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Mon, 2011-07-11 08:08Chris Mooney
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The Science of Astroturfing

Here at DeSmogBlog, and around the environmental and liberal political blogosphere, there is great concern about “Astroturf” organizations—groups that pose as real citizen movements or organizations, but in fact are closely tied to corporations or special interests. The “fake grassroots” has been a major issue in the climate debate in particular, where groups like Americans for Prosperity, closely tied to the billionaire Koch Brothers, have sought to mobilize opposition to cap-and-trade legislation.

One obvious goal of astroturfing is to shape public policy, and public opinion, in a manner congenial to corporate interests. And indeed, the outrage over astroturfing in a sense presumes that this activity actually works (or else, why oppose it).

Yet there have been few scientific tests of whether the strategy does indeed move people—in part, presumably, because doing a controlled experiment might be hard to pull off. That’s why I was so intrigued by a new study in the Journal of Business Ethics, which attempts to do just that.

Fri, 2011-07-08 13:03Josh Nelson
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Reducing Air Pollution is Well Worth the Cost

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to protect states from sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution emitted from coal plants in other states. After dragging its feet for a while, the Bush administration introduced the Clean Air Interstate Rule in 2005. Due to its over-reliance on emissions trading, the Clean Air Interstate Rule was shot down (PDF) in December 2008 by the U.S. Court of appeals for the District of Columbia. One year ago today, the Obama administration proposed a plan – the Clean Air Transport Rule – to replace the Bush administration’s flawed Clean Air Interstate Rule.

Finally, today, the EPA finalized an updated version of this rule, now appropriately named the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (large PDF), which requires power plants in 27 eastern states and the District of Columbia to significantly reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution.

The public health benefits of this rule, which goes into effect at the beginning of 2012, promise to be enormous (PDF, p. 12):


Wed, 2011-07-06 07:57Chris Mooney
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Climate Skeptics Misunderstand Us, Too

So recently, I’ve watched a few videos from the Heartland Institute conference on “Restoring the Scientific Method”—and it has been a fascinating experience.

I point you, for instance, to this session on public policy, and especially the Q&A starting at minute 56. (Also watch Marc Morano from minute 38 to minute 56, the dude is nothing if not entertaining.) Once the audience questions start coming for the panel, I was rather surprised to hear that most were basically about…uh, communism. And in response, the panelists—and especially Christopher Horner—were quite affirmative that the real reason that we, the “left,” want to restrict greenhouse gas emissions is that we want to hobble economies, redistribute wealth, and restrict individual freedoms.

You can believe this is about the climate, and many people do,” said Horner. “But it’s not a reasonable belief.” Horner went on to argue that “it’s probably about what they’ve claimed they really want.” For many “luminaries” of the environment movement, Horner continued, “economic growth is not the cure, it’s the disease.”

Sun, 2011-07-03 22:08Emma Pullman
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Creator of the Valdez Catastrophe, ExxonMobil, Tries to Downplay Yellowstone Spill

The ExxonMobil pipeline that runs under the Yellowstone River in Laurel, Montana ruptured late Friday night, leaking 1,000 barrels of oil into the river. ExxonMobil estimates that approximately 160,000 litres of oil seeped into the river, one of the principal tributaries of the upper Missouri River. 

The spill has forced hudreds of evacuations, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said that only a small fraction of the spilled oil is likely to be recovered. Its unclear how far the damage will extend along the river, but fishing and farming are likely to be impacted. 

Record rainfall in the last month has caused widespread flooding, and compromised spill cleanup efforts. While residents wait impatiently for the arrival of Exxon cleanup crews (who are only now arriving on site), Exxon is engaging in image control by trying to convince people that the spill is not as bad as it seems.

Fri, 2011-07-01 12:44TJ Scolnick
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Americans For Prosperity Sues New York For Participating In Regional Climate Pact

The Koch brothers’ corporate front group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) filed a lawsuit on Monday in New York’s State Supreme Court seeking to reverse a core piece of state action on climate change.  

New York joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in 2005 when former governor George Pataki (R) approved the state’s participation in the program. The suit alleges that New York is illegally (coercively) taxing residents by taking part in the market-based 10 Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states’ Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The AFP complaint also asserts that carbon emissions trading is unconstitutional because it infringes on federal authority to set rules on air pollution and electrical power transmission across states. 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), along with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, are all named as defendants in the suit.

Wed, 2011-06-29 12:05Josh Nelson
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Voters Strongly Oppose Michele Bachmann's Proposal to Abolish the EPA

Building on an idea that seems to have originated with Newt Gingrich, Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has spent the past few weeks calling for the Environmental Protection Agency to be abolished. In the June 13th GOP debate, Bachmann said she would pass the “mother of all repeal bills” to target “job-killing regulations.” She indicated that she’d start with the EPA, and added that it “should really be renamed the job-killing organization of America.”

But a new poll from the conservative-leaning Rasmussen** finds that an overwhelming majority of likely voters, including more than two-thirds of independents, disagree with Rep. Bachmann. When asked whether they “favor or oppose abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency,” 61% of likely voters indicated that they are opposed:

Wed, 2011-06-29 06:19Chris Mooney
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When Facts Don’t Matter: Proving The Problem With Fox News

My two posts about Fox News and misinformation are probably the most popular items I’ve contributed here. They’ve been widely linked, Tweeted and Facebooked hundreds of times, and viewed well over ten thousand times. That’s because they perform a simple task that, at least as far as I had seen when I wrote the first one, hadn’t been done elsewhere: They list studies (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) showing that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed about an array of factual—but politicized—issues.

In these posts, I’ve tried to be as dispassionate as one can be on such a matter. I’ve repeatedly said that the studies don’t prove that Fox causes people to be misinformed; they just show a correlation, but the causal arrow could run in either direction (or both). I’ve also said that there may well be other studies out there than the 6 that I’ve found; and there may even be studies out there showing some cases where Fox News viewers are not the most misinformed. Indeed, I could design such a study myself–though it would have to be politically skewed by only asking about topics where liberals and Democrats are likely to be misinformed.

It is interesting, though, that no contrary studies have yet been produced.

Wed, 2011-06-22 05:37Chris Mooney
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Jon Stewart 1, Politifact 0: Fox News Viewers Are The Most Misinformed

I have a lot of respect for political fact checking sites. I think they play a critical role, especially in our misinformation-saturated political and media environment.

However, sometimes these sites fall for the allure of phony bipartisanship. In other words, in an environment in which conservatives are more inaccurate and more misinformed about science and basic policy facts, the “fact checkers” nevertheless feel unduly compelled to correct “liberal” errors too—which is fine, as long as they are really errors.

But sometimes they aren’t. A case in point is Politifact’s recent and deeply misguided attempt to correct Jon Stewart on the topic of…misinformation and Fox News. This is a subject on which we’ve developed some expertise here…my recent post on studies showing that Fox News viewers are more misinformed, on an array of issues, is the most comprehensive such collection that I’m aware of, at least when it comes to public opinion surveys detecting statistical correlations between being misinformed about contested facts and Fox News viewership. I’ve repeatedly asked whether anyone knows of additional studies—including contradictory studies—but none have yet been cited.

Stewart, very much in the vein of my prior post, went on the air with Fox’s Chris Wallace and stated,

“Who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers? The most consistently misinformed? Fox, Fox viewers, consistently, every poll.”

My research, and my recent post, most emphatically supports this statement.

Mon, 2011-06-20 10:37Chris Mooney
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The Fox News Effect: Sea Level Edition

Climate scientists–and other scientists–are always improving and updating their methods. That’s how science works. And it’s a very good and honorable thing–or at least, it is until conservatives catch on to some particular methodological change and argue that it’s political, rather than part of the normal course of scientific events.

And until Fox News–whose viewers are far less likely to accept climate science, as well as various other well known facts–joins in.

In the latest case, a group at the University of Colorado at Boulder added a new correction to their estimates of global sea level rise. What they did is pretty technical, but before going further I’ll have to briefly explain it—more details can be found here.

Wed, 2011-06-15 16:14TJ Scolnick
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President Obama’s Fracking Panel Unmoved By Pennsylvanians’ Water Concerns

On Monday, the Natural Gas Subcommittee, from Energy Department Secretary Stephen Chu’s Energy Advisory Board (SEAB), held its second public meeting.  Around 400 people packed a cramped auditorium at Washington Jefferson College in western Pennsylvania to discuss the effects of hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) on water supplies, air quality and other threats from the controversial practice.

The crowd split into two camps, those opposing and those supporting the highly contentious drilling method which has spread across Pennsylvania. Fracking opponents argued that fracking is a dangerous and destructive process that must be banned immediately, while those in favour yelled out “drill, baby, drill.”

Given the circumstances it was not surprising that the pro-frackers won the evening. This was due, in large part, to the work of gas industry front-group Energy in Depth who sent out emails to Pennsylvania and New York residents supportive of fracking, offering them airfare, hotels and meals to attend. Tickets to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play the New York Mets were even offered, although later retracted.

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