Most of us recognize the value of science in dealing with complex problems that pose significant risks to public health and well-being.
Thus we expect reputable science to be reported and used in helping us make difficult policy choices, such as what to do about climate change.
Scientific findings and associated uncertainties should be scrutinized carefully and debated vigorously within the scientific community and among the public.
However, denying the best scientific evidence we have is neither smart nor safe. It could lead to greater societal harm than if we had taken sensible action when reliable knowledge was first available.
Dismissal of well-established climate science has parallels to decades of debate over tobacco use and its effects on health. Tobacco companies long denied any causal relation between smoking and disease even when their own studies showed the opposite to be true.
Similarly, some fossil fuel companies for decades publicly rejected established climate science and the role of burning fossil fuels in anthropogenic climate change while their internal studies confirmed both.
The tobacco companies eventually paid a steep price for their actions. In 1999, the Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit against them, charging that they “engaged in and executed” a “massive 50-year scheme to defraud the public, including consumers of cigarettes,” in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO.