Like lions targeting lone zebras in the Serengeti grasslands, industry-backed climate change deniers prefer to target individual scientists rather than take on an entire scientific field at once, climatologist Michael Mann writes in a paper published this month in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
In “The Serengeti Strategy: How Special Interests Try to Intimidate Scientists, and How Best to Fight Back,” Mann describes a concerted effort on the part of fossil fuel interests who find themselves facing overwhelming scientific consensus about the threat of human-caused climate change—and, by implication, the necessity to reduce global carbon emissions.
“It is difficult to take on an entire group of scientists at once. But bringing down individuals is easier, and it serves the larger effort of dismissing, obscuring, and misrepresenting well-established science and its implications.”
“By singling out a sole scientist, it is possible for the forces of ‘anti-science’ to bring many more resources to bear on one individual, exerting enormous pressure from multiple directions at once, making defense difficult,” writes Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. “It is similar to what happens when a group of lions on the Serengeti seek out a vulnerable individual zebra at the edge of a herd.”
Unfortunately, the strategy is effective, he says, which is why similar tactics have been employed by the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, big agriculture, and “just about any corporate interest that has found itself on a collision course with scientific research—particularly research that reveals specific potential damages or threats caused by their product.”
“It is difficult to take on an entire group of scientists at once,” Mann explains. “But bringing down individuals is easier, and it serves the larger effort of dismissing, obscuring, and misrepresenting well-established science and its implications. What’s more, these highly visible tactics create such a negative atmosphere that other scientists are discouraged from conveying their research’s implications to the public.”