In The Mirror Lies The Smoking Gun

Regular readers of this blog know that I have a habit of looking at issues that We the People blame on Them (you know who “They” are) and suggesting that “They” are the ones that you – and I – shave with every morning.

That’s probably how come there are so few of you regular readers. And there will probably be even fewer of you after this post. But I’ll risk it. Because Jeff Masters of the Weather Underground website (I’ve mentioned him here before) has written, I think, the second most important bit of Internet information on human interaction with planet Earth that there is.

(This is number 1. It’s a video series, it’s long, and it’s a fairly standard university-style lecture without fancy bells or whistles. But watch it, all eight parts, and pay attention. It’s every bit as true today as when it was first presented, a decade ago. Do not view the comments unless you have a hard head and a strong stomach – they are prima facie evidence that our species deserves nothing more than to go straight to Hell, without passing “Go”, without collecting $200.)

Masters writes, in his blog entry, which is about equal parts book review and his own distilled scientific judgment, about “manufactured doubt” – the industry that spreads disinformation about scientific evidence, when that evidence threatens the profitability of corporations whose products put humanity at risk. He documents the role that the “manufactured doubt” industry played in delaying or derailing efforts to limit the damage created by tobacco products, asbestos, and various toxic industrial chemicals including the chlorofluorocarbons responsible for the destruction of atmospheric ozone.

And, most recently, its attempts to safeguard the profits of the fossil fuel industries by debunking the evidence for anthropogenic global warming.

Masters gives details about the “bag of tricks” that the practitioners of “manufactured doubt” use to achieve their ends. Including the disparaging of peer-reviewed science and, at both the professional and personal levels, of the scientists who produce that science – impugning, among other things, that the scientists are “just another bunch of hired guns” whose findings are for sale to the highest bidder.

A disparaging that’s easy for the “manufactured doubters” and their corporate sponsors to do, since so many people with scientific credentials (some fairly substantial) are prepared to be just this type of hired gun. But what else to expect, Jerry, when jobs in, and funds for, non-corporate research are so scarce (thanks in part to these very same “manufactured doubt” campaigns), and the opportunities for selling out are so lucrative, amounting to a doubling or even more of the standard academic salary?

Now, all this reads like a diatribe against corporate moguls, doesn’t it? But then, Masters flashes the mirror. He states:

I believe that for the most part, the corporations involved have little choice under the law but to protect their profits by pursuing Manufactured Doubt campaigns … The law makes a company’s board of directors legally liable for “breach of fiduciary responsibility” if they knowingly manage a company in a way that reduces profits. Shareholders can and have sued companies for being overly socially responsible …

He cites the sad case of Henry Ford, who:

… was successfully sued by stockholders in 1919 for raising the minimum wage of his workers to $5 per day. The courts declared that, while Ford’s humanitarian sentiments about his employees were nice, his business existed to make profits for its stockholders (emphasis added).

This, dear readers, is not the revelation of a global corporate-mogul conspiracy against the “common man”. Much as those who see their own profit opportunities in such rabble-rousing would have you think otherwise.

This is your 401k telling the corporate moguls what they must do.

Masters did not end his post with any cosmic conclusions. He is, after all, a scientist, and as a scientist (rather than a propagandist such as are the “manufactured doubt” generators), he offers conclusions cautiously, and only those supported by evidence, as much and as rigorously-tested as is to hand at the time of writing. Besides, Masters has a large blog, and probably is wary of doing any more damage to his readership – and his company – than a post of this sort risks already.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba, on the other hand, has a small blog, and therefore little to risk. So I write what my conclusion is, on the basis of this evidence – and take some comfort that the message is the same as the one that scientist and science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov set down in his Bathroom Law:

The goal of preserving a planet suitable for human habitation, and the goal of preserving the individual liberty of humans living on this planet, are incompossible.

  – O Ceallaigh
Copyright © 2009 Felloffatruck Publications. All wrongs deplored.
All opinions are mine as a private citizen.


  1. I’ll give the lecture a listen later, but based on your post I’d say the following:

    The “breach of fiduciary responsibility” argument sounds like BS. That law is meant to apply to misuse of operating expenses. The fraud laws apply to manufactured doubt. Nobody is being forced by the law to pay scientists to reach wrong conclusions.

    Hypocrisy is one of the three laws of homotics.

    I both share and enjoy your viewpoint that people are sinful and stupid because they are people, not because they are bad people, but I still believe that there exist both specific and general evil and folly. I own my portion, but that doesn’t mean I’m not free to criticize the particular crimes of others.

    • Well, Dawg, there’s the law as it’s made, and there’s the law as it’s used. Nobody pays scientists to reach wrong conclusions anyway – ’cause the minute any folk bite that apple, they’re no longer scientists by definition.

  2. Yep. We’ve tied ourselves to the railroad tracks in time for the 4:45, and when it comes right on time, we’ll cry over the unfairness of it all.

    When it happens, I’ll probably still be hanging out right here.

    • A secluded coastline might be the best place to hang out anyway, Susan. One can’t mourn what one never had. And there will always be clams – without industrial pollution and the red tides it spawns, the clams might even be safe to eat.

  3. I am often mystified at people wanting corporations to act “ethically”… their ethics are based on what will provide their shareholders with the maximum return, and to do anything less is a breach of fiduciary responsibility.

    When I hear corporations touting themselves as “socially responsible” I know that they do so only because it makes them money to position themselves that way…

    But…they’re businesses, so I don’t expect anything else.

    But don’t get me going on so-called NON-PROFIT corporations. They are a HUGE business, and while they may not be making ‘profits’, they are certainly making tons of money for the people in their hierarchy. Some, like our Friends of the Library group, have zero employees, and use the 501(c)(3) status to benefit our community. Others . . . well, they’re just big business in a different mask, and getting tax benefits while they do it.

    I think that once a 501(c)(3) reaches a certain threshold of paid employees, it should lose its tax-exempt status.

    But then think of all those bureaucrats masquerading as do-gooders who will have to find real jobs.

    I won’t abandon you Amoeba…Not yet, anyway. But please don’t make me sit through Masters…

    • Mom, the principle of maximum return shares something with the principle of organismal evolution. Both operate in the short term. An organism can’t afford foresight, because “bet-hedging” might cause it to be swamped by all-out competitors and thereby go extinct. Trouble is, lack of foresight might also cause it to go extinct, often through (NB) exhaustion of resources. Humans, being (we’re told) uniquely sentient, have (again. we’re told) the ability to recognize the possibility of both outcomes and guard against them by regulation. Yes, yes, I know, I know …

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