions contributing to global warming.

#32 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 09:07 PM:

Renee, Greg, I apologize. I haven't been typing well for a few days now. I didn't know it was contagious.

#33 ::: Michael Sedio ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 09:17 PM:

We've got to get back on track with the Kyoto protocol. According to the Economist EU countries and Japan will meet their goals, but the US and Canada won't. And things are going to get a lot worse if we don't act; China and India will overtake the US as the biggest producers of greenhouse gases, and they won't even think about slowing down unless the US does first.

When concerns about the economy trump the environment every election few politicians are willing to risk a drop in global output, even if realistic models put it at below 1%. Bottom line, there will have to be a major priority shift among voters for this to fly.

#34 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 09:52 PM:

Marilee @ 32
It must be a bug going around, or something. I've been mistyping a lot this last week also.

(Preview should be my friend. So should a newer or cleaner keyboard.)

#35 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2006, 11:58 PM:

Our local weatherman is an avowed global warming denier. How a member of the American Meteorological Society who has otherwise proven himself to be a very open-minded, intelligent individual can think this is utterly beyond me.

#36 ::: Writerious ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 12:13 AM:

Well, their message to Exxon sure beats the message they sent to Leeuwenhoek when he wrote to them about the "animacules" he'd discovered in water droplets:

20th of October, 1676

Dear Mr. Anthony van Leeuwenhoek,

Your letter of October 10th has been received here with amusement. Your account of myriad 'little animals' seen swimming in rainwater, with the aid of your so-called 'microscope,' caused the members of the society considerable merriment when read at our most recent meeting. Your novel descriptions of the sundry anatomies and occupations of these invisible creatures led one member to imagine that your 'rainwater' might have contained an ample portion of distilled spirits--imbibed by the investigator. Another member raised a glass of clear water and exclaimed, 'Behold, the Africk of Leeuwenhoek.' For myself, I withhold judgment as to the sobriety of your observations and the veracity of your instrument. However, a vote having been taken among the members--accompanied I regret to inform you, by considerable giggling--it has been decided not to publish your communication in the Proceedings of this esteemed society. However, all here wish your 'little animals' health, prodigality and good husbandry by their ingenious 'discoverer.'

Hendrik Oldenburg
Secretary of the Royal Society, London

#37 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 12:45 AM:

Alas, that letter attributed to Hendrik Oldenburg of the Royal Society appears to date to 1992.

In fact, a condensed translation of van Leeuwenhoek's letter was published by the Royal Society, with the following note by Oldenburg attached: "This phenomenon, and some following ones seeming to me very extraordinary, the Author hath been desired to acqaint us with his method of observing, that others may confirm such Observations as these."

#38 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 02:43 AM:

Reade ye the snoppes webbe syte, sirrah!

#39 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 03:53 AM:

I was watching the Read or Die OAV a while back: you do not want to have overdue books from the British Library. And there was something I remember seeing about the Royal Society having possession of part of the pre-WW2 German Embassy in London.

All these venerable British institutions; why would anyone think that Indiana Jones grabbed all the Good Stuff? He didn't have an Empire behind him.

(Now crossover The Mummy Returns with a WW2 desert-war movie, even with The Rat Patrol).

#40 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 09:00 AM:

The origin of the bogus "Royal Society" letter appears to be this column from the Boston Globe.

The same column has two other supposed letters, one to Gregor Mendel, the other to Albert Einstein, both equally spurious. The point of all of them seems to be to introduce the word "giggle." The author of the column is commenting on story of the day, when the project manager for NASA's SETI program said that his program had "a high giggle factor."

#41 ::: Steven Poole ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 09:06 AM:

FYI, the bloke from the "Scientific Alliance" replied in today's Guardian letters page. He is not wholly convincing.

#42 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 01:19 PM:

Mad propz to Dave Bell for the ROD respect, yo.

(Apparently, some of the agents of the British Library can give you a terminal papercut. From 50 feet away.)

#43 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 01:22 PM:


I suspect that someone with a meteorology background who doesn't buy global warming is doing something completely different from what the propoganda/astroturf types are trying to induce. They want to stop careful thought about the question (I think in this case mostly by some combination of "this is all liberal biased anticapitalist extremists" and "this is all too complicated for anyone to untangle.") (The last one may be true.)

It's really important to distinguish these two. Just because intellectually dishonest campaigns are trying to convince you that X is false doesn't mean that X is really true. Propogandists don't care about true or false, just about what they're trying to sell you.

The belief that global warming is being driven heavily by human CO2 production seems like the best available picture of reality right now. But that doesn't guarantee that it's right, and it doesn't make anyone disagreeing with it evil or stupid. Maybe the inability to budget for where all the carbon is going really bugs the guy, or he just doesn't trust computer models too complex to hold in his own head.

#44 ::: Michael Sedio ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 01:21 AM:

I believe that meteorologists think that global warming might be a part of natural shifts in weather patterns. They might be right, I'm sure weather patterns change on their own, but it seems clear to me that humans are driving the most significant changes.

On the bright side the British made it clear to the UN that climate change is a key issue, especially over the next ten years. We can't afford to put this off any longer.

#45 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 08:07 AM:

While EM spends $2.9e6 to lie to us, the IRS is going after a church in LA claiming that one anti-war sermon (with no comments on candidates) overstepped the legal bounds for 501(c)3 organizations. (No link; whatever Google-fu I had is now gone -- but the Globe quoted from AP 3 days ago, and Friday morning NPR said the church told the IRS what to do with the subpoena.) How many megachurches have overstepped the bounds on the other side?

I remember in 1988 hearing the scandalous reports of how Nixon had set the IRS on Wallace to make sure there wouldn't be a split electoral college in 1972. (Seems N was scared by 1968.) These days, they terrorize in broad daylight and I haven't heard of anyone denouncing them in a major forum. (Ted Kennedy did speak, but apparently not where he was generally recorded.)

#46 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 12:47 PM:

And I recall some stuff like this begin done in the Clinton administration against some nonprofit religious groups that were pretty far to the right. In both cases, control over federal agencies turns out to be useful to reward friends and punish enemies, and politicians love to be able to do that. Especially with an agency like the IRS.

No doubt plenty of Republicans are explaining calmly why this is somehow okay, not a violation of the first ammendment, and in fact is the only thing a neutral, nonpartisan IRS can do. And in four years, under a Democratic president, those same guys will be shrieking to high heaven about how the IRS is targeting their churches, the FCC is using its power to influence how TV and cable stations report the news, etc.

#47 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 10:41 AM:

Meteorologist != climate scientist.
And especially: TV weatherman != climate scientist.

The fact that a TV weatherman doesn't believe in global warming means very little. I followed meredith's link (in #35); the bio the guy (Geoff Fox) lists mentions only a master's in "Broadcast Meteorology" and no hint of any scientific publications, so he doesn't appear to be a meteorologist in the scientist sense. (Ignoring the additional issue that meteorology -- attempting to predict relatively precise microscale weather on timescale of days -- is not at all the same thing as climate science, which deals with global processes over timescales of decades, centuries, and longer.)

#48 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 01:22 PM:

meredith--what station/network is the rectocranial invert working, and how much are they paying him? Would he lose his job if he didn't mouth the global warming denier line?

What's his religion affiliatoin? Is it one which features dogma discouraging use of the scientific method?

#49 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 06:29 PM:

albatross -- in the real world, there are large numbers of grossly political, grossly reactionary churches, many of which are in clear violation of 501(c)3 rules wrt political activity (don't get me started on local Catholicism); there are no leftist equivalents, arguably because the churches with left approaches are following \all/ of Christianity instead of cherry-picking. The church just attacked, by contrast, had \one/ sermon -- against the Iraq war, not against any political individual, party, or position. (For our purpose, the war is political -- but catch a Republican admitting that.) IANAL, but I've been around 501(c)3 for a while.

#50 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 07:53 PM:

CHip, the sermon apparently said that if Jesus was around, he would vote for Kerry, not Gore. I do believe that's political speech.

#51 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 08:13 PM:

The IRS Works in Mysterious Ways
is an LA columnist looking at two churches, their politics, and what the IRS is doing with them. Hint: the conservative church has been ignored up to now.

#52 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 08:19 PM:

in #42 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little wrote:
Mad propz to Dave Bell for the ROD respect, yo.

(Apparently, some of the agents of the British Library can give you a terminal papercut. From 50 feet away.)

Seconding that.

If you like books, wild adventures, female heroes, and drawing inferences instead of being told everything, this one's for you. Skip the netflix/amazon descriptions (linked below) if you want to avoid spoilers; basically something neat and unexpected happens every five minutes for the entire movie.

Netflix link, Amazon link.

Oh, and there's some, er, politcal satire directed towards a certain north american government official.*


*I guess, barring knitting, there's something for everyone who regularly posts here.

#53 ::: morgue ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 08:55 PM:

Hey - any New Zealanders in the audience? Or other genius webheads who know more tricks than me?

NZ has its own little Climate Change denial organization, the NZ Climate Science Coalition. They don't seem to have much money going through them but they write lots of letters to editors and make submissions to govt. etc.

Their website is basically a feed of links to propaganda by Exxon-Mobil client organizations.

I'd like to know more about these guys. I'm discussing it and doing some research on my blog, but I first really got a grip on astroturfing and related issues here at Making Light, so I'm wondering if this audience can suggest any fruitful leads...

(Hmm, I think this is my first comment here ever after many many years of reading and recommending. Cool.)

#54 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 11:14 PM:

The seven disc ROD TV series is worth renting too.

#55 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 03:42 AM:

The ROD TV series is something I have mixed feelings about. There are cross-references, but the style is different. It seems very slow, a lot of the time.

Slow isn't bad: I'm watching Mushishi at the moment.

#56 ::: Chuck Divine ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 11:07 AM:


I'm copying something from an e-mail I sent to a committee at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Washington, DC that's organizing a showing of "An Inconvenient Truth" on October 3rd.

---------Beginning of excerpt----------
I made an interesting discovery by following a link from the Greater
Washington Interfaith Power and Light ( ) web
site. First, go to Who We Are ( ).
Chair of the Steering Committee is Reid Detchon of the Energy Future
Coalition ( ). That website
raises a few eyebrows. Especially The Future of Coal
( ).
---------------End of excerpt-------------

OK, a simple question. Does anyone know if some people in industry are trying to hijack antiglobal warming groups by claiming things can be fixed in ways that don't mean a fundamental shift in the way we obtain energy? I'm a bit of a skeptic on "clean coal." Carbon sequestration might be feasible but not practical. I freely admit my knowledge of coal powered electrical generation is hardly expert.

#57 ::: Chuck Divine ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 11:24 AM:

A few quick comments on the Bush administration's IRS investigation of the left wing Episcopal church.

Are they out of their minds? Seriously. Some churches are so much in bed with right wing politicians it's not funny. They would be subject to the same kind of harassment for their political stands. So would the Roman Catholic Church (think of the abortion controversy).

For those who don't know much about the Episcopal Church, here a few facts that might give pause:

  • The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the world wide Anglican communion. That's a bit controversial these days.
  • The Episcopal Church has a constitution that was drafted by many of the same people who wrote the U.S. Constitution. Yes, we are a representative democracy with a constitution. We also take free speech quite seriously.
  • Former Presidents who were Episcopalians include such people as George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and, believe it or not, George H. W. Bush (W's father). At one point in history the Episcopal Church was described as the Republican Party at prayer.
  • There is a building in Washington, DC known as Washington National Cathedral. It is, in fact, an Episcopal church we make available to the nation for all kinds of important national events, like President Reagan's funeral (Nancy Reagan is an Episcopalian) and the memorial to the victims of 9/11.
  • We just elected a new Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts Schiori. Her daughter is a pilot and an Air Force officer.

I repeat myself. Has the Bush team lost their minds?

#58 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 01:21 PM:

Chip #49:

Predominantly black churches are often politically active, and are almost entirely Democratic. That seems like a fairly obvious counterexample to your claim that only right-wing churches are overtly political.

In fact, it's hard to imagine a church *not* taking positions on some major moral issues that affect politics. Is abortion equivalent to infanticide? Is the war in Iraq a just war? Is torture ever acceptable? Is it morally acceptable to make blacks second-class citizens? How about gays? Is it just to pay your employees as little as you can get away with, or do you owe them a living wage? Every one of those questions has a direct effect on political questions. There's no way to evade that.

There are some questions about how far churches can go toward directly helping political campaigns. I don't know enough details about this story to be sure what all went into the IRS' hassling of them, though I kind-of assume it was politically motivated.

The worst possible outcome is government agents monitoring the sermons at each church, temple, mosque, etc., and hassling or arresting anyone who says the wrong things. Avoiding that is worth putting up with a lot of overt political activity at churches.

#59 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 01:29 PM:

Peter #47 and Paula #48:

Would you apply the same questions to a TV meteorologist that said he believed that human CO2 emissions were having a big effect on global climate change? Because these all look like exactly the same questions a Rush Limbaugh type would ask to try to discredit someone arguing for global warming. ("Yes, he says he believes in global warming, but he's a member of the notoriously liberal Nature Conservancy, and of the politically slimy Episcopalian church that is being investigated by the IRS for fraud. Besides, he's only a broadcast meterologist, not any kind of a real scientist.")

Sometimes, people disagree, not because they're paid shills or dupes, but because they actually disagree. Sometimes that's not because they're stupid, but because they just aren't convinced. That's okay--in fact, it's exactly how things need to work for us to eventually understand the world better. Transforming a scientific debate into a moral crusade is just exactly as dumb when done by the left as when done by the right.

#60 ::: Julian Flood ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 10:53 PM:

I dislike the tone and vocabulary of the climate change debate. Calling someone a 'denier' with the tone of 'atheist cannibal who kills kittens and small puppies' is hardly appropriate, but there's a lot of it about. This is science, not religion. Disagreement is mandatory, not forbidden.

No-one in power seems to be taking the threat seriously -- and there is a threat, just looking at the measured data section of the hockey stick graph is enough to prove that strange things are going on. But why can I still buy incandescent bulbs for the cottage? A simple law would save millions of tonnes of CO2 at a stroke of the pen. If governments are so indifferent, I wonder if they know something and aren't telling. Maybe a good scare is needed to wean us off ME oil.

You can call me a denier if you like, but not, I hope, with the usual priggish tone of disapproval. Having studied what's available on the web, I find it unlikely that our climate system is so finely balanced that it's being disrupted by a few gigatonnes per year. Something else is going on.

Using Original Thought (tm) I have come up with a new theory of the cause: cures, or means of buying time, have been proposed by better men than me. The best I've seen is Salter's (yes, that Salter, the duck man) and Latham's windpowered cloudmaker, easily achievable using curent technology and not even very expensive. For those with an sf bent, the illo to his paper looks like a '60s Analog cover, and the content wouldn't look out of place in the science fact section.

Oh, yes. One more thing. If Exxon -- or one of the other oil companies -- wishes to buy my voice I'm only too pleased to take their money. Climbers aren't doing well at the moment...

(who has been irritated by a Yahoo bot sitting on his website global warming page -- maybe Yahoo is the only power taking global warming seriously)

#61 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2006, 12:24 AM:

Chuck, #57, you left out that so many churches don't like the new presiding bishop and her beliefs that they're leaving the main church.

#62 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2006, 05:17 PM:

It looks like, according to Nature, the current administration is back up to their old tricks:

The Bush administration has blocked release of a report that suggests global warming is contributing to the frequency and strength of hurricanes, the journal Nature reported Tuesday.

The possibility that warming conditions may cause storms to become stronger has generated debate among climate and weather experts, particularly in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

In the new case, Nature said weather experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration part of the Commerce Department in February set up a seven-member panel to prepare a consensus report on the views of agency scientists about global warming and hurricanes.

According to Nature, a draft of the statement said that warming may be having an effect.

In May, when the report was expected to be released, panel chair Ants Leetmaa received an e-mail from a Commerce official saying the report needed to be made less technical and was not to be released, Nature reported.

Leetmaa, head of NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in New Jersey, did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

NOAA spokesman Jordan St. John said he had no details of the report.

NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher is currently out of the country, but Nature quoted him as saying the report was merely an internal document and could not be released because the agency could not take an official position on the issue.

OK, here comes the usual process, in order:

  • What report?
  • The report doesn't say that!

  • Well, even if it says that, it's not an official policy document anyway . . .

#63 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2006, 06:05 PM:

Don't forget:

* Why don't these grant-hungry enviro-alarmist "climatoligists" ever talk about the positive effects of giant hurricaines?

#64 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2006, 06:08 PM:

Stefan @ 63:

You mean the excellent opportunities for urban renewal?

#65 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2006, 06:10 PM:

Of course! Think of the stimulating economic effect a devastating hurricaine would bring to Hallibur . . . uh, the construction business!

#66 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2006, 06:11 PM:

Stefan Jones #63: Like Trent Lott's improved beach house?

#67 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2006, 07:26 PM:

Marilee says at #61:
Chuck, #57, you left out that so many churches don't like the new presiding bishop and her beliefs that they're leaving the main church.

Our vicar began her sermon on the general convention with a story about an earlier convention and all its difficulties; of course, they did come up with that Nicean Crede.

These things happen.

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.