Mitch McConnell’s explanation for why he doesn’t believe in climate change — “I am not a scientist,” he says — has been roundly mocked. McConnell’s lame excuse didn’t just materialize out of no where, it is a Republican Party talking point with everyone from John Boehner to Bobby Jindal and Paul Ryan repeating it.
The idea is that despite the fact that 97% of the world’s climate scientists agree that humans are causing the world’s climate to change, Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans are uniquely unqualified to understand these facts because they are not scientists and cannot possibly comprehend scientific data nor are they capable of listening to actual scientists.
But this tactic — to declare that there are many facts and as simple cavemen elected officials, they do not understand all the facts and that as such there could be another explanation — is not new. It is a strategy ripped directly from the playbook of Big Tobacco.
The links between Big Tobbaco’s decades long fight to deny science and protect their profits at the cost of human lives and Right Wing strategies of today has been explored in relation to the tactics of scientific denial and the pursuit of willful ignorance, but it can also be clearly seen here in Mitch McConnell’s climate change denial.
The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, which “contains over 14 million documents (80+ million pages) created by major tobacco companies related to their advertising, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and scientific research activities,” contains numerous internal communications from the 1970s through the 1990s which clearly demonstrate the tobacco industry’s efforts to counter the overwhelming statistical evidence presented by the scientific community that cigarettes cause all manner of public health ailments.
These talking points mirror exactly the talking points being used today by Mitch McConnell and other prominent Republicans to deny the reality of climate change. They say “I am not a scientist” and that there are still many “arguments on both sides” and that after “years of study, controversy remains.” Despite the fact that 97% of scientists agree on the issue of climate change, the Republican Party talking point is that “scientists disagree.” And, if pressed, these industry funded climate change deniers will argue that statistical associations do not establish causation.
All these points are ripped directly from the tobacco industry’s playbook. This raises many questions, but perhaps the first one is, Does Mitch McConnell believe smoking causes lung cancer, emphysema, and other deadly diseases?
It’s a yes or no question, but Mitch McConnell likely isn’t qualified to answer because, of course, he is not a scientist.
Here is a sampling of just some of the “I am not a scientist” documents that can be found in the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library. They range from personal letters to talking points created to prep executives for questioning before Congress:
This same lame “I am not a scientist” excuse also appears in the 1995 blockbuster report in Vanity Fair that led to the Oscar winning film, “The Insider”:
The relationship between CBS and Tisch’s tobacco company, Lorillard, became a vexing problem for the news division. According to someone who knows Tisch well, when he bought Lorillard, in 1968, he viewed it only as a potential investment. “Years ago, the Tisch family was not afraid of liability. If he had asked his technical people, ‘Am I in any danger?’ he would have gotten the typical answer back: ‘You can’t prove anything in a liability case since the surgeon general forced the companies to put a warning on the packs.’” Tisch could not have forecast then the sweeping change in tort litigation, the possibility of immense jury awards. There was no imagining in 1968 how medical costs would soar in a few years. “None of this was on the horizon,” Tisch told me. “I couldn’t tell you today whether or not I would have bought Lorillard 30 years ago.… There is no clear-cut proof about addiction. I am not a scientist. I never smoked. I take a drink, but am I an addict? Liability suits? This is all pure speculation. I hate it when people tell me what I have been thinking.”
Lorillard became an immense cash bonanza for the Loews Corporation—the parent company controlled by Tisch and his brother, Robert—earning approximately $700 million a year.
Industry funded climate change deniers like Mitch McConnell will say pretty much anything to stick to the industry’s strategy — a strategy to delay action, to suggest more research is needed, or to simply deny clearly established scientific consensus:
The tobacco documents have many great nuggets of information — some of which were reviewed by the most excellent John Cheves [here, here, here] — and one that might be of particular use to anyone trying to get Mitch McConnell to speak the truth on anything comes from their in depth backgrounders on each of the members of Congress. In their research on Mitch and how to woo him (and lean on his donors at home), the tobacco industry made careful note of Mitch’s drink of choice:
So keep that in mind the next time your trying to ply him for favors.