Merchants of Doubt: How A Handful of Scientists Obscured The Truth On Issues From Tobacco Smoke To Global Warming.

AuthorSteirer, K. Xerxes

Merchants of Doubt: How A Handful of Scientists Obscured The Truth On Issues From Tobacco Smoke To Global Warming, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway (Bloomsbury Press, 2010.) 355 pages, ISBN: 978-1596916104 (hardback). ISBN: 978-1608193943 (paperback), ISBN: 9781608192939 (ebook).

In this well documented and compelling book, Oreskes and Conway expose how a few well focused individuals with scientific credentials, political connections, and strong support from industry can cast doubt on the dangers of various products and initiatives that are almost universally accepted by the rest of the scientific community. These two scientific historians, afliated with Harvard University and NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, respectively, have shown that the well-worn disinformation playbook created by tobacco giants has been responsible for inspiring inaction during some of the greatest challenges to human kind.

Chapter One, Doubt Is Our Product opens with a science-advisory boardroom meeting at R J Reynolds in 1979. Which of these RJR-Fellows will get handsomely funded for their research on health and smoking was the question of the hour. Rewind to 1953, when the first definitive study linking smoking to cancer came out. By 1979 the Tobacco Industry Research Committee was well into their mission to challenge mounting scientific evidence. In fact, such pro-tobacco research expenditures were second only to the Federal Government's spending on tobacco's affect on health. Their methodology of casting doubt to discredit the scientific consensus and prevent government policy changes becomes the theme we see again and again throughout the book.

The fundamental tenets of the doubt slinger are: First, deny it. It's not true. Of course this approach begins to weaken in the face of mounting evidence. Second, focus on the errors. Exploit and exaggerate these uncertainties. Error calculations are fundamental to science and are used to provide a confdent but honest analysis or prediction. Yet they are open to critique, as good science is. Third, deceive the public in widespread marketing and well-funded biased research enterprises. Fourth, support and promote science allies who can appear in court when called upon. Fifth, double down on doubt.

Demand equal weight on the debate in media and ample coverage. Finally, cite resources inappropriately and lie if needed. Using these tactics, all enjoyed air-time following the 1940s era Fairness Doctrine. For wasn't a balanced media perspective expected to present both sides of conjured debates, seeding doubt. This first chapter cleverly points out that proving the...

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