How did [the deniers] do it? Well, one crucial element of their success is their use of FoI laws. By taking the journalists’ most prized weapon, and wielding it against climate scientists, they achieved a whole bunch of successes all at once. They got journalists on their side, because journalists have difficulty believing that FoI laws could be used for anything other than good old-fashioned citizen democracy. They got the public on their side by appearing to be the citizens fighting the establishment. They set up the false impression that scientists have stuff to hide, by ignoring the vast quantities of open data in climate science, and focussing on the few that were tied up with commercial licence agreements. And they effected a denial of service attack by flooding a few target scientists with huge numbers of FoI requests. Add to this the regular hate mail and death threats that climate scientists receive, and you have a recipe for personal meltdowns. And the media lapped up the story about personal meltdowns, picked it up and ran with it, and never once asked whose framing they were buying into.
Scientists are paid to do science, they have virtually no training in public relations or politics (which would make then quite incompetent of they ever trying to orchestrate a conspiracy). They are no match for trained political operatives interested, not in truth, but in raising doubt.
The science side has the odds stacked against it in every manner imaginable and the media, not only fails to report this, but enables the forces of anti-science.
the result is that, faced with one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced, the media got the story completely backwards. Few journalists and few scientists seem to have any conception of how this misinformation campaign works, how nasty these people are, and how dirty they play… And the stakes are high: at risk is our ability to make sensible policy choices and international agreements based on good scientific evidence, to ensure that our children and grandchildren can flourish as we do.
The question is what do we do about it?
You wrote, “The question is what do we do about it?”
Personally, I believe that any time reporters ask loaded questions of scientists, trying to get them to respond to the latest manufactured controversy, those scientists need to put the shine the light on exactly who is funding the disinformation campaign (e.g., Scaife, Bradley or Koch) as well as who exactly is waging the campaigns (e.g., the Heritage Foundation) and what disinformation campaigns they have been involved in in the past (e.g., cigarettes, asbestos, lead poisoning) — to establish the pattern of dishonesty and the nature of the motives that are involved as well as the fact that what we are dealing with is industrial asphalt, not grassroots.
There should exist a centralized organization that scientists can get their information from (created perhaps by the Union of Concerned Scientists working in cooperation with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and National Center for Science Education — the last of which should be concerned with the widening war on science) or, if the scientists who have been contacted by the media are uncomfortable dealing with the media, they should be able to refer reporters to the centralized organization for further information. Alternatively, they should be able to get contact information from the reporters so that representatives of the organization may get in contact with these reporters — and work on getting on the roledexes of the reporters for future reference.
I would also suggest that scientists should record any interviews they have with journalists and make it clear that if any misrepresentation takes place they will publish the interview.