Beginning Sunday, the biggest tobacco companies in the U.S. will start running an advertising campaign highlighting the health risks and addictive nature of smoking tobacco. The campaign is the result of a judicial order entered in 2006 in the case of U.S. v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., 449 F.Supp.2d 1 (D.D.C. 2006).
The opinion, with the table of contents, runs 1,682 pages. I will not pretend that I have read even one-tenth of the opinion. However, I did read the introduction. I have posted the table of contents and the introduction in which I have highlighted two long passages, the first in green beginning on pdf page 33 and the second, highlighted in blue, beginning on pdf page 37. Here, I will only address the passage highlighted in blue. The passage illustrates how, even in the course of litigation, the tobacco companies played fast and loose with the truth, attempting to deny the reality of negative health effects from tobacco use.
Of course, this strategy has been adopted wholesale by industries that would face negative economic consequences if we began to address the reality of global climate change. If you don’t believe me, then read the following direct quote from the opinion, modified by adapting it to the context of climate change (and with footnotes omitted):
[S]everal observations need be made about witness bias and credibility. For the most part, each individual Chapter in the Findings of Fact explains why certain facts were found, why certain witnesses were credited, and why the testimony of certain witnesses was either discredited as just plain not believable or, in most instances, outweighed by other more convincing and credible evidence.
Most of the witnesses whose testimony was most vehemently attacked by the Defendants . . .were only relied upon for undisputed or relatively insignificant background facts . . ., or testified about remedies which this Court could not consider on the merits . . . .
Much of the Defendants’ criticisms of Government witnesses focused on the fact that these witnesses had been long-time, devoted members of “the public health [and climate science] community.” To suggest that they were presenting inaccurate, untruthful, or unreliable testimony because they had spent their professional lives trying to improve the public health of this country [and doing scientific research] is patently absurd. It is equivalent to arguing that all the Defendants’ witnesses were biased, inaccurate, untruthful, and unreliable because the great majority of them had earned enormous amounts of money working and/or consulting for Defendants and other large corporations, and therefore were so devoted to the cause of corporate America that nothing they testified to, even though presented under oath in a court of law, should be believed. Such simplistic attacks on the credibility of the sophisticated and knowledgeable witnesses who testified in this case are foolish.
All of this is not to deny that there were significant differences in the overall qualification of the Government’s witnesses and the Defendants’ witnesses. There were. The Government’s witnesses, viewed as a whole, were far more experienced, credentialed, and active in the area of [science and climate research], whatever their particular area of specialty, than were the Defendants’. Many of the Government experts had participated extensively, over many years, in the long and drawn-out process of ascertaining the consensus of scientific opinions . . . . Virtually every one had taught at a well-regarded academic institution and written numerous peer-reviewed articles in their particular area of specialty. Many of the Government witnesses continued “hands on,” [scientific research] in their fields despite heavy commitments for research, writing, teaching, and lecturing to their peers.
The Defendants’ witnesses were obviously well educated in their areas of specialty. Indeed, as was mentioned on many occasions, Defendants even presented the testimony of an impressive Nobel Prize winner. However, rarely did these witnesses have the depth and breadth of experience of the Government witnesses. Many had worked only in large corporations, and many for only one or two such employers. Many—although not all—had written relatively few peer-reviewed articles. Many of the highest paid experts of Defendants, while well credentialed in their particular fields, such as economics, presented relatively narrow testimony tailored to the particular problem or issue they were retained to opine on for purposes of this litigation. A few of Defendants’ experts had done virtually no individual research and written virtually no peer-reviewed articles, and a few were unfamiliar with the relevant facts and/or the major scientific literature on the issue about which they testified.
While the testimony of each person— expert or fact witness—was evaluated on its own merits, there can be no denying that, as a group, the Government’s witnesses were far more knowledgeable, experienced, and active in their respective fields.
This line of defense by the tobacco industry was first outlined in a 1972 memorandum from Fred Panzer, Vice President of the Tobacco Institute:
Our 1970 public opinion survey showed that a majority (52%) believed that cigarettes are only one of the many causes of smokers having more illnesses. It also showed that half of the people who believed that smokers have more illness than non-smokers accepted the constitutional hypothesis as the explanation.
Thus, there are millions of people who would be receptive to a new message, stating: Cigarette smoking may not be the health hazard that the anti-smoking people say it is because other alternatives are at least as probable. The Roper Proposal would be a persuasive (if not strictly scientific) medium for this message.
Put the Panzer quote into the context of 2017 and the war against climate science: There are millions of people who would be receptive to the message that: Green house gases and global climate change may not be the hazards that the scientists people say they are because there are other alternatives that are at least as probable. This would be a persuasive (if not strictly scientific) message.
P.T. Barnum may or may not have said “There’s a sucker born every minute.” But it’s true enough.