Thursday, April 19, 2007

Denialism on the Radio

BBC Radio 4's You and Yours had a feature on 'denialism', the methods used by industry to head off the danger of consumer protection legislation. The academic and former lobbyist Chris Hoofnagle explained that companies used a 'predictable set of tactics' when faced with increased regulation by law. He uses a pack of cards to illustrate the point; the two of hearts is the 'bad apple' argument; abuses are not characteristic and so there is no need to regulate industry as a whole. The nine of hearts is 'muddy the waters', and so on.

The programme invited Patrick Barrow of the Public Relations Consultants on to discuss 'denialism'. He made frequent use of the two and nine of hearts. Interested readers can listen for themselves. I particularly liked the bit where he said that, unlike in the US, British consumers and media were too sophisticated to be taken in by PR trickery. If you believe that ...

Anyway, he gave one bad apple argument that ought to be challenged. On air he denied that the tobacco industry was representative of other businesses - 'I am not sure anyone would be using them as a model'.

Let's compare these two statements. the first is an internal document from Brown and Williamson, the tobacco company. It was written in 1969:

Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with a "body of fact" that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy. Within the business we recognize that a controversy exists. However, with the general public the consensus is that cigarettes are in some way harmful to health. If we are successful in establishing a controversy at the public level, then there is an opportunity to put across the real facts about smoking and health.

The second comes from the Republican strategist Fred Luntz. Speaking of global warming (or climate change, a term he prefers) Luntz noted that:

Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.

I think Mr Barrow underestimates the sophistication and historical awareness of his profession. Doubtless an innocent mistake.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

A small thing

The Observer, a newspaper I don't seem able to kick on a Sunday, runs a column by Jasper Gerard. Which isn't, how can I put this, always essential reading. As someone who spends more time than I should staring at blogs, I was wondering if we shouldn't encourage the editor of that newspaper to free up some space for an 'interactive' column, where we would vote on a Friday for our favourite blog piece to run instead of Gerard's column. It might seem unfair to single out Gerard in this way, and perhaps we could nominate a blog piece and a columnist we would like to see dropped from that edition. The Guardian group is very keen to adapt to the exciting new world of Web 2.0, perhaps this would be a step in the right direction?

Who's with me?

Books you don't have to read, part 2, Terror and Liberalism

In fact it might be an idea to read this one. It is about the most influential book for those on the pro-war liberal 'left'. But early on the Berman gives a hint of what the reader can expect. In the preface to the paperback edition he describes how first publication prompted two questions: 'So what do you think now - given the many astounding and terrible events that are lately taking place?' (an unlikely form of words, but anyway) and 'This book of yours - where does it fit on the political spectrum, on the left or the right?' These two questions came at him 'from everywhere at once', from the audience at bookstore events, from press coverage, from the internet. And, Berman adds:

Old friends stopped me on the sidewalk, their kindly faces wrinkled into puzzled expressions.

Who talks about their friends like that? He sounds like an enlightened landowner trying to reassure a group of confused and superstitious peasants.

Incidentally, if you have read Berman or are interested in the debate his book provoked, check out this. There are seven sections in all.