1 January 2015

The Serengeti strategy: How special interests try to intimidate scientists, and how best to fight back

Much as lions on the Serengeti seek out vulnerable zebras at the edge of a herd, special interests faced with adverse scientific evidence often target individual scientists rather than take on an entire scientific field at once. Part of the reasoning behind this approach is that it is easier to bring down individuals than an entire group of scientists, and it still serves the larger aim: to dismiss, obscure, and misrepresent well-established science and its implications. In addition, such highly visible tactics create an atmosphere of intimidation that discourages other scientists from conveying their research’s implications to the public. This "Serengeti strategy" is often employed wherever there is a strong and widespread consensus among the world’s scientists about the underlying cold, hard facts of a field, whether the subject be evolution, ozone depletion, the environmental impacts of DDT, the health effects of smoking, or human-caused climate change. The goal is to attack those researchers whose findings are inconvenient, rather than debate the findings themselves. This article draws upon the author’s own experience to examine the "Serengeti strategy," and offers possible countermeasures to such orchestrated campaigns. It examines what responses by scientists have been most successful, and how to combat the doubt-sowing that industry has done regarding the science behind climate change and other fields.