Spam in a book

When I attended college at the University of Oregon (yes, I’m a duck), I could never understand why the journalism school housed classes in both newsgathering and public relations.

After all, one discipline uncovers implausible truths. The other traffics in plausible untruths.

I was pondering this conundrum this morning after I received an email from a PR executive from a company based in New Jersey. She was hawking a book on global warming, inaccurately portraying the science behind global warming as a hoax, and asking me to review the book.

Public relations is like a box of chocolate ice cream. One bite won’t hurt you, but if you’re going to eat the whole box, well, I wouldn’t go stand on the bathroom scale. One little PR fib won’t hurt you, but if you are besieged by a pack of PR lies, I wouldn’t take an IQ test right away. Fortunately,your imminent bout with stupidity is only temporary.

So here we have a press release from someone named Lynn Coppotelli, of SmithPublicity.com, asking me to review a new book by Larry Bell titled, “Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax.”

She writes: “Bell gives solid, scientific facts that dispels the global warming myth. Citing a web of deception between politicians, special interest groups and the research industry, Bell sets the record straight.”

Now, I am sure Ms. Coppotelli is nice to her neighbors and friendly to cats, but I’m not buying either her or Mr. Bell’s slant on global warming. Nor are a lot of other people I respect.  Here’s what the climate scientists at Realclimate.org said about him:

Bell uses the key technique that denialists use in debates, dubbed by Eugenie Scott the “Gish gallop”, named after a master of the style, anti-evolutionist Duane Gish. The Gish gallop raises a barrage of obscure and marginal facts and fabrications that appear at first glance to cast doubt on the entire edifice under attack, but which on closer examination do no such thing. In real-time debates the number of particularities raised is sure to catch the opponent off guard; this is why challenges to such debates are often raised by enemies of science. Little or no knowledge of a holistic view of any given science is needed to construct such scattershot attacks.

The approach also works somewhat in print, if the references are sufficiently obscure and numerous. Ideally, someone will take the time to answer such an attack, but there is a fundamental asymmetry of forces at work. It is, in fact, easier to form an allegation than to track down a reasonable explanation of what it means and how it really fits in to the balance of evidence. Also, the skills required to reflect the science are deeper than the ones required to attack it; hence the defenders are outnumbered and outgunned.

My reply to Ms. Coppotelli was, I admit, profane. I don’t like being lied to, especially early in the morning when I am definitely outnumbered and outgunned. I was pleased when she promised to take me off her email list, which apparently she uses to promote hucksters like Larry Bell who are selling spam in a book.

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