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An Open Letter to Google

By Willis Eschenbach | WattsUpWithThat | March 19, 2011

Dear Googlefolk;

Recently, you have decided to take sides in a scientific debate. That in itself is very foolish. Why would Google want to take either side when there is a disagreement between scientists? I thought your motto was “Do No Evil.” For the 900-pound gorilla to take sides in any tempestuous politically charged scientific discussion is an extremely stupid thing to do, and in this case definitely verges on the E-word.

In fact, that’s why up until now I trusted Google, because I always felt that I was being given the unvarnished truth. I always felt that Google could be trusted, because you didn’t have a dog in the fight. I believed you weren’t trying to slant your results, that you were neutral, because you had nothing to prove.

So what did you guys do? You’re now providing money to 21 supporters of the CO2 hypothesis, funding them as “Google Fellows” to go and flog their scientific claims in the marketplace of ideas. Is this the new face of Google, advocating for a partisan idea?

You have chosen to fund policy people as Google Fellows. You have a specialist in “strategic communication in policymaking and public affairs” among them. You have a bunch of scientists whose careers depend on the validity of the CO2 hypothesis. And you are paying them all to push your ideas. In other words, Google has put into place a public relations campaign for the CO2 hypothesis … and people in your organization actually consider this a good idea?

I mean people other than Al Gore, who sits on your Board and who stands to make big money if the CO2 hypothesis can be sold to the public. It doesn’t matter if it’s true. If it can be sold to the public, Al makes big money, even if it’s later shown to be false. So sure, he’s in favor of your cockamamie scheme … but the rest of you guys have truly decided to hitch your wagon to Mr. Gore’s dying star? Really?

Man, Google doing PR work shilling for the CO2 hypothesis. I thought I’d never see the day.

It’s not even disguised as a scientific effort. It’s a sales job, a public relations push from start to finish, no substance, just improved communication. I’m surprised that you haven’t brought in one of the big advertising agencies. Those mad men sell cigarettes, surely they could advise you on how to sell an unpalatable product.

The problem is, now Google has a dog in the fight. You’ve clearly declared that you’re not waiting until the null climate hypothesis gets falsified. You’re not waiting for a climate anomaly to appear, something that’s unlike the historical climate. You have made up your mind and picked your side in the discussion. Here’s what that does. Next time I look up something that is climate science related, I will no longer trust that you are impartial. No way.

Let me make it very clear what I object to in this:

GOOGLE IS TAKING SIDES IN A MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR POLITICAL/SCIENTIFIC STRUGGLE

Don’t mistake this for a partisan entreaty. This is not because of the side you’ve chosen, despite the fact that I’m on the other side. I don’t care which side Google takes – it’s wrong and stupid for Google to be in any scientific fight at all, on either side. I’d be screaming just as loudly if you had picked scientists who were on my side of the debate. In fact, I’d scream even louder, because I don’t want Google Fellows doing a big PR dog-and-pony-show for skeptical science. Unlike you, I think that’s bad tactics. Your presence, and the desperation that it reeks of, can only damage whichever side you support, so I’m glad it’s not my side.

But sides are not the point. Supporting either side in the debate involves Google in a high-stakes, multi-billion dollar, long-festering, dog-ugly political/scientific battle, with passions running high on both sides, accusations thrown, reputations attacked  … and putting your head in this buzz-saw, jumping into this decades-old scientific Balkan war, this is a good idea for Google exactly how?

Truly, are you off your collective meds or something? You don’t want the good name of Google involved in this, there is no upside. All it is going to do is get your name abused in many quarters. I’ve read dozens of people already who said they were switching to Bing or Alta Vista. You’ve lost my trust, it’ll be trust but verify from here on out for me.

And all for what? Guys, you are so far out of touch with the issues that you appear to be truly convinced that it is a communications problem.  So you’ve hired all these scientist/communicators to fix that problem. Let me put it in real simple terms.

People don’t believe AGW scientists because they have been lied to by some of the leading lights of the CO2 hypothesis. They’ve seen a number of the best, most noted AGW scientists cheat and game the system to advance their own views, and then lie and deny and destroy emails when the sunlight hit them.

That, dear friends, is not a failure to communicate. Your problem is not the lack of getting your message across. You’ve gotten it across, no problem. The message was obvious – many of the best AGW scientists are willing to lie, cheat, and steal to push their personal AGW agenda … the same agenda that your Google Fellows are now pushing. That was the message, and by gosh, we got it loud and clear.

The only cure for that kind of bad science is good science. It will not be cured by communication. We’ve already gotten the message that your side contains a number of crooks among its most admired and respected members. We’ve gotten the message that most of the decent climate scientists won’t protest against anything. They’ll stay quiet no matter what egregious excesses their leaders commit. They’ll pretend that everything is just fine. Indeed, a number of them even find excuses for the malfeasance of their leaders, that it’s just boys will be boys and the like. No recognition of the gravity of the actions, or how they have destroyed the public’s trust in climate scientists.

If you think the cure for that widespread scientific rot is a clearer explanation of how thunderstorms form or how the greenhouse effect works, I fear you are in for a rude shock. Communications will not fix it, no matter how smart your Google Fellows are … and they are wicked smart, I looked at the bios of every single one, very impressive, but that doesn’t matter. That’s not the issue.

The issue is that the side you’ve picked conned the public, and afterwards refused to admit it. Until they and climate science face up to that, your side will not be believed. There’s no reason to concern yourself with hiring scientists to analyze why your message isn’t getting across. It’s because people hate to be conned. They’d rather be wrong than be conned. And once you’ve conned them, and the Climategate emails show beyond question that your side conned the public, that’s it. After that, all the honeyed words and the communications specialists and the Google Fellows with expertise in “strategic communication in policymaking and public affairs” are useless. Clearer scientific explanations won’t cure broken trust.

And yes, perhaps I’m being paranoid about whether you will skew your search results against skeptics … but then I look at what happened in 2009/10 with “Climategate” as a search term, when for a couple weeks Google wouldn’t suggest it in the Auto Suggest feature. People claimed back then that it was deliberate, you did it on purpose, and I accused them of being paranoid, I didn’t believe it. Looks like instead of them being paranoid, I may have been being naïve.

Anyhow, you can be sure that I won’t defend you again.

So I entreat you and implore you, for your own sake and ours, stop taking sides in political/scientific debates. That is a guaranteed way to lose people’s trust. I’m using Bing for climate searches now, and I’m wondering just if and where you’ve got your thumb on the information scales.

Perhaps nowhere … but I’m a long-time Google user and Google advocate and Google defender. For me to be even wondering about that is an indication of just how badly you screwed up on this one.

Since you seem to have forgotten about your “Do No Evil” motto, I have a new one for you:

You are not wanted there. You are not needed there. You have no business there. Get out, and get out now, before the damage worsens.

Because the core issue is this – you can either be gatekeeper of the world’s knowledge, storing gigabytes of private information about me and my interests and likes and dislikes and my secret after-midnight searches for okapi porn and whale-squashing videos … or you can be a political/scientific advocate.

BUT YOU CAN’T BE BOTH.

You can’t both be in politics and be hiring scientific experts to push a trillion-dollar political/scientific agenda, and at the same time be the holder of everyone’s secret searches. That’s so creepy and underhanded and unfair and wrong in so many ways I can’t even start to list them. I can’t even think of a word strong enough to describe how far off the reservation you are except to say that it is truly Gore-worthy.

Your pimping for the CO2 hypothesis is unseemly and unpleasant. Your clumsy attempt to influence the politics of climate science, on the other hand, is very frightening and way out of line. You hold my secrets, and you held my trust. If you want it again, go back to your core business. Your actions in this matter are scary and reprehensible and truly bizarre. It’s as bizarre as if J. Edgar Hoover was hiring shills to flack for the Tea Party … you are the holder of the secrets. As such, you have absolutely no business involving yourself in anything partisan. It is a serious breach of our trust, and you knew it when you started Google. That’s why your motto is Do No Evil. Get back to that, because with this venture into advocacy you have seriously lost the plot.

My best to you all, and seriously, what you are doing is really scary, I implore and beg you to stop it. Your business is information and secrets, and ethically you can’t be anything else. You hold too much dangerous knowledge to be a player in any political/scientific dogfight, or any other fight. You not only need to be neutral. You need to seem to be neutral.

March 19, 2011 - Posted by | Deception, Science and Pseudo-Science, Timeless or most popular

2 Comments »

  1. One thing I think we can all agree on is that burning fossil fuels and spewing them into the air that we ALL breath is not a good idea…..
    and that a species that prides itself on intellect should come up with something better.
    Surely we can all agree to keep our air as pure as possible; especially from nuclear contamination.

    Comment by kim | March 19, 2011 | Reply

    • Kim,

      The electric car concept was always predicated on the construction of hundreds of nuclear power plants. To produce that quantity of electricity from wind or solar would leave no acreage for roads or destinations.

      With the rapid decline in natural gas prices due to fracking it is now close to being economical to propose LNG for urban areas. This may be premature as a prediction but it is becoming more likely that such a scenario may unfold. The regions that over the past decades had the strictest air quality regimes (California and Mass.) may see a major shift to LNG which of course has far fewer emissions with health effects.

      The latest news is that the US may develop LNG export facilities, whereas a decade ago (before fracking) importation was being proposed.

      The US currently has 180 years of current consumption in proven gas reserves, a figure which includes little of the relatively unquantified offshore sources. The International Energy Agency approximates that global known reserves stand at 250 years if fracking technology was used.

      Comment by aletho | March 19, 2011 | Reply


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