counter create hit Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming - Download Free eBook
Hot Best Seller

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

Availability: Ready to download

The U.S. scientific community has long led the world in research on such areas as public health, environmental science, and issues affecting quality of life. Our scientists have produced landmark studies on the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and global warming. But at the same time, a small yet potent subset of this community leads the world in vehement denial o The U.S. scientific community has long led the world in research on such areas as public health, environmental science, and issues affecting quality of life. Our scientists have produced landmark studies on the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and global warming. But at the same time, a small yet potent subset of this community leads the world in vehement denial of these dangers. Merchants of Doubt tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades. Remarkably, the same individuals surface repeatedly—some of the same figures who have claimed that the science of global warming is "not settled" denied the truth of studies linking smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole. "Doubt is our product," wrote one tobacco executive. These "experts" supplied it. Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, historians of science, roll back the rug on this dark corner of the American scientific community, showing how ideology and corporate interests, aided by a too-compliant media, have skewed public understanding of some of the most pressing issues of our era.


Compare

The U.S. scientific community has long led the world in research on such areas as public health, environmental science, and issues affecting quality of life. Our scientists have produced landmark studies on the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and global warming. But at the same time, a small yet potent subset of this community leads the world in vehement denial o The U.S. scientific community has long led the world in research on such areas as public health, environmental science, and issues affecting quality of life. Our scientists have produced landmark studies on the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and global warming. But at the same time, a small yet potent subset of this community leads the world in vehement denial of these dangers. Merchants of Doubt tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades. Remarkably, the same individuals surface repeatedly—some of the same figures who have claimed that the science of global warming is "not settled" denied the truth of studies linking smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole. "Doubt is our product," wrote one tobacco executive. These "experts" supplied it. Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, historians of science, roll back the rug on this dark corner of the American scientific community, showing how ideology and corporate interests, aided by a too-compliant media, have skewed public understanding of some of the most pressing issues of our era.

30 review for Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    About a week ago, Not and I were browsing in a Melbourne bookstore when I noticed Merchants of Doubt. "Should we buy it?" I asked, after glancing at the back cover. Not was unenthusiastic. "It'll be one of those books," she said - by which, as I immediately understood, she meant that it would be another partisan book about a hot topic, which dishonestly reported one side of a complicated and unclear debate while ignoring the other side. "So what kind of book would you buy?" I asked. "The kind I' About a week ago, Not and I were browsing in a Melbourne bookstore when I noticed Merchants of Doubt. "Should we buy it?" I asked, after glancing at the back cover. Not was unenthusiastic. "It'll be one of those books," she said - by which, as I immediately understood, she meant that it would be another partisan book about a hot topic, which dishonestly reported one side of a complicated and unclear debate while ignoring the other side. "So what kind of book would you buy?" I asked. "The kind I'd write," said Not promptly: this time, meaning a book that was carefully researched, fact-based, unbiased, and written primarily from a historical perspective. It was a perfectly reasonable reply, and I considered putting the book back on the shelf. But I'd heard good things about it and thought I'd leaf though it bit more first. "You know," I said after a while, "I think this is the kind of book you'd write. One author is a professor of history and the other is a climate scientist. It seems pretty sensible. And it's got a lot of stuff about Robert Jastrow. I want to find out more about him." I'd been interested in Jastrow ever since I'd read God and the Astronomers a few years ago; as far as I was concerned, this was the decisive argument. We added it to the already considerable pile of books we'd decided to purchase and went over to the cash desk. I've now finished Merchants of Doubt; despite Not's impressive ability to judge a book by its cover, acquired from decades of work in the book business, I'm prepared to say that this is one of the rare occasions where I got it right and she got it wrong. Oreskes and Conway live up to their advance billing and have produced a worthwhile addition to the climate change debate which doesn't just recap all the pro-climate-change books you've already seen. If you're the least bit interested in these matters, you're strongly advised to read it. Why? Well, let's cut to the chase and address Not's sensible question: what reasons do we have for assuming that it isn't seriously biased? There are now a good many books out arguing both sides of the story, with some saying that climate change is a proven fact and others saying that it's mistaken alarmism. There are basically three positions you can take: either the pro-climate-change people are right, or the climate change skeptics are right, or we don't really know. Given that it's all about complex science that only a few experts really understand and there seems to be a great deal of disagreement, there's a strong temptation to go for the third alternative. Oreskes and Conway, however, come down unequivocally in favor of the first one. Why should we trust them? Most of the pro-climate-change books I've previously seen argue it in terms of the science, and you can indeed make a good case there; but, unfortunately, the skeptics also seem to be able to make a good case, at least if you're not an expert. Oreskes and Conway talk a good deal about the science, which is of course essential, but they focus at least as much on the history and the people. Where, exactly, do the climate skeptic arguments come from? Who has been advancing them? Do the people concerned have any obvious reason for advancing them? It turns out that this is a fruitful line of investigation, and the results of following it up systematically are both interesting and rather horrifying. The core opposition to the notion of climate change comes from a small group of influential American scientists, of whom the most important were Robert Jastrow (the guy who first attracted my attention), Fred Seitz, William Nierenberg and Fred Singer. They had extremely good contacts at the highest levels of the US military-industrial-political complex, right up to Presidential level. What makes the evidence against them so damning is that they pursued a consistent, well-documented pattern of behavior in blocking and obfuscating government intervention in a number of contentious issues. They began with links between smoking and cancer, where they successfully delayed anti-smoking legislation for decades, both with regard to active and passive smoking. Later, they shifted to other, more explicitly environmental questions: acid rain, damage to the ozone layer and most recently climate change. Their modus operandi was all cases substantially the same. In an area where there was an overwhelming scientific consensus in favor of a particular conclusion (smoking causes cancer; CFCs are destroying the ozone layer), they raised spurious doubts to make it appear that there was disagreement. They were often the only person in a committee disagreeing with an otherwise unanimous conclusion. They used their power and influence to rewrite reports so as to give undue weight to their views, which were then further amplified by the right-wing press. The newspaper accounts were often so distorted that the original scientific findings had almost disappeared. Corrections and retractions were published in scientific journals and websites, but the public did not read them; when angry letters were sent to the newspapers that presented the incorrect reports, they were not accepted for publication. It turns out that it's quite easy to present the appearance of a scientific debate when in fact there is none. Oreskes and Conway say that most journalists they've talked to have initially been unwilling to believe that they could been fooled so easily into thinking they were being fair in presenting both sides of a debate, where one side is in fact an artificial fabrication. They've been shocked to see the comprehensive documentary evidence the authors spent five years collecting; all of this is on record if you know where to look. There are dozens of pages of footnotes for people who wish to track down the sources themselves. Why would anyone do such a thing? What was the motivation? Here, again, Oreskes and Conway have a depressingly plausible answer. Jastrow, Seitz, Nierenberg and Singer weren't evil. They didn't do it primarily for money, even though they did receive a fair amount of money from various interested parties. Mostly, it seems, they were driven by ideology. They had a strong, unreasoning faith in the importance of free market economics, which led them to believe that any government interference was bad and that anyone promoting government interference was bad. When this began to include scientists who discovered things that made government inference necessary, they concluded that those scientists were bad. In the end, when almost the whole scientific community was ranged against them, they logically took the last step: science itself had become bad, since it opposed the free market. The ultimate irony is that the scientists in question, who so strongly believed in the power of the free market, themselves spent nearly their whole careers working for the government; they were employed by NASA, the nuclear weapons program or other US government agencies. They said that every important technological advance had come from free enterprise in response to market forces, when a brief study of the relevant history would have immediately shown them they were wrong. Modern machine tools, which gave the US its technological lead, were painstakingly developed over fifty years by a government program. The nuclear and space technology they themselves worked on was all created by the government. Once again, we see a variation on the central theme of the 20th century: powerful people with fanatical, non-evidence-based beliefs are very dangerous. Read this book, it'll help you understand what's actually going on. _____________________________ The rogerebert.com review of the movie suggests both that it's very good and that it contains a lot of material not in the book. I look forward to seeing it as soon as I get an opportunity - so far, it hasn't been playing anywhere we've been. _____________________________ [Update, Apr 21 2017] I just read a scary article from Scientific American. This passage was particularly memorable:House Science Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has routinely accused federal agencies of fraud if he does not like their scientific conclusions. Smith told the crowd, to a raucous cheer, that he would be open to crafting legislation that would punish scientific journals that publish studies that don’t meet his standards of peer review, which he did not define. “The days of trust-me science are over,” Smith said.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nicole R

    I am a scientist. I have a PhD in biological sciences and spent the vast majority of my 20's studying the impacts of a marine invasives species and how climate change facilitates the spread of these non-native species. I hold research scientists in high regard even though my career path has ventured down a different path. For a few years I worked on The Hill where science was politicized and attacked, and now I work with the general public as I struggle to get the average person to understand an I am a scientist. I have a PhD in biological sciences and spent the vast majority of my 20's studying the impacts of a marine invasives species and how climate change facilitates the spread of these non-native species. I hold research scientists in high regard even though my career path has ventured down a different path. For a few years I worked on The Hill where science was politicized and attacked, and now I work with the general public as I struggle to get the average person to understand and accept climate change. One thing in all of my work that I have noticed is that science is under attack. As a scientist, I understand that peer-review, empirical research is hard to understand. It is detailed, involves complicated stats, is written in what seems like a different language, and...have you met a scientist lately? Most of us are awkward, not eloquent, and cannot communicate with people who do not have a doctorate in our exact field. (I like to think I am the exception to that rule but I may just be dilusional). And, all of these things are fine, it doesn't make the science wrong. But somewhere along the way, it has become the defensive trend to attack science itself. To attack people who take pride in their work, are neutral by nature, don't make a lot of money, and live their lives chained to their desks in an endless cycle of writing grants, conducting research, and publishing peer-reviewed papers all for the love of science. Because they have a desire to investigate our our world, environment, and bodies work. Because they are curious individuals. I find it incredibly frustrating and aggravating. Especially when it comes to something like climate change that 97% of climate scientists believe is happening and it is because of human inputs. In fact, the scientific community never even really talks about it because it is a given. Yet, those 3% of scientists, who do not agree for a number of reasons, seem to spin popular media so it seems like the issue of climate change is not scientifically settled. Why is this? Who is pushing this anti-climate change agenda? I heard Naomi Oreskes speak at my graduate school back in 2008 (or maybe it was 2009. Years blur) and she was great. She spoke about how science regarding a number of issues - SDI, smoking, DDT, second-hand smoke, acid rain, the ozone hole - have been attacked for decades. And really by the same handful of people. I instantly wanted to read her book on these exact topics. Well, like acceptance of science by the general public, it took me a while to get to it. I thought this book would be informative, maybe even help me with my current job, but what I wasn't expecting was for it to be so riveting. The Case Against Science is a well-funded, well-organized, media blitz and poor scientists don't stand a chance (nor to they really want to be in the fray). The burden of proof is on apolitical scientists and attacks are made by people who do not understand the scientific process, what peer-review entails, or the complicated issue of scientific uncertainty. Only recently has climate change become accepted by the general public (something the science community has been saying for over 20 years now) and you even have traditional climate deniers backing away from their previous stance. (Did you know in science NOTHING is certain? Seriously. Gravity is a theory. Nothing can be known 100% because we cannot possibly know the outcome over every single test from now until infinity under circumstances that we may not even be able to foresee. Replication and corroboration limits the margin of error, but you will never find a legitimate scientist saying that something is 100% true. It is the nature of science.) This is not to say that the application of this science to policy decisions does not come with real world ramifications. Social, economic, and political concerns come into play when actions are discussed and solutions are implemented. However, none of these concerns invalidate the science itself nor are they so complicated that they demand a no-action alternative. You rarely find a research scientist making a policy recommendation or advocating for specific actions. To them, that is not their area of expertise and they leave it to the people that work in those realms as they blink in the sudden sunlight, grab an extra large coffee, and slink back to their labs to continue writing stats programming for their latest data. If you want to know a bit more about how science is conducted and how peer-review is conducted along with a little insight to the scientific research culture, then this book is a way to whet your appetite without being too boring or technical. Fair warning: this book reports on science. Acid rain does occur. CFCs caused a hole in the ozone layer. Smoking and second hand smoke kills. Climate change is happening. As a scientist, these things are no longer debated on a large scale in my profession. And, I will leave you with a quote from the book: All scientific work is incomplete - whether it be observational or experimental. All scientific work is liable to be upset or modified by advancing knowledge. That does not confer upon us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have, to postpone action that it appears to demand at a given time.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    Impossible to recommend this one too highly. A testament to the power of cognitive dissonance, is my reading of this. This is the story of a group of physicists who helped to build the atomic bomb to help defend free enterprise. Unlike many of those who worked with them on this project (that later went on to see the bomb as the world’s greatest threat to our continued existence and therefore who tried to remove this threat by then working to ban the bomb) they spent the rest of their careers tal Impossible to recommend this one too highly. A testament to the power of cognitive dissonance, is my reading of this. This is the story of a group of physicists who helped to build the atomic bomb to help defend free enterprise. Unlike many of those who worked with them on this project (that later went on to see the bomb as the world’s greatest threat to our continued existence and therefore who tried to remove this threat by then working to ban the bomb) they spent the rest of their careers talking about ‘winnable’ nuclear wars and dismissing 'nuclear winter' as typical of commie fellow travellers and 'watermelons' - people who are green on the outside, but red on the inside. Being indoctrinated with free market ideology is a dangerous thing, as any ideology tends to be. In this case it took a group of scientists (and not just scientist, but physicists, for god's sake) and turned them into anti-scientists. Money has many abilities, and this surely must be one of its least attractive. In the name of ‘freedom of choice’ these scientist protested against the mounting evidence that smoking causes cancer, then against acid rain, then against the cancer risks of silicon breast implants, global warming and ozone depletion. They even accuse Silent Spring of causing more deaths than Hitler - what sort of scum-bag would you need to be? It is hard to imagine what it must feel like to look back on your life’s ‘achievements’ and see that litany of lies. The importance of doubt – particularly as a scientific and a philosophic concept – is hard to over stress. But like any other concept, it can be abused. This book documents some of the most outrageous abuses of doubt – doubt based on deceit to further self-interest. It is hard not to come away from this book despising the central characters. As someone who is becoming increasingly interested in research it is interesting to see how, as Dylan might say, dirt covers up the truth with lies. This book does not make for an enjoyable read (it will make your blood boil, in fact), but it is an important book and one everyone should read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Simon Clark

    One of the absolutely essential reads on climate change and quite how we got into the mess of denialism at the very highest level of government that we're in today. In a sentence, the book documents the same playbook used by various industries from tobacco to foster doubt in the minds of consumers, allowing these industries to continue operating. It is an incredibly frustrating, depressing read and a cautionary tale about the power of unchecked information and unchecked capitalism. As well as a One of the absolutely essential reads on climate change and quite how we got into the mess of denialism at the very highest level of government that we're in today. In a sentence, the book documents the same playbook used by various industries from tobacco to foster doubt in the minds of consumers, allowing these industries to continue operating. It is an incredibly frustrating, depressing read and a cautionary tale about the power of unchecked information and unchecked capitalism. As well as a few unchecked 'scientists'. It's also fantastically researched and clearly written work that should serve as a gold standard for anyone writing about the history of climate or policy. There are well-characterised individuals who come up again and again, and does an exceptionally good job of explaining some complicated science. Every part of this book is impressive. Everyone should read it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    David

    This is a truly impressive book. The subtitle really says it all; "How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming". The authors did an immense amount of research, revealing how and why a small group of scientists had such a powerful, and negative impact on important issues. The issues were: the danger of cigarette smoke, strategic defense, acid rain, secondhand smoke, the ozone hole, global warming, and the recent vilification of Rachel Carson. The This is a truly impressive book. The subtitle really says it all; "How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming". The authors did an immense amount of research, revealing how and why a small group of scientists had such a powerful, and negative impact on important issues. The issues were: the danger of cigarette smoke, strategic defense, acid rain, secondhand smoke, the ozone hole, global warming, and the recent vilification of Rachel Carson. The authors present a very comprehensive and persuasive case. Several scientists who established their excellent reputations during the Cold War had very strong views about Capitalism, the importance of the free market, and that all regulation is bad. Therefore, in their views, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) had to be stopped; they believed that the EPA issues regulations that take the country toward socialism, one step away from Communism. These scientists used their reputations to publish in the non-scientific press, to present their side of each regulatory issue. Often, their opinions were not objective, as they were partially funded by foundations that were funded by industries (like tobacco, CFC, mining, defense, oil and transportation). They were physicists, and they were not experts in these fields. But their reputations were strong enough to give them a strong foothold in the popular press and with politicians. They often misrepresented the facts, distorted the science, and generally gave the impression that the issues were controversial, even when the vast majority of scientists had long ago reached nearly unanimous opinions. They tried to vilify outstanding scientists, falsely accusing them of the very tactics that they themselves were guilty of. I strongly recommend this book to all citizens. People need to understand how the very same deceptive tactics are repeated over and over again, for each regulatory issue. People need to understand that science never gives a 100% proof of anything. Science is based on peer reviews and scientist community consensus. The popular press is usually not subject to objective reviews, and often tries to present "both sides" of a scientific issue. However, it is often the case that there is only one side to the science, and the "other side" is a purely political agenda.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

    I would first like to comment on the idea that a "small group of people" caused all of this. I think that is misleading, and the subtitle of the book is misleading. Here is a list of just some people and groups that I think help all of these attacks on science and reason to happen: 1. Corporations like Phillip Morris, Exxon, Monsanto, Dow Chemical. The list can go on. I say those names and I am stunned by what appears to me the total greed and lack of morality they can exhibit. I belong to a Viet I would first like to comment on the idea that a "small group of people" caused all of this. I think that is misleading, and the subtitle of the book is misleading. Here is a list of just some people and groups that I think help all of these attacks on science and reason to happen: 1. Corporations like Phillip Morris, Exxon, Monsanto, Dow Chemical. The list can go on. I say those names and I am stunned by what appears to me the total greed and lack of morality they can exhibit. I belong to a Vietnam veterans group, and I have heard grown men cry about agent orange. Yet the companies responsible still claim there is no connection between agent orange and cancer. 2. Powerful individuals like the Koch brothers, the Murdochs, Rush Limbaugh, and the Hunt brothers. 3. Media outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, National Review, and just about all of talk radio. 4. Just about the entire Republican party and any Democrat that can be bought with a healthy campaign donation. Mitch McConnell, the senate Republican leader from Kentucky, is in the back pocket of the coal companies. If it were up to people like that, there would be no regulations on coal companies and the energy they produce. What do we ever intend to do about toxic sludge dumps? https://earthjustice.org/features/map... 5. Evangelical Christians who home school their children and teach them the earth is 6,000 years old. One short step from that to disbelieving all of science. 6. Powerful groups like the Heritage Foundation, Heartland Institute, American Enterprise Institute, National Rifle Association, Americans for Prosperity, American Legislative Exchange Council, Cato Institute. The most ironic one is Americans for Prosperity. Folks, there won't be any prosperity for anyone as climate change gets worse. 7. And need I mention ignorant voters. I could go on with my list, but I think you get the point. On pages 64 to 65, Milton Friedman's book Capitalism and Freedom is discussed briefly. In my mind, Mr. Friedman has done enormous damage to the economy, the environment, and the government. By defending unfettered capitalism, he influenced countless numbers of true believers who are more powerful than ever. What people like Friedman seem to ignore are the "unintended consequences" of the free market and the "potential remedy--regulation." This seems to me to be at the heart of the problem we face today. Four names need to be placed into the science Hall of Shame: 1. Fred Singer 2. Fred Seitz 3. Bill Nierenberg 4. Robert Jastrow All four are a disgrace to science. My newest additions to the Science Hall of Shame: 5. Phillip E. Johnson 6. Michael Behe 7. Thomas Woodward An important point about science in the book is that science truly began in the 1600s when groups of scientists started to form. Individual scientists like Darwin and Newton were important of course, but it is the groups with their peer reviews that are critical. We must listen to them. They do boring, painstaking work. It is published in scientific journals. They are telling us that it is time to pay the bill for the industrial revolution that had us all living like pigs in a trough. Those days must change. I believe this book should be read by all intelligent people who care about science and about the future of our world.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    I used to believe that selling one's soul to the devil was something that only happened in fictional stories. This book makes it clear that it's a real life option for credentialed scientists who accept salaries and research grants from businesses with interests in obfuscating the truth by covering it with questions. The book provides a history of the battle between economic interests versus health and environmental interests. The topics covered by the book are well summarized by the seven chapt I used to believe that selling one's soul to the devil was something that only happened in fictional stories. This book makes it clear that it's a real life option for credentialed scientists who accept salaries and research grants from businesses with interests in obfuscating the truth by covering it with questions. The book provides a history of the battle between economic interests versus health and environmental interests. The topics covered by the book are well summarized by the seven chapter titles:1. Doubt Is Our Product, 2. Strategic Defense, Phony Facts, and the Creation of the George C. Marshall Institute 3. Sowing the Seeds of Doubt: Acid Rain 4. Constructing a Counternarrative: The Fight over the Ozone Hole 5. What's Bad Science? Who Decides? The Fight over Secondhand Smoke 6. The Denial of Global Warming 7. Denial Rides Again: the Revisionist Attack on Rachel CarsonScience by its very nature is vulnerable to obfuscation by asking questions about uncertainty. But the word uncertainty in the context of science has a different meaning from the way it's used in common vernacular. In cases where the evidence would be judged "beyond a reasonable doubt" in a court of law, the news media interprets additional questioning as a sign that the no consensus has been reached. Some of the histories covered by this book are pretty well resolved even though there are still fringe commentators who claim they weren't problems in the first place. However, global warming still remains the universal joke punch line in some circles (tag "it's caused by global warming" at the end of any story, and it's guaranteed to cause laughter by the deniers). Ever wonder why the United States has failed to act on global warming?"There are many reasons why the United States has failed to act on global warming, but at least one is the confusion raised by Bill Nierenberg, Fred Seitz, and Fred Singer."All three of these individuals are physicists who have never done peer reviewed research in fields related to meteorology or climate modeling. Singer was a rocket scientist. Nierenberg and Seitz worked on the atomic bomb. The book indicates that small numbers of people such as these have had significant influence on popular perception of the issue of global warming. Consequently public opinion concludes that scientific consensus has not been reached leading to the stalling of policy making.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Maru Kun

    The story begins, where else, with smoking - that ur-science denial project which spawned many of the weapons of modern-day sowing of doubt. Amazingly denying the dangers of smoking is a project which still lumbers on in dark corners of the developing world hiding from the scrutiny of western media. The story moves on to acid rain, then passive smoking, ozone depletion and - one I wasn't expecting - a born-again denialist program praising the long forgotten benefits to human wellbeing of DDT. But The story begins, where else, with smoking - that ur-science denial project which spawned many of the weapons of modern-day sowing of doubt. Amazingly denying the dangers of smoking is a project which still lumbers on in dark corners of the developing world hiding from the scrutiny of western media. The story moves on to acid rain, then passive smoking, ozone depletion and - one I wasn't expecting - a born-again denialist program praising the long forgotten benefits to human wellbeing of DDT. But this is all just warm up for the mother of science denial projects, climate change, which the authors remind us "..strikes at the very root of economic activity: the use of energy…" and which might be the last battle for scientific truth ever fought. While good fights evil in the climate change debate new science denial projects, the toxic fusion of vested interests and shady PR companies, ooze their pollution into the scientific world as swiftly and penetratingly as the run-off from a Koch brothers mine. Deniers are opening a new front in their war against truth with the claim that sugar and processed foods have nothing to do with obesity. This New York Times article is the latest report from the trenches. Sadly the denialists' weapons are getting ever more sophisticated. In those heady early days of defending tobacco we had groups like the "Tobacco Industry Research Committee"; including "Industry" in the title shows a charming naivety that no longer exists today. Now we have the cleverly named "Global Energy Balance Foundation" - a front group for soft drinks companies whose mission is to remind us that, if lazy slobs like you and I spent most of our waking hours in the gym, then we would have no trouble burning off the calories from the sugar laced foods and drinks which advertisers force down our throats every day. Denying science only works for as long as you can deny reality. Sooner or later reality catches up. "Merchants of Doubt" lets us see how the denialists' arguments become more refined as reality piles up the evidence against them. For example, an early salvo of climate change denial was the claim that human migration would allow the peoples of the world to avoid its worst effects. These days, when we can see the problems caused by a fraction of the refugees that would be created by climate change as they try to cross the Mediterranean into Europe, such facile arguments have been quietly dropped. Nowadays the latest tactic in the battle over climate change is for US politicians to proudly boast about their ignorance, saying that they can't make any climate policies because "we are not scientists". This is accepted by the media, who don't seem to wonder why their elected representatives lack the personal initiative to phone their scientific advisors and take some advice. The smoking deniers delayed adoption of anti-smoking measures by a couple of decades. Such a delay I doubt caused more than a few tens of millions of unnecessary early deaths. Climate change deniers must have a few decades in front of them before reality catches up, although if phenomenon such as the Californian drought continue much longer reality may catch up that bit sooner. Sadly for our children and grand-children climate change may be an irreversible, discontinuous process causing human suffering orders of magnitude greater than ever caused by tobacco. I hope there is a special circle in hell for climate change deniers and their facilitators. Although this book tells you the history of science denial it doesn't aim to give you the nitty-gritty details of how such knavery is carried out. For this you need a book on public relations and I would recommend Toxic Sludge is Good For You. Here is an example from that book of the cynicism of the PR industry that will make you fear for the future of the human values of honesty and integrity. Many thinking people know that the PR companies have units that set up fake "grass roots" campaigns ("astro-turf" campaigns) intended to pressurize politicians. But did you imagine there are even companies that specialize in telephoning round to try and find individuals who they can groom with a few "grass roots" opinions on a topic? These companies then conference-call their mark through to the relevant politician's phone while dropping off the line. And this book was written back in 1995 - just imagine how worse things must be today. So where are we now? We have Senator Inhofe, head of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, bringing a snowball onto the Senate Floor as evidence that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax, demonstrating to any scientist watching a level of ignorance so deep it cannot understand the difference between "weather" and "climate". This brings me close to despair. Although science denialists may win a few of their battles against the truth, reality will ultimately win the war. We can only hope that victory comes soon enough to allow us to repair the damage the denialists will have caused.

  9. 5 out of 5

    W. Littlejohn

    This immensely important and timely book demands attention from anyone determined to think critically and intelligently about the current interface of politics, economics, and science, which one might describe as the three gods of our time. The book is not flawless, to be sure. As a complete layman in such issues, I can detect certain ideological flaws, which I shall come to in due course, and it is hard not to think that the authors present a somewhat one-sided perspective on a highly contentio This immensely important and timely book demands attention from anyone determined to think critically and intelligently about the current interface of politics, economics, and science, which one might describe as the three gods of our time. The book is not flawless, to be sure. As a complete layman in such issues, I can detect certain ideological flaws, which I shall come to in due course, and it is hard not to think that the authors present a somewhat one-sided perspective on a highly contentious issue, and that their opponents would have rather more to say for themselves than Conway and Oreskes imply. Indeed, in such matters, it is always essential to keep Proverbs 18:17 in mind: "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him." Nonetheless, from what I know of the world, and from the compellingness of the narrative set forth in this book, I am for now provisionally convinced that their basic picture is accurate. This picture, it turns out, is considerably more complex and interesting than I had expected when I picked up the book. The basic gist I thought I knew: climate change denial is largely funded by Big Oil and industries with a vested interest in staving off any policy shifts in a green direction. The science is being corrupted by greed. And, should you be skeptical of such cynicism, just look at how Big Tobacco did the same thing in the 60s—and the 70s and 80s and 90s, for that matter; doubt is a highly durable product, it seems. A sordid story, but alas, a somewhat believable one. Yet, such a story has the troubling consequence of making scientists look like they're for sale to the highest bidder. If Big Tobacco and Big Oil could simply bribe scientists into distorting the facts, then why should the moral of this story be "Trust the scientists," as it must be for climate change orthodoxy? Thankfully, Conway and Oreskes's story is, as I said, considerably more complex, and on reflection, more disturbing. The denial of climate change and the denial of the dangers of smoking do not merely share links to big business; they (and the denial of the ozone hole, of acid rain, of nuclear winter fears, of the dangers of DDT, etc., all covered in this book as well) share something more insidious—a blind faith in markets, technology, and progress. In each of the doubt-sowing narratives that Conway and Oreskes survey, they find a very small cast of lead actors, chief among whom are a cadre of high-profile Cold War physicists, Frederick Seitz, Fred Singer, and Bill Nierenberg. It was Frederick Seitz, at that time aged 84 and retired from active scientific work for 17 years, who penned the damning public slander of Ben Santer and his chapter of the first IPCC report on climate change in 1995, after having spent most of the 1980s supervising contrarian research on behalf of the tobacco industry. Of course, the very fact that the same few names keep cropping up again and again, in radically different contexts, is enough to raise a few eyebrows as to whether we are dealing with real scientific opposition or some kind of conspiracy. (Admittedly, it may well be that the authors overemphasize somewhat these few main characters so as to make the contrarian community seem smaller than it really is; however, they do not seem to be incorrect in assigning a leading role to these figures.) How many solid-state physicists, after all, can claim to be experts on oncology, the effect of acidity on ecosystems, and the distribution of heat in the earth's atmosphere? And indeed, part of the burden of the book is to show how just a few well-connected, sufficiently outspoken, and somewhat unscrupulous scientists can create the illusion of a whole community of scientific dissent. They note how a credulous and naive media and public is often willing to credit the testimony of any leading scientist as a relevant expert, even if his expertise is in another field entirely, as if an expert plumber could settle a controversy on the best way to construct the roof, just because he's involved in the homebuilding industry. Why is it that these physicists should be so determined to attack environmental concern wherever it should arise? It is here that Conway and Oreskes are at their best, subtly and insightfully introducing us to the Cold War mindset that drove these men. They were all formed within that black-and-white view of the world, capitalism vs. communism, freedom vs. statism. And for them, as for so many hawks of that era, superior technological innovation was the means by which freedom would triumph. Seitz and Nierenberg both got their start working on the Manhattan Project, and were heavily involved in subsequent weapons-development research in the early Cold War, as was Singer. Not only did this early work help set their ideological trajectory in a hard-right direction, but it also catapulted them to positions of remarkable political influence, which they maintained. (Oreskes and Conway wish to leave us in no doubt that when it comes to the charge that our politicians are being manipulated by influential insider climate change alarmists, the shoe is most definitely on the other foot.) Since most of the rising concerns about the harmful effects of certain industries on health and environment necessarily implied the need for government regulation of those industries, men like Seitz, Singer, and Nierenberg thought they spotted a Red agenda at the heart of the Green movement. Dedicated as they were to the freedom of capitalist industry and to a confidence that technology was our savior, they bitterly resisted the implications that capitalist industrial technology might be harming the planet and might call for government intervention. In the Reagan era, such convictions easily won the day on issues such as acid rain, whatever the vast majority of the scientific community might say, and those who held them gained established footholds of influence. Conway and Oreskes also draw close attention to the strategy behind all this anti-environmental science. The objective, most of the time, has not been to directly deny the various claims of harm being advanced. The tobacco industry spent little time trying to prove that smoking was fine for you, and Singer and Nierenberg did not try to claim that acid rain was harmless. Rather, their product was doubt. The point was always to persuade the public that, yes, there might be a problem, but there was so much we didn't know that we couldn't be quite sure what its origin was, how serious it was, and what the best solution might be. The downsides of our current course, then, were uncertain. Accompanying this was the argument that the upsides of our current course were obvious, or the downsides to changing our present course were quite clear and certain, and certain to be serious. As a delaying tactic, this argument served the tobacco industry astonishingly well. Would-be smokers could be reassured that, although they couldn't be sure one way or another of the science surrounding the safety of cigarettes, at least they could be sure that they really enjoyed smoking them, and it was probably worth a little risk. Juries could be persuaded, for more than forty years after the extremely carcinogenic effects of smoking had been scientifically demonstrated, that there was still enough uncertainty to render the tobacco companies legally immune. Again, Conway and Oreskes insightfully show how psychology can lead us astray here. We tend to fall prey to short-term thinking, willing to face future risks for the sake of present enjoyment, and disposed to always prefer the known (what we are already doing) to the unknown (any proposed change), assessing the latter as riskier than the former, even when the evidence clearly suggests otherwise. (Many of the contrarian scientists described in this book were clearly driven by this kind of thinking, particularly those with a particular interest in economics. The economic costs of environmental protection, they felt, were so high as to outweigh the evidence of future harms.) These psychological tendencies are if anything even more true on the social level than the individual. What this means is that anyone claiming that we must stop the enjoyable things we are doing in order to avert future or unseen calamities, and must start ordering our lives in different ways, has to meet a very high burden of proof indeed to be listened to. Our political leaders, who are supposed to take the future into account and thus make these difficult decisions for us, are unfortunately just as much the slaves of short-term thinking. Economic growth in the present, not environmental protection in the future, is what is likely to win them their next election. The merchants of doubt, then, have a comparatively easy task. All they have to show is that there is enough uncertainty in the science that perhaps we had better sit back and wait for more evidence before committing ourselves to a costly change of direction, or, heaven forbid, sacrificing our freedom to government bureaucrats. Unfortunately, it is extraordinarily easy to prove uncertainty in the science, because all science is always uncertain. Conway and Oreskes are refreshingly upfront about this, and criticize the outdated positivistic view of science that imagines that science "proves" facts with logical certainty. Even when the basic facts are well-established (though never absolutely proven), there exist all sorts of details that still need to be worked out, and ongoing scientific work will of course be dedicated toward investigating these remaining areas of uncertainty. Anyone with a dedicated agenda of skepticism, then, will have no difficulty in finding evidence of uncertainty and debate in the current scientific literature, even when there is a firmly established consensus about the key points. Moreover, given that the front lines of scientific work are so far beyond the ken of the average citizen, it is easy for him to be duped into treating as equally authoritative the testimony of popularizers and think tanks with some kind of scientific credentials. When we look at this cacophony of voices and see evidence of widespread disagreement, we shrug our shoulders and say, "Who are we to believe?" So what is to be done about this? Conway and Oreskes suggest some answers in their epilogue, pointing out how many areas of our day-to-day in which we recognize the need to trust experts and act on their advice, despite the inevitable uncertainty. They conclude "So it comes to this: we must trust our scientific experts on matters of science, because there isn't a workable alternative. And because scientists are not (in most cases) licensed, we need to pay attention to who the experts actually are—by asking questions about their credentials, their past and current research, the venues in which they are subjecting their claims to scrutiny, and the sources of financial support they are receiving. If the scientific community has been asked to judge a matter . . . then it makes sense to take the results of their investigations very seriously. . . . Sensible decision making involves acting on the information we have, even while accepting that it may well be imperfect and our decisions may need to be revisited and revised in light of new information. For even if modern science does not give us certainty, it does have a robust track record . . . modern science gives us a pretty decent basis for action. . . . "Don't get us wrong. Scientists have no special purchase on moral or ethical decisions; a climate scientist is no more qualified to comment on health care reform than a physicist is to judge the causes of bee colony collapse. The very fathers that create expertise in a specialized domain lead to ignorance in many others. . . . So our trust needs to be circumscribed, and focused. It needs to be very particular. Blind trust will get us into at least as much trouble as no trust at all. But without some degree of trust in our designated experts . . . we are paralyzed, in effect not knowing whether to make ready for the morning commute or not. . . . C.P. Snow once argued that foolish faith in authority is the enemy of truth. But so is a foolish cynicism. . . . We close with the comments of S.J. Green, director of research for British American Tobacco, who decided, finally, that what his industry had done was wrong, not just morally, but also intellectually: 'A demand for scientific proof is always a formula for inaction and delay, and usually the first reaction of the guilty. The proper basis for such decisions is, of course, quite simply that which is reasonable in the circumstances." In other words, we need to accept that painful, costly public policy decisions will have to be taken on the basis of uncertainty. In fact, they always are, for economic projections about the future (perhaps the most frequent basis for public policy) are at least as uncertain as scientific ones. If the consequences of inaction appear sufficiently serious and probable, the prudent ruler (and the prudent society) will begin to undertake corrective action even while acknowledging the possibility that subsequent research will reveal such action unnecessary; better safe than sorry. My one major misgiving about the book: despite their attempts to demystify the scientific enterprise, and acknowledge that it is human, all too human, not blessed with some special gift of infallibility, it is hard not to feel that the authors continue to speak of "the halls of science" in somewhat reverential tones. Scientists are repeatedly eulogized as pure uncorrupt seekers after truth, even while a few contrarian scientists are shown to be quite the opposite. But of course, if Seitz, Singer, Nierenberg, and others could let their ideology and the interests of their benefactors get in the way of doing honest and objective science, who's to say that most other scientists are immune to this. Conway and Oreskes do enough to suggest, I think, that the accusations that climate alarmists are acting out of self-interest or political ideology are a case of the pot calling the kettle black; however, that doesn't mean that the kettle may not be black as well. I have no doubt that most climate scientists are conscientious researchers who do their utmost to be objective and avoid unnecessary alarmism. But not all, and not always. The authors always speak of "peer review" the same way that Catholics speak of "Our Holy Father," and it irks me just the same way. Peer review is certainly better than the lack thereof, but it's no magic epistemological bullet. Scientists, like anyone else, are subject to the herd instinct, to confirmation bias, and sometimes to something as prosaic as mere laziness. After just a couple years in academia, I have seen enough of the failings of the peer review process in theological studies to be skeptical that it could work as perfectly in scientific studies as many seem to think. So pardon me for still being something of a skeptic about the reliability of mainstream scientific opinion at any given time. That said, I concede the overall point Conway and Oreskes are trying to make—you can't refuse to act just because there will always be grounds for skepticism. Mainstream science may be riddled with errors, but when the stakes are high enough, you've got to make decisions based on the best resources available to you, and until God deigns to issue an oracle telling us the truth about climate change and the best solution to it, we'd best pay attention to the scientists.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    Lawyer Doug thinks: What's the big deal? As much as the authors try to spin it, the science on a lot of these issues were not definitively settled at the time. These people that the book villify - and this book is pretty venomous in its portrayal of some of the characters - are advocating a position and are using facts to frame their argument. This book make is seem like the global warming advocates are innocent and blameless, but they use the same tactics of massaging science to get their messa Lawyer Doug thinks: What's the big deal? As much as the authors try to spin it, the science on a lot of these issues were not definitively settled at the time. These people that the book villify - and this book is pretty venomous in its portrayal of some of the characters - are advocating a position and are using facts to frame their argument. This book make is seem like the global warming advocates are innocent and blameless, but they use the same tactics of massaging science to get their message across. The science behind global warming, pollution, and cancer are enormously complicated, and both sides try to reduce all this to sound bites papatable to the public, no one has a monopoly on spewing out junk science. This is all much ado about nothing. Engineer Doug thinks: Something stinks here. These scientists were physicists, and they don't necessarily have the credentials to be experts on pollution, tobacco, and global warming. If you follow the money, it leads to big corporations and think tanks that have a huge interest in advocating certain positions, and wouldn't you know it, these scientist come to exactly those conclusions. All their work seems to be a campaign to cover up the dirty little secret of capitalism: [U]nrestricted commercial activity was doing damage – real, lasting, pervasive damage. . . . To acknowledge this was to acknowledge the soft underbelly of free market capitalism: that free enterprise can bring real costs – profound costs – that the free market does not reflect. . . . This is the common thread that ties these diverse issues together: they were all market failures. They are instances where serious damage was done and the free market seemed unable to account for it, much less prevent it. Government intervention was required. This is why free market ideologues and old Cold Warriors joined together to fight them. Accepting that by-products of industrial civilization were irreparably damaging the global environment was to accept the reality of market failure. It was to acknowledge the limits of free market capitalism. I like Engineer Doug better. Maybe I should update my resume.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tim O'Neill

    This Australian summer's bushfire catastrophe brought with it a deluge of climate change denialism in the press, on some TV commentary, from certain politicians (with a lot of weasel words from others) and, particularly, on social media. Long debunked claims, distorted misinformation, cherry picked data and error-laden memes were spread far and wide, supposedly "debunking" the expert assessment that the unprecedented fires and attendant drought were substantially driven by climate change. My fru This Australian summer's bushfire catastrophe brought with it a deluge of climate change denialism in the press, on some TV commentary, from certain politicians (with a lot of weasel words from others) and, particularly, on social media. Long debunked claims, distorted misinformation, cherry picked data and error-laden memes were spread far and wide, supposedly "debunking" the expert assessment that the unprecedented fires and attendant drought were substantially driven by climate change. My frustration at seeing this nonsense being pushed by bot armies, full time contrarians and culture warriors and, in many cases, accepted uncritically by far too many Australians motivated me to start tracing back where these arguments came from and the origin and source of climate denialism in the face of the scientific consensus. This led me to finally read Oreskes and Conway's book, which I first put on my mental "to read" pile a decade ago. With meticulous care, the authors use their skills as historians and archival researchers to uncover the decades long history of not just climate change denial, but a whole interconnected anti-science campaign by political ideologues determined to defend unregulated business practices and laissez-faire capitalism at any cost. The power of this ideology is such that what has become a virtual crusade against science itself has been, ironically, substantially driven by a few contrarian scientists with a political agenda. The authors show that the tactics used today by climate change deniers were developed and honed in previous skirmishes between these laissez-faire capitalist fundamentalists and scientific reality. Beginning with the tobacco lobby's attempts to stall any restrictions on their industry in the face of a clear consensus on the deadly effects of tobacco in the 1960s, the authors show that exactly the same tactics were used to dispute the effects of DDT, deny the causes of acid rain and obfuscate the origin of the hole in the Ozone Layer. Not only this, but they show that it was often the same contrarian ideologues in the scientific sphere who drove each of these campaigns of misinformation or eagerly lent their reputations (usually in unrelated scientific fields) to their cause. Over and over again the same names come up - Robert Jastrow, Fred Seitz, William Nierenberg and Fred Singer - who along with some lesser fellow travellers, spent decades creating an illusion of doubt on these subjects, bamboozling the media into thinking there was good reason not to act in any way that might restrict big businesses' capacity to make profits at the expense of human health, well-being and the environment. The way these fanatics manipulated the media's obsession with "showing both sides" and the reason this "balance" idea doesn't work when it comes to science is a key theme in the book. What is depressing is that in the ten years since its publication, the media has not become much smarter on science issues and, unfortunately, scientists have not become much better at beating the contrarians by presenting the real story. But the most interesting element for me was the historical roots of the ideology that drives denialism to this day - the Cold War obsession with anything remotely like Communism, leading to a blind and wrongheaded embrace of its equally irrational and purely ideological polar opposite: the idea that untrammelled business and industry will inevitably produce the greatest possible good. The book shows that climate change denial is the latest and biggest lie in a sequence of lies that are driven by a poisonous ideology, funded by greedy plutocrats and their political creatures. Nothing much has changed, though events like the 2019-20 Australian bushfires are perhaps starting to make more people realise that the things we were warned about are now happening. This excellent book is a classic example of how understanding the past can help us understand the present and shape the future. By seeing how this toxic ideology arose and how its tactics developed, we may have some chance of fighting it before it's too late.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nandakishore Mridula

    On another internet forum I used to frequent, there was a hot argument whether science was "good" or "bad". Two or three members were convinced about the inherent "badness" of science - they were great believers in metaphysics and spirituality. Another member and I were arguing for the inherent value neutrality of science. There was one guy who was pro-science, but vehemently against value-neutrality. He argued that science, unless inherently coupled with ethics, is bad. While I appreciated this On another internet forum I used to frequent, there was a hot argument whether science was "good" or "bad". Two or three members were convinced about the inherent "badness" of science - they were great believers in metaphysics and spirituality. Another member and I were arguing for the inherent value neutrality of science. There was one guy who was pro-science, but vehemently against value-neutrality. He argued that science, unless inherently coupled with ethics, is bad. While I appreciated this as a political position, I was highly sceptical about its practicality. I mean, e=mc2 can create both electricity and the nuclear bomb - it is inherently neutral as far as moral values are concerned. Reading about this book, however, bought home to me the fact that science has got an intrinsic value - it has to be the search for truth. The scientist has to be committed to it. Otherwise, it means that the scientist has sold his soul to the devil (I mean, corporate interests).

  13. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

    I'm giving this book an extra half star because I know one of the authors and I can read between the lines and see that her contributions are more circumspect and better thought out than the compromised version that ended up in this book. Merchants of Doubt is about the misuse of science by politicians. It's a very good, methodically researched introduction to how science gets twisted in the political process. Where this book loses credibility, however, is that it shows only one side of the stor I'm giving this book an extra half star because I know one of the authors and I can read between the lines and see that her contributions are more circumspect and better thought out than the compromised version that ended up in this book. Merchants of Doubt is about the misuse of science by politicians. It's a very good, methodically researched introduction to how science gets twisted in the political process. Where this book loses credibility, however, is that it shows only one side of the story: the misuse of science by conservative politicians aided by conservative scientists. It happens on the other side as well. Don't believe me? Here's an example. When Obama came into office, Steven Chu, his Nobel Prize winning DOE head, suspended work on storing high-level radioactive waste storage at Yucca Mountain. Obama has publicly made claims that the safety of the site is not supported by the science. Actually, the science shows it to be a good site. The start of the entire "Yucca Mountain is bad" movement began with a long tome filled with theories that defied basic physics written by a single DOE employee. Environmentalists and Nevadans championed this tome. They became, using the title of this book, merchants of doubt. The best part of the book are the naked facts, most of which it gets right with wonderful detail. The worst part of the book is the venom and cattiness. The book overplays its hand again and again and tries to simplify in order to make what amounts to character assassinations about those it doesn't like. Some of these people died many years ago and of course, can't rebut the claims made. Some of the claims are inconsistent. Cheap foreshadowing is used - how these people supposedly act or look or talk - to make these people seem sinister. Just because someone has a different point of view does not make them inherently evil. Just because someone agrees with you does not make them a messiah incarnate. The book makes the claim that the same Cold War conservative warriors show up again and again to fight sound science related to environmental issues. That's not really true. It's certainly not the same people every time. Some die along the way. Others were children when this cabal supposedly started. Edward Teller fought for SDI, yes, but he wasn't involved in acid rain, second hand smoke, or global warming issues. Even the characterization of Reagan's motivation for SDI is given a sinister edge; the authors needed to do some more research on that end. In short there is a consistent and I believe ill conceived attempt to connect many many dots - some far apart, some close - together. The examples aren't all pertinent and some run counter to the thesis - acid rain legislation was actually passed under a Republican administration as was the Montreal protocol - of this book. Science is misused by politicians all the time. The trick of finding one scientist - qualified or not - to cast doubt on scientific consensus isn't something that just takes place with Republicans. Democrats do the same thing. This book, which has some excellent examples of this trick, would be far, far better if it shed its liberal bias and agenda - put aside the demonizing and paranoia - and just stuck to the facts. If you can get past all the venom and the looking at the world through a very liberal, environmentalist filter, there is a lot of wonderful material in this book. I don't think many people have that ability. There is another flaw in this book that I will only cursorily mention. In order to try to strengthen its arguments, it puts far too much faith in the value of environmental models and peer review. Models are highly flawed things. So is peer review. At times, the approach of the authors in extolling peer review sounds eerily like the language free marketeers use when discussing the "invisible hand" that supposedly corrects the economy. I only wish peer review and even scientific consensus were as rational as the authors' claim.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Todd Martin

    Back in the 1970’s, in response to irrefutable evidence that tobacco smoke represented a significant health issue, anti-regulatory forces hit upon a successful strategy that was to become the template for all future fights. The tactic was to sow doubt and to foment uncertainty about the science as a means to prevent regulatory action. And it worked. Why is this approach so successful? Part of the answer lies in the public misunderstanding of science; what it is, and how it works. Science (in par Back in the 1970’s, in response to irrefutable evidence that tobacco smoke represented a significant health issue, anti-regulatory forces hit upon a successful strategy that was to become the template for all future fights. The tactic was to sow doubt and to foment uncertainty about the science as a means to prevent regulatory action. And it worked. Why is this approach so successful? Part of the answer lies in the public misunderstanding of science; what it is, and how it works. Science (in particular, science of emerging issues) is not a collection of proven facts, it is a body of knowledge that provides a better understanding of the world as the evidence accumulates. There is always more to learn about any topic, but this not a reason to conclude that action should not be taken in the absence of certainty. We do things every day in our lives based on the best evidence available, even if it is incomplete. A simple example would be choosing whether to purchase a piece of fruit. We use the data generated by sight, smell and touch to estimate the likelihood that the fruit is good and determine whether to buy it based on this evidence (which is anything but definitive). The anti-regulatory lobby takes advantage of the uncertainty that is present in each scientific discussion to argue against taking action. Even if this strategy ultimately fails (and it eventually does, time and time again), the delay that it creates is a victory in itself (tobacco was known to cause harm in the 1950’s, yet it was another two decades before the government finally began to institute regulations to protect the public from harm). Oreskes illustrates the history of this obfuscation using the examples of tobacco smoke, acid rain, ozone depletion, and second hand smoke as well as the current hot button issue of global warming. While is not surprising that the same arguments are recycled again and again as excuses for inaction, what is surprising is that it is often the very same people and institutions that are making them. Not surprisingly, it is ideology rather than the desire for good public policy that motivates these groups. They tend to be right-wing, free market fundamentalists who see government regulations of industries and practices that harm the public as a descent into Communism. While you may or may not agree with their ideology, their willingness to resort to deception, obfuscation, misdirection and outright falsehoods to further their agenda is something every truth-loving citizen should consider offensive. Unfortunately, given a public that is largely scientifically illiterate and unused to critical thinking, this strategy will continue to bear fruit and it is the rest of us that will pay the price.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Erwin

    Bottom line: - the masses are easy to manipulate - science, just like intelligence (CIA) has become a political tool - political "scientists" on behalf of some business lobbies have sewn seeds of doubt - the doubt is enough to confuse the mass media, and thereby the masses - doubt is always in the interest of the status quo, because doubt prevents action and change This could have been a single page news article. No need to write a book, unless the scope is expanded, or some more interesting facts (so Bottom line: - the masses are easy to manipulate - science, just like intelligence (CIA) has become a political tool - political "scientists" on behalf of some business lobbies have sewn seeds of doubt - the doubt is enough to confuse the mass media, and thereby the masses - doubt is always in the interest of the status quo, because doubt prevents action and change This could have been a single page news article. No need to write a book, unless the scope is expanded, or some more interesting facts (something that challenges our world view) can be located. Lots of minutiae. I'm detail oriented, but the magnitude of the details is simply not surprising, yet the quantity of details was very boring. Not sure who the target audience is for this. Probably written for scientists to criticize the "bad scientists" that "sold out" to corporate lobbies.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Darian Onaciu

    Excellent book about how certain corporations manipulated public opinion through different means and discredited the work of legitimate scientists because it went against the economic interests of the conglomerates. The writing is clear and concise, the arguments crisp and the tone is inquisitive and analytical. The authors take in the whole problem, analyze it and then highlight the involvement of each party, drawing a conclusion based on all the available evidence. If you're interested about how Excellent book about how certain corporations manipulated public opinion through different means and discredited the work of legitimate scientists because it went against the economic interests of the conglomerates. The writing is clear and concise, the arguments crisp and the tone is inquisitive and analytical. The authors take in the whole problem, analyze it and then highlight the involvement of each party, drawing a conclusion based on all the available evidence. If you're interested about how science in general is done or in how it sometimes collides with private interests, this book is for you.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Book

    Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway "Merchants of Doubt" is a fascinating book that tells the upsetting story of how a small power-group of conservative scientists ran destructive campaigns to mislead the public about science. The book provides a number of fascinating cases that has a direct impact on the public. This 368-page book is composed of the following seven chapters: 1. Doubt Is Our Product, 2. Strategic Defense, Phony Facts, and the Creation of the George C. Marshall Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway "Merchants of Doubt" is a fascinating book that tells the upsetting story of how a small power-group of conservative scientists ran destructive campaigns to mislead the public about science. The book provides a number of fascinating cases that has a direct impact on the public. This 368-page book is composed of the following seven chapters: 1. Doubt Is Our Product, 2. Strategic Defense, Phony Facts, and the Creation of the George C. Marshall Institute, 3. Sowing the Seeds of Doubt: Acid Rain, 4. Constructing a Counternarrative: The Fight over the Ozone Hole, 5. What's Bad Science? Who Decides? The Fight over Secondhand Smoke, 6. He Denial of Global Warming, and7. Denial Rides Again: the Revisionist Attack on Rachel Carson Positives: 1. A well-written, well-researched book for the masses. Great science writing. 2. Fascinating, jaw-dropping expose of some of the scoundrels behind the misinformation machine. 3. Meticulously researched book that provides compelling evidence in support of the main thesis. 4. The tactics used behind the willful dissemination of false science in the service of politics and profits. 5. Fascinating cases exposed with a luxury of details. 6. An excellent introduction that establishes the foundation of this excellent book. 7. The history of how the tobacco industry fought to deflect attention from the fact that tobacco caused cancer. 8. The strategies used by culpable industries. Some very dirty tactics indeed. 9. The myth that scientists would do anything for funding is resoundingly debunked with the missile defense research program. 10. The fascinating look at the nuclear winter debate. 11. Great use of science throughout book. Well supported arguments. 12. How politics can get in the way of the facts. 13. How science works. The importance of peer reviews. 14. Scathing criticism, "scientific claims were being published in scientific journals, where only scientists would read them, but unscientific claims were being published in the mass media". 15. CFCs, acid rain and the ozone hole...oh my. 16. The emergence of think tanks created with the sole purpose of discrediting science. 17. A must-read chapter on global warming. 18. The story behind pesticide use. 19. How bugs and bacteria provide the best evidence we have of natural selection. 20. Great use of links. 21. Extensive notes section that supports how well-researched this book truly is. Negatives: 1. Be prepared to get upset. This book is an expose that will make your blood rise. 2. Conservatives will call foul but the facts don't cease to exist because you ignore them. 3. Having to wait for this duo's next masterpiece. In summary, a fantastic eye-opening expose of grand proportions. This book earns your trust by providing arguments supported by copious amounts of quality research and sound science. It's a devastating and thought-provoking book on how the power elite create pseudo science organizations to undermine real science at the expense of the public. I can't recommend this book enough...read it! Further reading: "Science under Siege..." by Kendrick Frazier, and "Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free" by Charles P. Pierce.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    This is a heavy book with a lot of facts and proof to back it up that everyone should read. It shows how businesses and/or our government hire scientists to cause doubt in proven theories. It is then sold to the American public as fact. It tells us about RJ Reynolds and how cigarettes "don't" cause cancer, George H W Bush working for Ronald Reagan and their SDI program which cost the US $60 billion on lies, how we were told that acid rain and ozone holes were not real, how secondhand smoke is a This is a heavy book with a lot of facts and proof to back it up that everyone should read. It shows how businesses and/or our government hire scientists to cause doubt in proven theories. It is then sold to the American public as fact. It tells us about RJ Reynolds and how cigarettes "don't" cause cancer, George H W Bush working for Ronald Reagan and their SDI program which cost the US $60 billion on lies, how we were told that acid rain and ozone holes were not real, how secondhand smoke is a farce, DDT and insecticides were not harmful, and of course how Global Warming is not real according to "certain" scientists, Rush Limbaugh, newspapers, journalists and the White House. All of these things that the American people have been duped into believing is wrong. All of this because certain scientists were hired(bought) to cause "doubt" among the science. Good job…they have made Americans seem really stupid. It took 5 years for the authors to write this book and provide the facts to back it up. This is one everyone should read…just so we question everything we are told. And even when a "scientist" says it we still need to check the background of "that" scientist and also make sure that the things they say went through a Peer Review for All Science and we just didn't hear about it on TV or from a magazine, or newspaper.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Carly Friedman

    I could not finish this book. I struggled through four boring, tedious chapters before giving up. The premise was interesting but the content was disappointing. Each chapter focused on how an industry or governmental group was influenced by a few biased scientists and therefore ignored or discounted good research on the topic. The minutiae of the different people and their affiliations got in the way of the bigger picture.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    The Good: --I vaguely remember the documentary adaptation; this book is far more memorable. --Of significance is tracing free market fundamentalism to the Cold War, and in the cases reviewed to a few Cold War physicists who became useful tools based on their scientific prestige and ideological persuasion. --I was not aware of (but not surprised by) the modern corporate backlash towards Rachel Carson detailed in later chapters, in its denial of DDT-resistance and in its accusation of environmentalis The Good: --I vaguely remember the documentary adaptation; this book is far more memorable. --Of significance is tracing free market fundamentalism to the Cold War, and in the cases reviewed to a few Cold War physicists who became useful tools based on their scientific prestige and ideological persuasion. --I was not aware of (but not surprised by) the modern corporate backlash towards Rachel Carson detailed in later chapters, in its denial of DDT-resistance and in its accusation of environmentalism's death toll. The Bad, or rather suggestions: --Rigorous accounting naming names and tracing the various shenanigans surely has its place. However, I do wonder the target audience. Would this be the general public, or specific professionals already associated with the topic (media/journalists, politicians, scientists)? --If we assume general public, such details were a slog to get through; a condensed version would be useful. The summary parts were helpful. --There are 4 processes that need to be made accessible: 1) Understanding power: this would dispel illusions we may have, for example regarding the role of corporate media (this book mentions the fairness doctrine, which seems to miss the bigger picture of how corporate media survives). Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky 2) Understanding the scientific method: why we bother with it instead of relying on heuristics. Bad Science 3) Understanding capitalism: how did we come to be swept up by the global commodity chain, labor market, and debt. Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: or, How Capitalism Works - and How It Fails 4) Understanding democracy: what is the range of participation we can have in our lives and communities? The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement

  21. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    A few years ago a diverse group of right-wingers affiliated with a variety of conservative and 'libertarian' think-tanks, corporations, foundations and publications attempted the take-over of America's sole liberal 'great books' school, Shimer College. Shimer is a small institution, but its charter, dating to the mid-19th century, is priceless and the whole notion of 'the Great Books' has traditionally attracted idealogues of the Right. Under two presidents, Rice and Lindsay, both arising from R A few years ago a diverse group of right-wingers affiliated with a variety of conservative and 'libertarian' think-tanks, corporations, foundations and publications attempted the take-over of America's sole liberal 'great books' school, Shimer College. Shimer is a small institution, but its charter, dating to the mid-19th century, is priceless and the whole notion of 'the Great Books' has traditionally attracted idealogues of the Right. Under two presidents, Rice and Lindsay, both arising from Republican administrations, the board of the ever-financially-strapped college was packed with similarly-minded persons (each of which had to contribute a minimum of $10k, several of whom were secretly funded by one Barry Seid, a reactionary industrialist) in any effort to change the direction of the school. Fortunately, the pattern was discerned, the plot exposed and publicized. The college was saved by a one vote margin in the board. Many of the same players figure prominently in this book about the ongoing efforts of what its authors call 'free market fundamentalists' to fight environmental science, ostensibly seen by them as a form of creeping socialism. Coincidentally, but unsurprisingly, such insights are often actually motivated by large sums provided by the corporations facing regulation, corporations such as the tobacco industries and the energy companies. Here in Chicago, home of Shimer College, the most notorious of these institutional mercenaries is The Heartland Foundation, the major funders of which are the self-same tobacco and energy corporations for whom the foundation publishes materials supporting smoking, attacking climate change science and those who worry about such things as second-hand smoke, acid rain, ozone depletion, radiation and the like.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Merchants of Doubt isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty close. Contained within its pages is a careful analysis of how a handful of corporations and scientists distorted public understanding for their own narrow purposes. The book is meticulously researched while also being appropriately simplified, given the wide range of material covered. I do wish the book had more explicitly pointed out the cost to the environment and human health caused by stirring up unnecessary doubt, especially on more settled Merchants of Doubt isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty close. Contained within its pages is a careful analysis of how a handful of corporations and scientists distorted public understanding for their own narrow purposes. The book is meticulously researched while also being appropriately simplified, given the wide range of material covered. I do wish the book had more explicitly pointed out the cost to the environment and human health caused by stirring up unnecessary doubt, especially on more settled issues such as smoking. I also disliked the authors’ conflating scientific method and political posturing. Unfortunately, science’s peer review process is not infallible, and casting it as if it is was an unnecessary weakness in the book’s analysis – especially when the authors themselves clearly explained how little research these so-called merchants of doubt performed on the contested issues. But those are very minor quibbles to what is an otherwise top-notch book. Highly recommended.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Andy

    fascinating overview of how a group of scientists, with political and industrial ties, appears to have deliberately sown confusion and doubt in favour of vested interests and contrary to scientific consensus, interesting to see same names and same techniques being used across such a variety of topics many seemed wedded to free market economics to an extreme degree and fearful of oversight and regulation, seeing it as stepping stone towards communism usuallyworking to protect powerful industry from fascinating overview of how a group of scientists, with political and industrial ties, appears to have deliberately sown confusion and doubt in favour of vested interests and contrary to scientific consensus, interesting to see same names and same techniques being used across such a variety of topics many seemed wedded to free market economics to an extreme degree and fearful of oversight and regulation, seeing it as stepping stone towards communism usuallyworking to protect powerful industry from exposure to the costs of the negative impacts they were having on customers, humanity and the planet, of

  24. 4 out of 5

    Roxanna López

    Rigorous and serious, passionate and informative; one of the most important books of the 21st century. It is not an easy read but a book that must be read nonetheless.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sookie

    A scientific theory cannot be reduced to two lines and explain the subject matter without bias. But a doubt can dismantle the very same theory in just a few words. Science has always been at war - sometimes it challenges the ideology of the masses and in more recent years, it impacts profits of large organizations. Scientific history becomes important in this context to be documented and well circulated. The propaganda isn't against science, at least not always. The propaganda attacks the way a s A scientific theory cannot be reduced to two lines and explain the subject matter without bias. But a doubt can dismantle the very same theory in just a few words. Science has always been at war - sometimes it challenges the ideology of the masses and in more recent years, it impacts profits of large organizations. Scientific history becomes important in this context to be documented and well circulated. The propaganda isn't against science, at least not always. The propaganda attacks the way a scientific theory is presented, the narration it takes, and that becomes enough for those with limited to basic knowledge to question the actual theory. Be it tobacco industry, auto industry, agriculture - there is always the other side that persists in denying effects of excess use of CFC, harmful chemicals used to protect crops, tobacco etc. The studies on these subject matters start as theories and observations which get peer reviewed, subject to discussions in international platforms and either gets a nod or flat out dismissal. The theories that stem from lobbying and propaganda don't always take this route. They enlist PR firms, lobbyists, journalists, media entities, politicians and even scientists. What started in 1960s in boardrooms and newspapers are now familiar mantra during political campaigns. In this day and age we have people saying "I believe in science". Belief? Science isn't a religion that warrants faith. Its based on proof; it gets accepted or rejected based on peer evaluation. It acknowledges the probability of being wrong with advancements in knowledge. But it doesn't mean you don't act upon or take precautions to the warning it currently poses. Not just scientists but all of us, as human race, are obligated towards ethical and moral decisions. It is in human nature to defy that to pursue a profit, a political or business agenda. Scientists are no exception to that. All we have to remember that our actions have direct consequences. One day it will blow up in our faces.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Michael Burnam-Fink

    Merchants of Doubt reads like a case presented by the prosecution. Oreskes and Conway look at several late 20th century scientific controversies: the link between cigarettes and cancer; the risks of nuclear weapon, the damage done by acid rain, CFCs and the ozone layer, and above all climate change, to find that these controversies extend far beyond the limits of reasonable doubt. This is no accident, but rather the result of a deliberate public relations strategy formulated by a small group of Merchants of Doubt reads like a case presented by the prosecution. Oreskes and Conway look at several late 20th century scientific controversies: the link between cigarettes and cancer; the risks of nuclear weapon, the damage done by acid rain, CFCs and the ozone layer, and above all climate change, to find that these controversies extend far beyond the limits of reasonable doubt. This is no accident, but rather the result of a deliberate public relations strategy formulated by a small group of Cold War physics, propagated by a network of conservative think tanks, and funded by companies with a business model that creates threats to human life. The scientists are Fred Singer, Frederick Seitz, Robert Jastrow, and William Nierenberg. All of them parleyed real scientific work around the Manhattan Project and the early Cold War into political positions connected with the Republican party. In the mid 60s, as the dangers of smoking became apparent, the tobacco industry began supporting scientific research to create a bench of trial experts to cast doubt on the link between cigarettes and cancer. Seitz, Nierenberg, and Jastrow founded the staunchly freemarket George C. Marshall Institute in 1984 to provide structure for for their work. Singer was loosely affiliated with the network. The charges are serious enough, and timeline involved complex enough, that I'll leave the details to the book. Whatever the nature of the debate and the connection between science and policy, the goal was always to inhibit regulatory action by the government, and the playbook almost identical. The Merchants of Doubt playbook is not laid out in the text, so I'll do it here: Step 1 is Developing the Controversy: This begins innocently enough with emerging scientific issue of regulatory significant and locating legitimate uncertainties. Science is always incomplete, and particularly in early stages models may be crude approximations with unclear causal mechanisms. But rather than contributing actual work, (the scientific CVs of the merchants are notably thin post-1970) criticize the science for lack of realism and certainty, without offering testable hypotheses of your own. Extend personal uncertainty to willful density. Hold up official government reports through bureaucratic delays and denying consensus. Step 2 is to Launder the Controversy: Demand equal time for "your side" to a news media that lacks the time or expertise to check the validity of both sides, and knows that a story headlined "scientists argue" is more interesting than "scientists say". Launder your own credentials in an unrelated field to present yourself as an expert on whatever is required beyond all standards of professionalism. A scientist might master two fields, but cannot master the details of physics, atmospheric modeling, epidemiology, forest ecology, and so on. Develop press materials which mimic scientific articles in style and format, but have not passed review. Present glowing assessments of your position in friendly media like The Wall Street Journal. Step 3 is to Amplify the Controversy: Make sure everybody, not just friendly venues, sees the conflict. Get politicians and media figures to present your views as fact. Accuse your opponents of politicizing science and scientific misconduct. Attack, slander, and when necessary, lie. Cast attacks on your own evidence and backing as censorship akin to that suffered by Galileo. The end goal is to make the controversy the story, leaving doubt in the public mind long after the science has settled. I believe that Oreskes and Conway's case, as presented, is bulletproof. The titular merchants of doubt systematically violated scientific norms out of an ideological commitment that any sin was valid in pursuit of their political goal. They accused the scientific community of tampering with evidence and ideological bias, two acts which they were consistently and shamelessly guilty of. The end of this book, where Oreskes lays out the motives of these scientific antagonists, is not as strong. She describe an ideological journey, where Cold War anti-communists came to believe that anything was permissible in defense of American liberty. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, they made the errors of identifying Free Market Fundamentalism as the only economic system compatible with American democracy, and environmentalist sentiment of all sorts as the new communism. Rather than a blind faith in the efficiency, justice, and wisdom of markets, environmentalism recognizes many market failures of externalities, imperfect information, and various kinds of monopolies and technological lock-in. The ultimate logic of environmentalism is simple: The freedom to pollute cannot indefinitely stand above ecosystem integrity and human life. It's opponents would rather commit mass suicide than stop believing this. Merchants of Doubt is not a scholarly book, despite exhaustive research and footnotes. The authors include a chapter on Rachel Carson and the posthumous attack on Silent Spring because I believe Oreskes sees Carson as role model. Silence Spring wasn't strictly science either; it was a case prepared for public opinion, and one the launched the modern environmental movement. The point of both Silent Spring and Merchants of Doubt was to launch a movement. As I write this review, on the day of the first March for Science, that movement is ever more necessary. We live in a world trending towards Step 4, a nihilistic universal skepticism that expertise is even possible, that's there's anything other hidden motives and a desire for power in claims of scientific authority. Oreskes and Conway argue that we can't do our own science, that at a certain point there must be faith in the integrity of what's presented, because no-one can understand the full extent of the network that is activated in making a scientific claim. This may be correct, but it's also unsatisfying. The tactics developed by the merchants of doubt are a near perfect psuedo-science, carrying all the epistemic markers of scientific validity while containing a deadly poison of social paralysis. In this moment of Trumpian "alternative facts", we need to do more than push back against doubt, we need to make producing it a marker of perfidy, partaking in it a road to self-destruction rather than further prestige. I don't yet know how to do that, but Merchants of Doubt precisely lays out the cause of our present troubles.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Samuel Miller

    Personally, I really enjoyed learning about the origins of propaganda designed to obfuscate the truth about climate change. Until recently I largely wrote the problem off as: A.) Powerful companies which benefit from maintaining the status quo using their financial positions to spread misinfo/disinfo B.) People who'd rather convince themselves and others that this isn't an issue rather than face the consequences and make tradeoffs necessary to mitigate the damage However, this book goes much furthe Personally, I really enjoyed learning about the origins of propaganda designed to obfuscate the truth about climate change. Until recently I largely wrote the problem off as: A.) Powerful companies which benefit from maintaining the status quo using their financial positions to spread misinfo/disinfo B.) People who'd rather convince themselves and others that this isn't an issue rather than face the consequences and make tradeoffs necessary to mitigate the damage However, this book goes much further than that. Oreskes and Conway present their research not only placing these anti-science campaigns in historical context but also providing a more nuanced view of the main perpetrators of this anti-science rhetoric. The book mostly chronicles several environmental/health concerns in the second half of the 20th century and how a handful of prominent scientists "somehow" ended up becoming fairly prominent figures arguing that smoking wasn't bad for you, secondhand smoke wasn't bad for you, acid rain wasn't caused by humans or if so it didn't matter, DDT had no adverse health effects, global warming either isn't happening or if so it doesn't matter, etc. Each of these scientists rose to prominence during WWII and the cold war as successful physicists and their experiences--somewhat against fascist Germany but mostly against the communist USSR--drove them to a level of ideological fundamentalism against government intervention in free markets that they abandoned their duty toward honest science and the search for truth. You'd think at some point journalists publishing these views would recognize the questionable track record of some of these guys (since it was often the same 2 or 3 guys with the same views on all these issues), but clearly that either didn't happen or the journalists just didn't care. Unfortunately, this book doesn't offer any solutions to fighting this type of propaganda other than encouraging journalists to research their sources more (i.e. sometimes they have obvious connections to tobacco companies, oil companies, etc.) and help the general public distinguish between some scientists that don't even study the climate from large scientific bodies composed of and representing thousands of climate researchers. I think this book does have a somewhat specific target audience, namely people interested in the modern history of science and politics and perhaps particularly the anti-science views more recently popularized in American politics. It's a fascinating topic, but one for which I imagine most people don't have the patience to read through the details of how specific documents were misrepresented, which companies funded which scientists and think tanks, what certain scientists said/wrote about other scientists, etc. If that sounds interesting to you, I absolutely recommend this book! Otherwise, maybe just looking up a summary of it will get you the key points without having to slog through the details.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Clement

    I am giving this book a high rating for the quality of its research and the brilliance of its synthesis, but if I were rating it in how well it was communicated, then I would give it only 3 stars. Oreskes and Conway have engaging points to make, and the recurring themes through the book very clearly bring to light the logic of science denialism. Yet you have to work very hard as a reader to get to those themes. The authors get bogged down in historical facts that make the narrative drag and do n I am giving this book a high rating for the quality of its research and the brilliance of its synthesis, but if I were rating it in how well it was communicated, then I would give it only 3 stars. Oreskes and Conway have engaging points to make, and the recurring themes through the book very clearly bring to light the logic of science denialism. Yet you have to work very hard as a reader to get to those themes. The authors get bogged down in historical facts that make the narrative drag and do not enable the reader to see the forest for the trees. There are moments of extreme clarity in this book - often written quite eloquently - but these moments are nearly obscured by the endless detail. If this is meant to be a book for historians, then that is fair enough, but I think it is actually meant to be a book for the masses. The topics in this book are right up my alley: the interface of science, politics, and policy, with many of the topics squarely in the environmental realm. Maybe it is precisely because of my academic and professional experience that I was exhausted and impatient with the level of the detail, but I really do feel like it distracted from their main points. (I mean, at one point they were telling us the topic of various researchers' PhDs!) And maybe it's also because of that experience that I wasn't really shocked by anything in this book. These aren't conspiracies or exceptional cases, really. In many ways they are simply revealing the anatomy of environmental politics - especially the way science is translated in the public arena, in committee rooms, and behind closed doors. For that reason, this would be an excellent book for students of policy to read, provided they can wade through the detail and grasp the overarching messages. I would have also appreciated a map/chart/'cheat sheet' of the recurring figures throughout the book, as there were so many 'characters' that I found I needed to flip around or refer to the index to remind myself. The final substantive chapter in the book, on Silent Spring and revisionist attacks on Carson, is what I wanted from this book all along. It's messages are clear, and it brings together the themes of the book rather brilliantly, together with the concluding chapter. I know from Oreskes other work and from these chapters that she is very capable of writing a book that conveys the same messages without such cumbersome detail. The book has very important messages to convey, and it does indeed convey them...eventually. I just wish the whole book would have done so with the same level of eloquence and clarity as the final chapters; their ideas deserve it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    A decent book although as soon as you've read the title you 'get it' so kinda why bother. Still, a useful and forensic look at how a few shills hopped around from the tobacco industry to global warming denial promoting the 'teach the controversy' message. As long as the debate is kept alive, action is stymied and more people believe lies about second hand smoke or carbon emissions. Interesting just how few people were at the core of these projects. Merchants of Doubt helped me think about how co A decent book although as soon as you've read the title you 'get it' so kinda why bother. Still, a useful and forensic look at how a few shills hopped around from the tobacco industry to global warming denial promoting the 'teach the controversy' message. As long as the debate is kept alive, action is stymied and more people believe lies about second hand smoke or carbon emissions. Interesting just how few people were at the core of these projects. Merchants of Doubt helped me think about how consent is managed in liberal democracies, though far from provides an answer to this. Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown takes a similar approach to discuss economics, but is a much better book. The investigative 'dot connecting' pages that made up the bulk of the book were strong, but the concluding chapters undid much of that. The end is a quite boring plea for Good Government and a defense of 'our' scientists (the authors irritatingly assume an American readership throughout, even stepping into 'our founding fathers' levels of turgid liberalism). Perhaps it's churlish of me to complain about the authors not being wadical enough for me in an otherwise decent book, but this is my review and I'll do what I want tyvm.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Blog on Books

    “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming” (Bloomsbury Press) examines the growth of ‘junk science’ from its creation to its implementation in a thoroughly detailed and fact-filled expose of the continuing pattern of industry to (often secretly) fund high-level, scientific studies to ‘disprove’ established research on the negative effects of harmful products. Their powerful re-assembly of the history of such programs over t “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming” (Bloomsbury Press) examines the growth of ‘junk science’ from its creation to its implementation in a thoroughly detailed and fact-filled expose of the continuing pattern of industry to (often secretly) fund high-level, scientific studies to ‘disprove’ established research on the negative effects of harmful products. Their powerful re-assembly of the history of such programs over the last fifty years covers issues ranging from tobacco safety to DDT to Acid Rain and of course, global warming. The details of their reporting are far too vast to elucidate here, but suffice to say that many of the same players – some of the top ranked hawkish scientists of the 20th century – have been involved in many, if not all, of these campaigns. “Merchants of Doubt” explores everything from the motivation of such projects, the key players and funders, the methods of dissemination and media manipulation (“equal time”) and the ultimate refutation of such programs (SDI: Star Wars) over time. The vast detail and scope of Oreskes’ and Conway’s well written work makes “Merchants” one of the most important books of the year and a volume well worth reading.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.