Mark Hamilton: The history of hysteria



(Editor’s note: This is the ninth in a series by Mark Hamilton about the history of the Pebble Project in Alaska.)

I could probably tell how old you are by asking you to remember which of the hysteria you best recall. 

Was it the killer bee invasion? (No, not the murder hornets).

How about the coming ice age? (Careful, remembering that one makes you pretty old).

A younger person might remember the ozone depletion, acid rain, and a flooding world. (Climate change has been unsuccessfully predicted for at least 20 years with every doomsday forecasted now history).   

Remember that the Earth would run out of oil in 10 years? (That one has been predicted about every 10 years since 1960.)

Spreading hysteria from dubious investigations has been around a long time but lacked the global reach and mind-boggling speed with which these narratives of fear move today.  In the earlier cases, with which I began this discussion, they were sufficiently slow that they were overcome with newer and opposing research and investigation. Facts mattered, and very importantly, no one (or at least very few) had gone on record passionately endorsing the hysteria. No tweets to haunt your jumping the gun, no video of you with a sign promising the end of life as we know it.  Whether or not you believed the hysteria, it was not part of you.

Today’s doomsday predictions are problematic. Typically, they involve virtually no data; they are narratives inviting people with legitimate concerns about important issues to join the movement to halt development or operation or planning of a particular project or event.

The formula is a simple one: “This [project/operation/event] will [destroy/abuse/disenfranchise] unless you send us money.”

This is a seductive and lucrative approach.  Many of us care about the environment, the animals, the ocean, human dignity and so forth, through a list of truly important issues of our time. Unfortunately, our caring makes us suckers for the emotional snake oil salesmen of fear and doom. 

The cyber echo confronts us at every turn, proclaiming the victimization of the land, the water, the animal, the culture, the gender, and so forth. The combination of emotion and repetitive viewings tempts us to agree or comply with absolutely no assessment of the data upon which the fear was formulated. 

There is no data, nothing to examine, nothing to refute. We respond to the cry of “Wolf!” without the ability to visit the flock to see for ourselves. This version of the shepherd boy is not held accountable despite decades of data refuting the position, or decades of the absence of the predictions coming to pass.

Sadly, the approach will not change; there is simply too much money and too much virtue signaling associated with the emotional appeal.

Recalling my critique of the villagers’ ultimate reaction, the issues are important. We cannot fail to show up. We can and must demand some accountability. Don’t assert to me, demonstrate. Show me why this particular issue needs my support. You may not have my money, my “like,” or my self-loathing.  And, no I won’t sign your petition—by the way, do you even live here?

A quick note on petitions:  Don’t wait to oppose the effort when it gets on the ballot. Set up your own table outside the mall with a simple sign that reads, “Before You Sign,” with a pamphlet outlining the argument against the petition.  People are cajoled into signing with the come-on: Do you care about the environment?  However reluctant to sign up, many will do so just to avoid seeming that they are not interested in the environment, or whatever else is the issue at hand.  Having an alternative “to learn more” gets them off the hook.  

A quick check to see if you should be frightened is very easy. Ask yourself, “If 10% of the narrative of fear were accurate, could this project ever be permitted?” There is nothing to fear. The permitting process is solid.  It’s called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

I’ll discuss this process in upcoming columns because NEPA will always be followed and is your insurance against being Pebbled.

The “Pebbled” series at Must Read Alaska is authored by Mark Hamilton. After 31 years of service to this nation, Hamilton retired as a Major General with the U. S. Army in July of 1998. He served for 12 years as President of University of Alaska, and is now President Emeritus. He worked for the Pebble Partnership for three years before retiring. The series continues next week. 

Pebbled 1: Virtue signaling won out over science in project of the century

Pebbled 2: Environmental industry has fear-mongering down to an art

Pebbled 3: The secret history of ANWR and the hand that shaped it

Pebbled 4: When government dictates an advance prohibition

Pebbled 5: EPA ‘just didn’t have time’ to actually go to Bristol Bay

Pebbled 6: The narrative of fear

Pebbled 7: The environmentalists who cried wolf

Pebbled 8: Build your media filter based on science, not narrative


  1. Maybe we should have a petition that asks, “Do you support 2 dollars a day child labor in mud pits in Africa?” Do you support slave labor in China that destroys acre after acre with no accountability for precious minerals?”
    Response: “Me neither. But as long we provide such a strong market for these minerals, we’ll keep sending our money to these foreign places that care nothing near for THE SAME earth we flaunt that we care about. The only thing that can change this is responsible mining. It only happens in a few places in the world.
    The mining will happen somewhere. Remember that mandate about electric cars? You know that fancy phone in your hand? Those minerals will come from somewhere. Choose wisely what is worth protesting. If you’re not protesting African and Chinese conditions, you may just be mislead in your passion.
    Thanks for the series, Mark.

  2. Call out the Corps for their weak denial. Eco left is ruling/ruining America. NEPA process is a joke and a waste of time and money if Pebble just caves to politics.

  3. Sorry, but Hamilton’s articles are wasted bandwidth. I wish he’d do an article on why he chose to spend $millions in state money to build a Native culture center just for Natives students at UAF, at the expense of merging and dilluting the School of Mines. A racist expense of appeasement versus a critical natural resource institution. A dollar short and 15 years late. Nothing to see in these series from an old, rich, retired White guy.

  4. NAOMI: Are you the designated “tail-gunner” for the anti-Hamilton gang? The “shout-down” didn’t work as hoped, did it.
    Y’all got outshouted after everyone figured out you were either a bunch of disgruntled whiners, or worse, shills for the anti-everything EnviroNazis.

  5. Mr. JosephDJ:
    Funny how you come to the rescue of Mark Hamilton without knowing all the facts about him. His history at UA is well known by the people and institutions that he harmed. His way to fix things was to go to the Legislature and beg for more money. Typical bureaucrat’s approach to leadership.
    And, it’s rather interesting that Mr. Hamilton won’t come to the comment section here at MRAK and defend or explain himself. Wouldn’t that be direct evidence of guilt or shame?

  6. SNUFFY: I find Hamilton’s series around Pebble interesting reading. I personally know enough to be able to fact check him. I find no fault with his personal version. Everything is verifiable.
    I couldn’t care less about his history at U of A. What I do care about is the distraction of some apparently butt-hurt individuals who are using this forum to vent their grievances about totally unrelated personal issues.
    I haven’t been coming to his rescue. I’m an unapologetic jerk who happens to thrive on shouting matches. I’ve lived much of my life in rough neighborhoods, but I’m too old, too weak to mix it up hand to hand with the youngsters downtown. So, commentators like the anti-Hamilton gang are my default uproar.
    I enjoy the challenge of figuring out what people are really trying to say. So far, none of you have come out with your real story. Makes me think that you’re just shills for the EnviroNazis, using one person’s comments about Hamilton’s U of A tenure, and are boot-strapping that to attack the messenger, and the Pebble mine by proxy … without tipping your hand about your real interests and agenda.
    It doesn’t help your cause, in failing to detail your complaints. Even your collective word usage, sentence structure, and lack of detail indicate that none of you were ever, are mining engineers. They just don’t express themselves so slovenly.

  7. @ josephd…..
    Interesting that you serve as the designated apologist for Mark Hamilton. Are you related?
    Thank you for disclosure about your proclivities. It’s adds context to your back comments.
    The whole thing here about Hamilton, in my opinion, is NOT an assault on Pebble. I seriously doubt these comments are spoken from environmentalists who view this as an opportunity to denounce.
    If Hamilton would make a declaration here why he chose to construct a cultural center just for Natives at the UAF, instead of blowing fresh air into the UA mining program, he might have credibility in his support of Pebble.
    However, until he does make a statement as to why his cultural center is not viewed as a racist monument to the campus where he made his $millions in state compensation, he is seen as nothing more than a somewhat dishonest shill for the mining industry.
    Finally, Mr. DJ, you obviously have not been around educated individuals who serve in the mining community.

  8. PAUL G: “…until he does make a statement…” is a lot like “Have you quit beating your wife?”That’s all you’re doing, baiting him. Y’all have your minds made up about him, so why would he even bother to respond to a ten to one shouting match?
    You don’t want answers. You want to crucify him. You want to tie him up and toss him into a lake, where if he floats, he’s guilty, and if he drowns, he’s still guilty.
    “…why he chose to construct a cultural center just for Natives at the UAF…? Y’all had what, 15 years to ask him why? You had stated that you interviewed a lot of U of A people about Hamilton’s history there. Are you a biographer, a historian, what exactly is your interest?
    “…viewed as a racist monument …” is a consistent re-occuring theme from yourself, and all the other anti-Hamilton gang. That would never be the concern of any engineer.
    “The core of the engineering mind-set is what I call modular systems thinking. It’s not a singular talent, but a melange of techniques and principles. Systems-level thinking is more than just being systematic; rather, it’s about the understanding that in the ebb and flow of life, nothing is stationary and everything is linked. The relationships among the modules of a system give rise to a whole that cannot be understood by analyzing its constituent parts.”
    None of you are engineers. You don’t have the ability to think like they do. Paul G: you’re the most erudite of the bunch, but you still don’t have the meter, the pulse, nor the tone of an engineer.

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