Posted by: Dick Wesley | February 5, 2008

Science and Public Debate: Manufacturing Controversy in the Press

 I appreciate the Roundtable and the efforts put into running this blogsite. I am very much looking forward to hearing Professor Ceccarelli’s lecture. My particular interest is in media coverage of climate science. For many years now, powerful forces within this country have spent much time and money in the effort to distract us from the reality of global climate change. They have been very successful in manipulating both the science and the media. Lance Bennett has explained the professional norms of  journalism, one of which is “balance” or “objectivity.” By giving voice to “both sides of the story,” journalists  frequently create the false impression that the scientific community has been divided on the “debate” surrounding global warming.  It is not only journalists manufacturing the climate controversy. Opinion pages of the newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal regularly feature columns by individuals associated with industry-funded think tanks. Syndicated columnists, talk radio hosts, and TV personalities also assist in the dissemination of the myths surrounding global warming. Of course, it doesn’t help that government scientists have been gagged by the Bush Administration from speaking on this issue. To add context, previous assaults on science include those by the pesiticide industry (re: DDT – which included the character assassination of Rachel Carson), coal-burning electric utilities (re: acid rain), and the chemical industry (re: effect of CFCs on stratospheric ozone). In the words of Moti Nissani, there have always been experts willing to back up a “profitably mistaken viewpoint;” there have always been efforts “to cover the issue in a thick fog of sophistry and uncertainty” and to “unearth yet one more reason why the status quo is best for us.”   Recently, there have been a number of books that touch upon this intersection of media and manufactured scientific controversies. I highly recommend The Republican War on Science (2005) by Chris Mooney. The top internet source for the latest on climate science (including rebuttals of false assertions in the media) provided by climate scientists is  This Roundtable discussion promises to be highly engaging, the topic is extremely timely and relevant. 

  Liisa Antilla



  1. note that m bloomberg grades u.s. anti-smoking efforts as c or d . . .

    WHO and Bloomberg propose global antismoking program
    By Donald G. McNeil Jr.

    Friday, February 8, 2008
    NEW YORK: Tobacco could kill up to a billion people during the 21st century, as cigarette sales soar in poor and middle-income countries even as they drop in wealthier ones, according to a report issued by the World Health Organization.

    The report, financed by the foundation of Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, suggests a six-point program for fighting the tobacco industry’s influence.

    “The WHO is described by the tobacco industry as its biggest enemy,” Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the United Nations organization, said as she introduced the report Thursday. “Today we intend to enhance that reputation.”

    Nicknamed Mpower and based on a partially successful program for fighting drug-resistant tuberculosis, the report suggests raising cigarette taxes, banning smoking in public places, enforcing laws against giving or advertising tobacco to children, monitoring tobacco use, warning people about the dangers and offering free or inexpensive help to smokers trying to quit.

    The report, to which Bloomberg Philanthropies contributed $2 million, is the first to compile global data on how many smokers or tobacco chewers each country has, how much they pay in tobacco taxes, and how antismoking efforts are faring.

    Among its conclusions: Poor and middle-income countries collect 5,000 times as much in tax revenue from tobacco as they spend to fight its use. Only 5 percent of the world has aggressive no-smoking laws. Uruguay does more than any other country to reduce smoking.

    Bloomberg, who has a strongly stated antipathy to smoking, said in presenting the report that it would be reissued annually and would grade countries. “The United States would get a C or D,” he said.

    His statement puts him at odds with the WHO. The agency has traditionally been cautious about offending members, and in interviews, officials from its Tobacco Free Initiative specifically said countries would not be graded.

    Perhaps the oddest aspect was that the report itself was presented as if it were a campaign for menthol cigarettes, full of pictures of happy children and mottos like “fresh and alive.” It even came with what appeared to be a pack of Mpower-brand cigarettes, with a cheerful blue bubbles logo and a mock warning on the box – which actually contained a pad and pens.

    After the presentation, officials hastened to explain that the “cigarette pack” was not meant for the public, but to catch the eyes of health and finance ministers in poor countries.

    “We’re co-opting the tobacco industry’s branding strategies to capture the attention of government officials,” said Sandra Mullin, a spokeswoman for the World Lung Foundation, which contributed to the report. “We want to show that they don’t own those mottos – freshness and fun and health.”

  2. The anti-smoking campaign of the WHO is apparently directed at politicians rather than the public. I wonder how its effectiveness will be measured.



    Armstrong, Bloomberg join forces in cancer fight
    Three heavyweights in the nation’s public health debate join forces to push cancer back into political arena.
    By Laylan Copelin

    Saturday, January 19, 2008

    Three heavyweights in the nation’s public health debate — cyclist Lance Armstrong, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona — joined forces Friday to continue pushing cancer into the national political arena.

    “In my opinion, whoever wants to be president of the United States of America ought to address the number one killer in this country,” Armstrong said at a news conference at Brackenridge Hospital in Austin.

    Carmona, who met Armstrong on a bike ride, said he and other former surgeons general have agreed to outline a national call to action — a battle plan offering government officials the best available science in cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment.

    The effort comes as Armstrong and Carmona sense that the battle against cancer has lost national momentum.

    Each man brings his own perspective.

    Armstrong, a seven-time winner of the Tour de France, spearheaded a voter-approved effort last year for the state to issue $3 billion in bonds for cancer research.

    During the summer, Armstrong, a cancer survivor, also hosted a forum on cancer for presidential candidates, but not all the candidates showed up. He said Friday that another event is scheduled for July, probably after both major parties have chosen their nominees, at Ohio State University.

    Carmona, who was President Bush’s surgeon general for four years, has testified to Congress that White House officials muzzled him on a range of topics, including sex education and stem cells. He told Congress that the administration delayed and then “watered-down” a report that concluded that even a brief exposure to secondhand smoke could cause immediate harm.

    On Friday, Carmona praised Bloomberg for taking the political risk to outlaw indoor smoking in almost all establishments and ban trans fat in restaurants in New York.

    “Few political leaders stepped forward,” Carmona said. “This one did.”

    Bloomberg said the smoking ban became more popular after it went into effect. He said enforcement efforts also helped reduce smoking among the city’s high-schoolers 52 percent.

    Armstrong and Carmona said they hoped more officials would join the anti-cancer effort.

    As for presidential candidates, Carmona said, “We’re tired of platitudes and the nebulous answers. Tell us what your plan is.”; 445-3617

    Find this article at:

  5. Professor Ceccarelli’s discussion of manufactured controversy has expanded on the internet. She recently published an excellent exposition of her analysis, .

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