Americ-Amnesia: The Post-Truth Era Began with Lead Lobby

When people successfully confuse the public about what is true that leaves people looking to leaders to tell them what is true. What happened in 2020 was not out of nowhere.

When people successfully confuse the public about what is true that leaves people looking to leaders to tell them what is true. Post-truth is pre-fascism. What happened in 2020 was not out of nowhere. It is the product of over a half-century of unchecked science denialism.

Time after time, people doubted scientists. Time after time, scientists were vindicated. Each time, a significant number of people trusted industry and elected officials working for industry: the lead lobby, big oil and gas, plastics, and more. It’s still happening today.


The Original Science Denying Industry Was Lead

It began with the lead lobby. They went after scientists and pediatricians and passed it off as only affecting people of color. They appealed to kids in advertising and worst of all, they knew. They knew it was harmful, and they blamed the parents for letting kids be exposed.

Lead ultimately did not win this PR battle, but other industries learned from their mistakes. Big tobacco learned from and improved upon the lead lobby's mistakes and methods.

Dutchboy may have failed because its disinformation was less sophisticated. It was essentially a positive campaign that didn’t much address the concerns or claims of scientists.

Big tobacco pioneered recognized methods of science denial like the magnified minority1—still popular today—and by casting doubt on the scientific consensus—also hugely popular today.

Each time, the industry has known, and each time they are never held to account for staving off protections just a while longer. As a consequence, many children, unrecognized and recognized, are still exposed. All of the loss, the consequences, and solutions are on governments and the public. None these costs are reimbursed by the lead lobby.

Next came the most sophisticated modern effort, that of the fossil fuel industry. To be 100% clear, because denial still happens in the highest offices in the US, Exxon Mobil knew climate change was real 40 years ago. It is real and July 1982 was the latest date that people at Exxon-Mobil can say they did not know.

Selected region

Our leaders knew in the 1970s and 80s because the military has had to spend money findings ways to counter the threat for decades. If you’re not sure personally, it’s not that you aren’t scientifically literate—it’s that you’ve been targeted with disinformation, possibly for your entire life if you were born after the 1980s.

The oil and gas industry recruited influential figures to spread their message, like Rush Limbaugh, and they donated to politicians who mislead the public. Scientists for hire (a small but disproportionately consequential group) conducted studies with industry funding, which is well-known for generating biased results that favor industry far more often than independent research.


Getting Gaslit by the Oil & Gas Industry

The systematic erosion of truth always serves someone. No one makes the tremendous effort to leave people unable to tell what is true without strong motivation. This disorientation has significant costs, like stripping society of the ability to navigate a crisis or anything that requires cooperation.

Ask yourself, who is served by the denial of climate science? It’s not us.

  • Is the oil & gas industry served by it?

    • Yes. See transnational disinformation network expressly for misleading the world.

If things are so dire, why are we so confused? Well, a lot of money has gone into that, a lot of dark money.10

These are the top 20 recipients from the oil and gas industries for 2016 and 2020. The people who appear on this list are people who have a conflict of interest when speaking about climate science and would not be credible sources given the significant contributions to them from those who have a vested interest in avoiding accountability, regulation, and addressing climate change.

When you aren’t sure what to believe ask yourself these questions:

  • Who benefits and who is hurt by me believing this?

  • Is this something I want to be true so I’m more likely to be fooled if it’s misinformation?

  • Who funded this content or study?

  • If it’s a study, do researchers or the institution have conflicts of interest, and have they stated them?

  • How do relevant experts react to the work (these are the people who are best able to spot a disinformation study)?

  • Are the experts or scientists in the study relevant experts?

It’s important that we not simply check if there is a D or an R behind a person’s name before we decide how we feel about a topic.


Carefully assess claims—our lives depend on it.

The fossil fuel industry isn't worried about you, and they have spent billions funding think-tanks, misled us to believe that plastics were recyclables,11 compromised research, and politicians to create plausible deniability for the leaders who have to sell policies likely to harm constituents to those same constituents.12

To protect business interests, big industries appear to have decided they ultimately must thwart democracy. It's not avoidable if they wish to avoid accountability, regulation, and fair taxation. Documents show efforts to influence election outcomes by industry figures began in the 1970s.


Enemies of the People

On leaked audio one can hear a senior Koch operative telling McConnell’s chief of staff McKenzie to ignore Republican voters when he shared they didn’t think they could convince them to reject the voter protections bill. The recording appears to be missing from the original article.

  • “Unfortunately, we’ve found that that is a winning message, for both the general public and also conservatives.”
    —McKenzie referring to saying that the bill would get billionaires out of politics, which it would.

  • Sadly,” McConnell’s chief of staff McKenzie added, not even attaching the phrase “cancel culture” to the bill, by portraying it as silencing conservative voices, worked to turn people away from it. “It really ranked at the bottom,” McKenzie said to the group. “That was definitely a little concerning for us.”

  • A senior Koch operative advised given everything on their plate that they would be best off by ignoring the will of American voters and trying to kill the bill in Congress. Indeed, they did that today.

Excerpt from the Disinformation Age, citing Dark Money by Jane Mayer:

[The Koch’s have] directly or indirectly been involved with:

  • Killing restrictions on political spending by corporations and the rich. This was realized by the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that essentially lifted limitations on political donations.

Share

1

Science Denial Tactics

FALLACIES OF RELEVANCE

Fallacies of relevance involve premises that are irrelevant or do not logically support the argument’s conclusion.  

  • Ambiguity

    • Using ambiguous language/terminology in premises to lead to a misleading conclusion.

  • Appeal to conspiracy

    • Proposes a secret plan among a number of people, generally to implement a nefarious scheme such as conspiring to hide truth or perpetuate misinformation.

  • Equivocation

    • When the same word (here used also for phrase) is used with two different meanings. Equivocation is a subset of the ambiguity fallacy.

  • Non sequitur

    • Latin for “it does not follow” and applies to arguments where the stated conclusion does not logically follow from the premises.

  • Red herring

    • Poses a distracting statement that has little bearing on the final argued conclusion and whose intent is to disrupt engagement with the point at issue.

FALLACIES OF PRESUMPTION

Fallacies of presumption are found in arguments that rely on premise/s assumed to be true but are in fact false or without support. 

  • Fake experts

    • Cites dissenting non-experts who are promoted as highly qualified while not having published any actual climate research.

  • False cause

    • Post hoc ergo propter hoc — after this therefore because of this. Automatically attributes causality to a sequence or conjunction of events.

  • False dichotomy

    • Presents only two alternatives, while there may be another alternative, another way of framing the situation, or both options may be simultaneously viable.

  • False equivalency

    • Assumes that two subjects that share a single trait are equivalent.

  • Magnified minority

    • Presents a small dissenting group as larger and more significant than they really are.

FALLACIES OF SCOPE

Fallacies of scope involve a failure to see the limitations or exceptions to an argument through the misuse of statistical information or through deliberate/unintentional use of information.

  • Cherry-picking

    • Selectively chooses data leading to the desired conclusion that differs from the conclusion arising from all the available data. Similar to slothful induction but with an emphasis on actively selecting specific information to draw a misleading conclusion rather than ignoring relevant information.

  • Impossible expectations

    • Demands unrealistic standards of certainty before acting on the science.  In particular, expects deductive proof from inductive reasoning.

  • Misrepresentation

    • Misrepresents a situation or scientific understanding.

  • Oversimplification

    • A specific type of misrepresentation. Simplifies a situation in such a way as to distort scientific understanding, leading to erroneous conclusions. In contrast to cherry-picking, which typically involves data, oversimplification typically involves understanding how systems operate.

  • Single cause

    • Assumes there is a single, simple cause of an outcome.

  • Slothful induction

    • Ignores relevant and significant evidence when inferring to a conclusion. Similar to cherry-picking but with an emphasis on neglecting information rather than selecting highlighting information to draw a misleading conclusion.


2

Coglianese, Cary, and Christopher Carrigan. 2014. “1. The Jobs and Regulation Debate.” In Does Regulation Kill Jobs?, 1–30. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Berman and Bui. 2001. “Environmental Regulation and Labor Demand: Evidence from the South Coast Air Basin.” Journal of Public Economics 79: 265–95.

Greenstone, Michael. 2002. “The Impacts of Environmental Regulations on Industrial Activity: Evidence from the 1970 and 1977 Clean Air Act Amendments and the Census of Manufactures.” The Journal of Political Economy 110 (6): 1175–1219.

Heutel, Garth. 2018. “Do Climate Policies ‘kill Jobs’? An Economist on Why They Don’t Cause Massive Unemployment.” Associated Press. December 11, 2018. https://apnews.com/article/aa1d9bc7cc3ebd3da652c764937e5f14.

Brown, Marilyn A., and Majid Ahmadi. n.d. “Would a Green New Deal Add or Kill Jobs?” Scientific American. Accessed June 22, 2021. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/would-a-green-new-deal-add-or-kill-jobs1/.


3

“Climate Change Evidence: How Do We Know?”. Accessed June 22, 2021. https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/.

Rosen, Julia. 2021. “The Science of Climate Change Explained: Facts, Evidence and Proof.” The New York Times, June 18, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/article/climate-change-global-warming-faq.html.

“Ten Signs of Global Warming.” 2017. Accessed June 22, 2021. https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/ten-signs-global-warming.


4

Sullivan, Laura. 2020. “How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled.” NPR, September 11, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/09/11/897692090/how-big-oil-misled-the-public-into-believing-plastic-would-be-recycled.


5

Rustagi, Neeti, S. K. Pradhan, and Ritesh Singh. 2011. “Public Health Impact of Plastics: An Overview.” Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 15 (3): 100–103.


6

“Global Warming of 1.5 oC.” n.d. Accessed June 22, 2021. https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/.


7

Ibid.


8

Ibid.


9

Daszak, Peter, Gerald T. Keusch, Alexandra L. Phelan, Christine K. Johnson, and Michael T. Osterholm. 2021. “Infectious Disease Threats: A Rebound To Resilience.” Health Affairs 40 (2): 204–11.

Ordway, Denise-Marie, and Natasha Sokol. 2016. “Global Trends in Human Infectious Disease: Rising Number of Outbreaks, Fewer per-Capita Cases - The Journalist’s Resource.” February 1, 2016. https://journalistsresource.org/economics/global-rise-human-infectious-disease-outbreaks/.

Smith, Katherine F., Michael Goldberg, Samantha Rosenthal, Lynn Carlson, Jane Chen, Cici Chen, and Sohini Ramachandran. 2014. “Global Rise in Human Infectious Disease Outbreaks.” Journal of the Royal Society, Interface / the Royal Society 11 (101): 20140950.


10

Brulle, R.J. Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations. Climatic Change 122681–694 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-1018-7

Mayer, Jane. 2017. Dark Money. https://www.amazon.com/Dark-Money-History-Billionaires-Radical/dp/0307947904/ref=asc_df_0307947904/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=312669563714&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=8059468184087799288&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=21155&hvtargid=pla-432540147973&psc=1


11

Sullivan, Laura. 2020. “How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled.” NPR, September 11, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/09/11/897692090/how-big-oil-misled-the-public-into-believing-plastic-would-be-recycled.

Rosalie, E. 2021. “Exxon-Funded Sources of Climate Disinformation.” Novel Science (blog). 2021. https://novelscience.substack.com/p/exxon-funded-sources-of-climate-disinformation.


12

Ibid.