Ah yes, the tired old you are irrelevant because are funded by big (coal, gas, oil, wood, propane, butane, electric, peat, Exxon-Mobil take your pick) gets turned into a peer reviewed paper. What will they think of next?
Ironically, this is published in the Journal of Business Ethics and is titled:
Charles H. Cho, Martin L. Martens, Hakkyun Kim and Michelle Rodrigue
Astroturf organizations are fake grassroots organizations usually sponsored by large corporations to support any arguments or claims in their favor, or to challenge and deny those against them. They constitute the corporate version of grassroots social movements. Serious ethical and societal concerns underline this astroturfing practice, especially if corporations are successful in influencing public opinion by undertaking a social movement approach. This study is motivated by this particular issue and examines the effectiveness of astroturf organizations in the global warming context, wherein large corporate polluters have an incentive to set up astroturf organizations to undermine the importance of human activities in climate change. We conduct an experiment to determine whether astroturf organizations have an impact on the level of user certainty about the causes of global warming. Results show that people who used astroturf websites became more uncertain about the causes of global warming and humans’ role in the phenomenon than people who used grassroots websites. Astroturf organizations are hence successful in promoting business interests over environmental protection. In addition to the multiple business ethics issues it raises, astroturfing poses a significant threat to the legitimacy of the grassroots movement.
Kid blogger Chris Mooney over at the Intersection Blog of Discover Magazine writes about it and says:
The website for each condition, respectively, consisted of a ‘‘Home page’’ with links to five other pages pertaining to global warming and the organization’s activities. In the grassroots condition, these were labeled as ‘‘About us,’’ ‘‘Key issues and solutions,’’ ‘‘Why act now?’’ ‘‘Get involved!’’ and ‘‘Contact us.’’ Similarly, in the astroturf condition, the pages links were labeled as ‘‘About us,’’ ‘‘Myths/facts,’’ ‘‘Climate science,’’ ‘‘Scientific references,’’ and ‘‘Contact us.’’ All of the content was based on information found on real-world grassroots and astroturf web-sites ….
A further manipulation consisted of disclosing information regarding the funding source that supported the organization. The organization’s name in all websites, regardless of the condition, was ‘‘Climate Clarity.’’ In each of the funding source conditions, all web pages within the condition specified who funds the organization (donations, Exxon Mobil or the Conservation Heritage Fund). The ‘‘no disclosure’’ condition did not have any information on funding sources anywhere within the web pages.
So, they setup fake websites to gather fake data. Nice. Not only that, they “borrowed” content from other websites to use on these “fake” websites, apparently without citation or attribution, lest that taint the results. Sounds like a job for John Mashey and “Deep Climate” aka Dave Clarke. I’m sure they’ll get right on the case like they did with Wegman.
So, this study seems perfect for a business ethics journal. Glad to see that the study of opposite views fits in to this trend recently published by Security Week.
I was going to do an analysis of the paper, but commenter Nullius in Verba did such a good job already I’ll just repost his comment from the Discover blog.
Nullius in Verba Says:
Mmm. So we have one website with “fluffy” headings like “why act now” and “get involved”, and another site with evidence-related headings like “climate science” and “scientific references”, and people were more persuaded by the one with the science. Why might that be, do you think?
I’m not quite sure what characteristic of astroturf sites this is supposed to be testing. If the only difference is whether funding sources were disclosed, it would indeed test the extent to which people were influenced by ad hominem considerations. But there also appear to be material differences in the content? Is the claim supposed to be that astroturf sites are more likely to use headings like “climate science”? This study does not, on the face of it, make any sense.
I’ve got an uneasy feeling that the difference was that “grassroots” was simply used to label pro-AGW and “astroturf” to label anti-AGW, and what this study is really showing is that giving them information on scepticism made people more doubtful of AGW. The “astroturf”/”grassroots” labelling would then be entirely misleading – propaganda dressed up as science in other words. There are of course many genuinely grassroots sceptical sources, and several prominent pro-AGW astroturf sites.
It would therefore be helpful to make it clearer what the distinction between “grassroots” and “astroturf” being tested actually was, and how it follows from the different types of authors. Because if they really did just label all sceptics as “astroturf”, this is even worse than the usual fare. I’m hoping it’s not true, and I’ve just misread the description. Did they in fact have both pro- and anti-AGW in both categories?