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Tradecraft of Propaganda

Image thanks to Andri Krychok

Who knew Nigel Calder’s father was a skeptical reporter who was drawn into writing war time propaganda to help the Brits in World War II? Nigel Calder, a former editor of New Scientist (back before it became Non Scientist), and author of The Chilling Stars, is one of the few science journalists I really admire. So I was delighted when readers here told me Calder had started his own blog, and very interested to read a recent piece by him describing the parallels between World War II propaganda and official Climate Science gloss productions.

My story was about a discovery in the physics of the weather. To find anything comparable you have to go back to the 18th Century. That was when the postmaster of Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin by name, flew a kite in a thunderstorm. He proved that lightning is just a big electric spark. To be precise, he described how to do the experiment, and let the French try it first. They lived to tell the tale, so Franklin repeated it for himself. A very prudent postmaster.

In 1996, in Copenhagen, the climate physicist Henrik Svensmark made another discovery just as amazing. He found that the everyday clouds we see in the sky take their orders from the Sun and the stars. I wrote a book about it, called The Manic Sun. Nobody paid much attention, but the scientific evidence went on piling up and last year Henrik and I together published a second book called The Chilling Stars.

Arrange things so it’s easier for others to agree with you

I mentioned leaflets. Billions of them were scattered on German cities and on the front lines. One of the best of these paper weapons, so my Dad told me, was a pamphlet written by a doctor explaining to German troops how to fake illnesses so they’d not have to fight. Rule number one: pretend to be desperate to get back into action. Rule number two: report the symptoms as explained in the booklet, but pretend you’ve no idea what disease they might represent. It was so effective that the Germans translated the pamphlet into English and redirected it at British and American troops.

Although the malingerers’ handbook told no direct lies, it fell in the category of ungentlemanly behaviour, which was Foreign Office parlance for dirty tricks. Now you might not think a fine fellow like our Nobel peace prize winner Al Gore would ever resort to dirty tricks. Well think again.

An early event in the politicization of climate science was a US Senate hearing organised by Al Gore in 1988. It was for his Svengali, or Savonarola if you prefer, Dr James Hansen of NASA. On US public television last year, a colleague of Gore’s confessed what happened. I quote from the transcript of Senator Timothy Wirth.

We called the weather bureau and found out what historically was the hottest day of the summer. … So we scheduled the hearing that day, and bingo, it was the hottest day on record in Washington, or close to it. … What we did is that we went in the night before and opened all the windows – I will admit that, right – so that the air conditioning wasn’t working inside the room. And so when the hearing occurred, there was not only bliss, which is television cameras in double figures, but it was really hot. … The wonderful Jim Hansen was wiping his brow at the table at the hearing, at the witness table, and giving his remarkable testimony.

That was when Hansen claimed, 20 years ago mark you, that global warming was already large enough to ascribe, with a high degree of confidence, a cause-and-effect relationship to the greenhouse effect.

Gagging the opposition

In wartime most newspapers here were pretty passive. It was patriotic, as they saw it, to toe the official line. But the Evening Standard and the Daily Mirror were critical of the conduct of the war, so their editors were simply conscripted into the army. When Ritchie Calder reported the opening stages of the Blitz on London, in the Daily Herald, he complained about bureaucratic muddles that often left survivors uncared for, without food, water or medical attention. That counted as giving comfort to the enemy. The government shut him up by shanghai-ing him into Political Warfare.

Gagging the opposition isn’t possible in peacetime, is it? You’d be surprised. I know two American solar physicists who have been warned that they’ll lose their university jobs if they go on publicly claiming that the Sun drives climate change. When Danish TV broadcast a film sceptical about the manmade global warming story, a senior government official in Copenhagen told the producer that he’d never work for Danish television again. Here, the botanist David Bellamy, well known as an environmental broadcaster, was simply dropped from the airwaves by the BBC when he rashly mentioned his doubts about global warming.

Evidently uneasy about the attitude, the BBC newscaster Jeremy Paxman wrote in 2007, “People who know a lot more than I do may be right when they claim that global warming is the consequence of our own behaviour. I assume that this is why the BBC’s coverage of the issue abandoned the pretence of impartiality long ago.” The BBC Trust tried to intervene. In a hard-hitting report on “safeguarding impartiality”, it singled out climate change as an area of special concern. “Dissenters,” it said, “cannot be simply dismissed as ‘flat-earthers’ or ‘deniers’, who should not be given a platform by the BBC. Impartiality always requires a breadth of view.”

And glory be, when that report came out, the BBC granted a few dreadful people like Henrik Svensmark and me, two minutes here, three minutes there, to explain why we dissented from the manmade global warming story. But that lasted only a week, before the normal partiality returned.

Read the full fascinating account at Nigel’s Blog Calderup. There is much more than I’ve posted here about what the media won’t cover today, as well as stories from the war (do tell him I sent you). If you are a history buff, it’ll be especially appealling.

Thanks to Bernd and Ross for letting me know about Nigels Blog

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