When it comes to the art of political rhetoric there is nothing more effective then the straw man technique.
It’s simple: instead of using sound logic and evidence to discredit an idea or policy, just brand an individual as representative of the idea and then knock them down.
On the issue of climate change, you can see this technique in action with the right-wing Commonwealth Foundation trying to discredit the work of a single climate expert, Dr. Michael Mann, as a means of discrediting the entire body of climate change science.
The Commonwealth Foundation recently published a “policy brief” called Climategate & Penn State, a 12-page attack that tries to frame Dr. Mann as the orchestrator behind some grand conspiracy, which is the key to a good stick man attack.
Once Mann is painted as the red-robed leader of the Freemason conspiracy to take over the world, the Commonwealth Foundation can then move on to discrediting his character which they do repeatedly throughout their policy brief, saying things like: “Dr. Mann is quick to lash out at anyone questioning his research data, methods, or techniques, rather than fostering a collegial exchange of ideas…” Stick man propped up, stickman kicked down and now on to the bigger conclusion:
“More than merely the reputations of PSU and Mann are at stake. Public policies are advocated at the federal and state levels that owe a substantial portion of their origins to the hockey stick and Mann’s activities in defense of it. The U.S. and Pennsylvania economies and social structures stand to be significantly altered by climate legislation.”
Perfect execution! I give it nine-and-a-half points for exaggeration and a full ten points for ridiculousness!
First off, Dr. Mann is a scientist with a great understanding of the issues pertaining to his area of expertise and his research is unparalleled in peer-reviewed research. The only people who harp on about Mann’s “hockey stick” are Republican politicians like Senator James Inhofe and right wing think tanks like the Common Wealth Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
To prop Mann up as the pillar of the entire climate science community is also ridiculous. There are thousands of papers published by thousands of researchers over the years showing multiple lines of evidence for climate change. So if the Commonwealth’s attack on Dr. Mann is not logical, then there must be another motivation and when it comes to the illogical, the first place I turn for an explanation is politics.
As I side note, this is usually when I ask myself WWKRD? [What Would Karl Rove Do?]
The Commonwealth Foundation, or the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives as they are also called, is backed by a full range of right-wing ideologues, climate deniers, tea party activists and big industry cheerleaders.
In the summer of 2009, the Commonwealth Foundation was one of the front groups behind the Astroturf “Energy Citizens” rallies organized and paid for by the oil companies comprising the American Petroleum Institute.
On the Commonwealth board sits Frederick W. Anton III, the head of the Pennsylvania Manufacturer’s Association, who’s homepage runs a continous stream of articles denying the realities of climate change.
Another Commonwealth Foundation board member is entrepreneur and Tea Party activist Glenn Meakem an outspoken climate science denier.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. This attack on Mann is about politics and not about science.
After all, if the Commonwealth Foundation cared about the science of climate change, why wouldn’t they put their money into research to prove their conclusions with actual evidence instead of spending it on straw men?