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This item was published in the "Editor's File" in
The Textbook Letter, January-February 1996.

An Examination of Disinformation

William J. Bennetta

In our September-October issue, two articles called attention to public-disinformation campaigns that seek to deny or trivialize the gross, degenerative effects of human activities on the global environment. These campaigns, run by organizations that embrace the ideology of the far right or that have a commercial interest in perpetuating the status quo, deserve analysis in any high-school course that deals, even tangentially, with environmental affairs.

With this in mind, I strongly recommend Ross Gelbspan's article "The Heat Is On" in the December issue of Harper's. It tells how such commercial federations as the National Coal Association, the American Petroleum Institute and the Western Fuels Association pay for the dissemination of false and misleading claims about global warming, trying to convince government agencies and the public that questions pertaining to global warming are inscrutable, and that any effects of global warming would be trifling.

Gelbspan explains the commercial motives that drive these efforts, and he describes the little cadre of scientists who take part by working for the fossil-fuel outfits and by serving as "ornaments on the hood of a high-powered engine of disinformation." These scientists, Gelbspan says, have used the media adeptly, have succeeded in sowing illusion and confusion, and have turned public attention away from "the concerns of the dominant majority of the world's scientific establishment."


William J. Bennetta is a professional editor, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, the president of The Textbook League, and the editor of The Textbook Letter. He writes often about the propagation of quackery, false "science" and false "history" in schoolbooks.

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