“Smokey Joe” Barton’s long history of antiscience propaganda

Remember how Joe Barton apologized to British Petroleum for the government’s mild reproach and slap on the wrist after their oil spill destroyed the Gulf of Mexico and created a dead zone that will last for decades? Turns out he was one of the bigger names involved in the disinformation campaign waged by the tobacco industry.

Those of us who weren’t old enough or politically aware enough might not have known this fact about Barton, or might have let that information slip into the memory hole; we might otherwise think that this antiscience campaign waged by the oil industry against climate scientists is a unique phenomenon. Spreading this information about Barton’s and others’ tactics is therefore vital.

Normally, ad hominem is a fallacy. However, establishing a pattern of behaviour and modifying one’s treatment of or trust in another person based on such patterns of behaviour is entirely reasonable and rational. Seeing this man (and others, like Boehner) repeat the same tactics that worked so well in forestalling public acceptance of the truth behind tobacco’s deleterious health effects, used in a fight with vast and far-reaching consequences about the deleterious effects we as a species are having on our environment, is rather galling, but definitely useful information. It means we are forearmed against these tactics and can counter them. It means we are aware in advance of the fact that the people with their hands on the levers of political power in this country are not principled actors, and that they are more than willing to lie about reality for a quick buck to everyone else’s detriment.