Sunday, July 25, 2010

Conspiracy Theories

More on ideas promulgated by Letters to the Editor in newspapers.

The conspiracy theories that are proliferating today about global warming in various
media outlets are simplistic because they give the impression that a small group of people are responsible for the problem considered, and that removing them from any positions of authority will solve whatever problem is discussed.

Things rarely are that simple, and unfortunately, the scapegoating associated with these accusations distracts attention from their real source, which often is the efforts of major industries to influence the media and public opinion. For example, the claims of scientists who showed a relationship between tobacco and a variety of diseases were discounted by other scientists working for the Tobacco Research Institute, which of course, was funded by the tobacco industry. The effects of that propaganda campaign persist today, a generation later. Whenever a city tries to ban smoking in public places letters appear in the newspapers claiming that there is no proof that secondhand smoke from other people's cigarettes is dangerous, Of course, these letters do not come from representatives of the medical profession; they usually are from smokers, or from the owners of bars and restaurants who predict that they will lose customers if such a ban is enacted, or from Libertarians who object to any legislation that restricts peoples' activities.

The funding sources of contemporary misinformation campaigns are not obvious, as is shown by the global warming controversy. Letters claiming that legislation to reduce carbon emissions is not necessary because warming is not occurring, and that the legislation will destroy the economy never seem to mention that these beliefs are based primarily on misinformation provided by the energy industry. Reducing the amount of carbon emitted by power plants and automobiles will have a significant adverse effect on energy companies' profits, and clearly, that is not in their best interests. So they fund "research scientists" who do no research at conservative think tanks; they fund advertising campaigns to influence the public; they hire lobbyists to interact with the legislators who will vote on laws reducing carbon emissions; and they fund conferences, supposedly on the scientific aspects of global warming, but which are attended mainly by economists.

Letters to the editor are probably not effective in influencing elected officials; behind-the-scenes lobbying is surely more effective in affecting legislators' decisions. But the fact that the letters appear illustrates two things: first, some segment of the population is affected by the public relations campaigns; and second, the editorial staff of the newspaper thinks that both sides of an issue should be publicized. I believe it was Edward R. Murrow who claimed that to the media the opinions of Judas and Jesus are of equal value.

No comments:

Post a Comment