The history of scientific hoaxes is often amusing. In 1813, Charles Redhoffer created a Aperpetual motion machine@, a device that created more energy than it used. After hundreds of people paid a dollar to see it spinning around, Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat, grew suspicious of its uneven motion. When pieces of wood were removed from the wall behind the machine, a belt drive made of cat-gut was revealed, leading to an upper floor, where an old man was turning a crank with one hand and eating bread with the other.
In 1869 well diggers on William Newell=s farm in Cardiff, New York, found an enormous petrified man, 10 feet long. Newell set up a tent over the ACardiff Giant@ and charged 25 cents to see it. People came in droves. P.T. Barnum offered to buy it for his traveling show for $50,000, but the owners refused, so Barnum secretly had a copy made and displayed it as the original, claiming that the other was a fraud. David Hannum, a member of the syndicate which was making money on the original, remarked, AThere=s a sucker born every minute.@
The Cardiff Giant was actually a piece of carved and treated gypsum, created by the atheist George Hull, who wanted to embarrass a local minister who had quoted Genesis to prove that giants once walked the earth. Hull confessed his hoax two months after the Adiscovery@.
In 1912, a British amateur archaeologist claimed he had pieces of a skull belonging to an evolutionary link between apes and humans. Named APiltdown man@ after the gravel pit where these pieces were supposedly unearthed, most of the scientific community believed the find to be genuine. Only gradually were doubts expressed, until it was proved in the 1950s that the pieces were a human skull, an orangutan=s jawbone, and fossilized chimpanzee teeth. By then it was too late to identify the hoaxers.
These hoaxes share some common traits. An unexpected Adiscovery@ is accompanied by a plausible story about how it happened. The hoaxer has answers to initial objections, but eventually enough questions are raised by experts about the story=s details that it falls apart. The hoax can fool the public, but not the experts.
Hoaxers thrive when political ideology influences science. Joseph Stalin hated the Western science of genetics. When the biologist Trofim Lysenko denied the importance of genes and claimed that acquired characteristics could be inherited, and that he could thus create strains of wheat which could withstand Russian winters, Stalin gave him the power to dominate Soviet biology. Lysenko purged anyone who did not agree with him and set Soviet scientific research back for decades.
So we come to the big scientific hoax of our time, the Aglobal warming hoax@. Put those words into a Google search, and you will find the major organizations which claim that there is no human-caused global warming. In 2003, Nebraska Senator Jim Inhofe said before Congress that Aman‑made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,@ and he has not altered that position. The politically correct view for any Republican running for national office is to agree with Inhofe.
It is a fact that every national science academy across the globe has endorsed the idea of global warming. Studies of thousands of scientific papers have shown that over 95% argue in favor of global warming.
So if there is a global warming hoax, it is being perpetrated by virtually all the world=s scientists and governments. The following organizations must also be in on the hoax: the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, the Presbyterian Church, National Geographic, Nature Conservancy, the insurance industry, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, League of Conservation Voters, and too many others to name.
This would be the greatest hoax ever, because unlike every other hoax, it is being committed by all the world=s experts, which is precisely what the global warming deniers are claiming. It is hardly coincidence that those who claim that global warming is a hoax, all have a significant financial or political stake in preventing any action against global warming. Behind the newspaper articles, the radio broadcasts, the tiny number of paid-off scientists, and the politicians are the major oil companies like ExxonMobil, the coal industry, Koch Industries, but also a much larger sector of Adark money@ funneled through untraceable pass-through organizations. The Aindependent@ organizations which deny global warming, like the Heartland Institute, get their funding from these sources and from conservative political PACs. Before the Heartland Institute attacked the science behind global warming, it attacked scientists who said smoking causes cancer.
The political result is that the global warming hoax idea is believed by conservatives. In 2012, 71% of Avery conservative@ respondents, 52% of Asomewhat conservative@ but only 13% of liberals believed global warming was a hoax. As Bruce Sterling wrote at Wired online, AWherever moral panic, hasty judgment, fear, brutal partisan ignorance, and spin‑centric travesties of disinformation can flourish, Lysenko's spirit will never die.@
Who believes politicians paid by ExxonMobil instead of scientists, doctors, and conservationists? Gullible people who want to believe. That=s what makes hoaxes work.
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, October 21, 2014