While pro-warming political pundits like to demonize climate skeptic research by comparing it to that of tobacco company research and marketing, it seems there is a parallel between the story of global warming and marijuana demonization. This story is about the parallels in research, and does not represent any position on drug use by WUWT – Anthony
Guest Essay by Dr. Robert G. Brown, Duke University (elevated from a comment)
Judith Curry’s remarks [Scientists and motivated reasoning], as usual, are dead on the money.
Here’s an almost perfectly analogous problem: CNN recently completely reversed its editorial policy and now calls for the legalization of Marijuana. Sanjay Gupta, its “resident physician editorialist”, who had previously somewhat vigorously led this opposition from the scientific point of view completely reversed his own position, and explained why in considerable detail both in text and in online video.
Historically, marijuana was both legal and considered to be a useful medicine all the way up through the beginning of the twentieth century. At that point, William Randolph Hearst had invested heavily in pine forests in Mexico, intending to sell them to his own newspapers to make newsprint. The Dupont family were discovering petrochemicals including plastic and oil-derived pharmaceuticals. A machine was invented that was the equivalent of a “cotton gin” for hemp — it mechanically stripped down the hemp plant and turned it into useful fiber, oil, and vegetable waste that could be used as an animal fodder (yes, we can imagine some very happy cows, can’t we?:-). One of many uses for the now inexpensive hemp fiber was to make equally inexpensive newsprint paper that was clearly superior in quality and cost to wood pulp paper. Another was that the oils and fiber could be used to synthesize various chemical products. Both Dupont and Hearst were suddenly hundreds of millions of dollars at risk.
They turned to Harry Anslinger, who happened to be Hearst’s brother in law. Anslinger was a suddenly idle ex-prohibitionist working for the FBI, and he created a propaganda campaign that portrayed hemp as literally maddening those that actually smoked it, leading them to commit acts of rape and robbery and moral turpitude. At the same time, political revolutions in Mexico (funded and fought by a private army belonging to Hearst) and a negative portrayal of blacks and Mexicans as common users of hemp for recreation purposes added a useful racist hook. Between these, congress outlawed hemp.
So matters remained until the Viet Nam war and the 1960s and early 70s. As part of the quiet “revolution” against what many perceived as a military-industrial complex with a life of its own that was fighting a series of expensive and pointless wars, pot had become “the” recreational drug of choice among young hippies and freaks as well as the military draftees who fought the war. Its use was so prevalent that Texas dropped the question about cannabis use from its entrance exam to police academy, because “asking a vet of they had ever smoked pot was like asking them if they smoked Camels”. Suddenly a large fraction of an entire generation of U.S. citizens had smoked pot and discovered that no, it does not turn you into a crazed rapist, and usually does not make you insane unless you are most of the way there on your own already. They also discovered that it is neither physically addictive nor dangerous in the sense that it is literally impossible to overdose on marijuana — it is literally one of the safest compounds we know of, with no meaningful fatal dose.
However, Ronald Reagan took office in the 80′s, an immediately declared a “War on Drugs”. Marijuana was reclassified as a schedule 1 narcotic by the federal government [in 1970], trumping communities that had already begun to experiment with decriminalization or even legalization. This once again gave law enforcement agencies lots of useful work (helpful if you are trying to build a police state), gave cops everywhere the ability to selectively enforce drug laws and thereby control the populace, and caused us to rather suddenly need to build enormous numbers of prisons because it rapidly turned out that by making marijuana trafficking a felony and putting even mere users in jail (just like heroin, cocaine, and actually dangerous drugs) somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of all prison sentences were being handed down for low grade drug offenses. Our expenditure on controlling pot went from next to nothing to tens of billions of dollars a year. Obviously, many profited from this, including (as usual) the money launderers and organized criminals that made fortunes providing marijuana on the black market, and the politicians and bankers that provided well-paid-for top cover.
And now to the interesting bit (although I think all of the above is interesting:-). One of the reasons given for making marijuana a schedule 1 felony class drug [in 1970] was that we didn’t know about the harm it might cause, and there was no known medical benefit. Yes, it had been used as a medicine for centuries, the founding fathers literally “mandated” the growing of hemp on American farms because it was so useful a plant both industrially and medicinally, but we had entered the era of double blind placebo controlled drug trials, and there were now enormous pharmaceutical companies whose billion-dollar products were at risk, dwarfing even the Duponts’ complaint back in the 30′s. Its risks were similarly unstudied.
A period of research then ensued. If you wanted to study pot, you had to both get funded and get the experimental marijuana from a single, small farm in Mississippi that grew “legal” pot for this purpose. The government itself was in complete control, in other words of what research got conducted, because even if you could find outside funding, you couldn’t get legal pot to do the research with without approval.
Gupta initially opposed marijuana legalization because a review of the medical literature showed him that 96% of all published articles found some sort of negative effect of marijuana, and almost no articles showed a benefit, especially compared to existing approved medications. However, a couple of anecdotal cases coming out of the states that had legalized medicinal marijuana in SPITE of the federal governments laws caused him to go back and reexamine the funding model. In retrospect it shouldn’t have been surprising, but he learned that 96% of all funded research was to look for negative effects of marijuana, and that to get funded and permission to get government grown pot was so difficult that there simply weren’t all that many papers in the first place. In well over thirty years of intensive examination, all of the examination was literally preselected to find problems, almost none to find benefits, and one had to walk on water and push much paper to do either one (and relatively few scientists had bothered).
That caused him to examine the body of emerging, still anecdotal, evidence from the states that had legalized medical marijuana. They showed that — again unsurprisingly — marijuana is a rich pharmacopeia with multiple legitimate medical uses that could survived double blind placebo controlled investigation, while at the same time having minimal side effects and no known lethal dose. Perhaps he came to realize that its negative effects might, conceivably, have been a bit exaggerated or might arise from confounding uncontrolled elements. Confirmation bias is, after all, the bete noir of science.
This situation almost perfectly matches the evolution of “climate science”. Nobody cared about it for decades, but suddenly a group of individuals emerged that all benefited from the demonization of carbon. This included environmental groups, that hated civilization itself and the burning of anything (as long, of course, as their own lifestyle was preserved), energy producers that saw in this the opportunity to triple or quadruple their profits by creating artificial scarcity of a plentiful resource, politicians that saw in this the opportunity to raise taxes, get elected on a world-saving “issue”, and perhaps line their own pockets along the way, and a United Nations that saw an opportunity to transform it into a way to tax the rich nations and transfer money to developing nations (while again lining various pockets along the way). The role of Anslinger was admirably met by one James Hansen, a True Believer who never stinted and does not stint today in exaggerating the data and claims of disaster (five meter sea level rise! temperatures like that on Venus!). And suddenly, quite literally all funded research was on how burning carbon was bad for the climate.
Even completely ethical scientists have to eat, and if the only way they can eat is to get funded, and the only way they can get funded is to submit proposals that seek to prove that CO_2 is bad, guess what they will propose to study? And if they want to get funded AGAIN, guess what they will find? Climate science has been effectively corrupted beyond any hope of objectivity.
On the good side of things, scientists are actually usually pretty ethical. Also, in the end data talks, bullshit walks. The hypothesis of CAGW or CACC could, in fact, be true (across a wide spectrum of the meaning of “true”, in fact). However, recent data is not in good correspondence with the theories that have predicted it, and many good scientists are in the process of reassessing their conclusions. As is the almost simultaneous case with regard to marijuana, the confounding evidence is starting to overwhelm to narrowly funded and directed arguments to date. We will see where the future takes us, in both cases.
Addendum by Anthony:
1. I have added links to historical references into the essay along with some small edits [in brackets] for clarity.
2. This paragraph:
A period of research then ensued. If you wanted to study pot, you had to both get funded and get the experimental marijuana from a single, small farm in Mississippi that grew “legal” pot for this purpose.
Has a parallel with source data for global warming research. If you want to study the surface temperature record, there is one source: NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) who is not only the administrator, collator and keeper of the surface temperature record for the United States, but also the world via their Global Historical Climatological Network (GHCN). All other surface temperature datasets, HadCRUT, GISS, and even the supposedly independent BEST, are derivatives and/or custom interpretations of this source data, which as we know, is custom blended with NCDC’s own set of adjustments.
Like with pot research, the government is again the only source for data to study the surface record.
And people wonder why I spend so much time and effort to examine weather stations and adjustments.