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Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on…

by Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6762424,422 (4.24)12
"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 that link smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole.… (more)
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    Poison Tea: How Big Oil and Big Tobacco Invented the Tea Party and Captured the GOP by Jeff Nesbit (M_Clark)
    M_Clark: Poison Tea also utilizes the documents from the tobacco lawsuit to find evidence of how the tea party grew out of the efforts of the tobacco lobby to fight regulation of tobacco.

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Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
Depressing and, unfortunately, not especially surprising. Sad that these anti-scientists now dominate the government.

> German scientists had shown in the 1930s that cigarette smoking caused lung cancer, and the Nazi government had run major antismoking campaigns; Adolf Hitler forbade smoking in his presence. However, the German scientific work was tainted by its Nazi associations, and to some extent ignored, if not actually suppressed, after the war

> by the early 1960s the industry's own scientists had concluded not only that smoking caused cancer, but also that nicotine was addictive (a conclusion that mainstream scientists came to only in the 1980s, and the industry would continue to deny well into the 1990s).

> The Tobacco Industry was found guilty under the RICO statute in part because of what the Hill and Knowlton documents showed: that the tobacco industry knew the dangers of smoking as early as 1953 and conspired to suppress this knowledge. They conspired to fight the facts, and to merchandise doubt.

> "Doubt is our product," ran the infamous memo written by one tobacco industry executive in 1969, "since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public."

> Seitz had found other allies, and by the mid-1980s a new cause: rolling back Communism. He did this by joining forces with several fellow physicists—old cold warriors who shared his unalloyed anti-Communism—to support and defend Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. … As president of the National Academy of Sciences during the 1960s, Seitz had been disgusted by colleagues' antiwar activities, and had opposed the arms control efforts of the Johnson, Nixon, and Ford administrations as well as Nixon's policy of détente—the U.S.-Soviet effort to move toward more peaceful relations … SDI was instantly controversial, creating a backlash among the very scientists Reagan would need to build it. While most physicists had long been accepting military R & D funds, they reacted differently to SDI, fomenting a coordinated effort to block the program. By May 1986, sixty-five hundred academic scientists had signed a pledge not to solicit or accept funds from the missile defense research program … Why did scientists react so strongly to SDI? One reason was that they had a charismatic spokesman in the person of Cornell University astronomer Carl Sagan.

> "Nuclear Winter: Global Consequences of Multiple Nuclear Explosions," but it came to be known as TTAPS for the last names of its authors: Richard Turco, O. Brian Toon, Thomas Ackerman, James Pollack, and Carl Sagan. … Their conclusion was qualitatively consistent with TTAPS: "for plausible scenarios, smoke generated by a nuclear war would lead to dramatic reductions in land surface temperature." But quantitatively it was less alarming: the model did not experience the 35°C drop that the TTAPS model had. Instead, it suggested drops of 10°C to 20°C—quite enough to cause crop failure in the growing season, but not really enough to be called "winter." … Sagan's behavior—publishing in Parade and Foreign Affairs before the peer-reviewed TTAPS paper had appeared in Science—was a violation of scientific norms. Moreover, the Parade article presented the TTAPS worst-case scenarios and omitted most of the caveats, so to some scientists it didn't appear as an honest effort in public education. Some saw it as outright propaganda

> In his most famous work, Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman argued (as its title suggests) that capitalism and freedom go hand in hand—that there can be no freedom without capitalism and no capitalism without freedom. So defense of one was the defense of the other. ( )
  breic | Aug 22, 2020 |
This is the story of how some determined cold warrior, free-market scientists provided the scientific skepticism to combat the regulation of tobacco, the fight against ozone and acid rain, promoted skepticism about global warming, and even cast doubt on the work of Rachel Carson. Utilizing a lot of the documents that came to light as part of the lawsuits against the tobacco industry, the authors are able to provide great insight into the motivations of those scientists and the tactics that they use. Although this book is several years old, readers will be able to see the same tactics being attempted for discrediting the science work around the corona virus pandemic. ( )
  M_Clark | Apr 23, 2020 |
Pretty good as a narrative history, but a bit simplistic on the technical and meta-technical stuff: science (not just the details, but the characterisation of how it is done), statistics, economics, decision theory, and ethics if that counts. The authors are keen to change the minds of climate sceptics (not so much the professionals as those who have been influenced by them), which is a noble goal, but if I didn't already agree -- or at least start from a neutral position, which must be pretty rare now that climate change has been thoroughly politicised -- then I reckon I would have remained unconvinced.

As a work of advocacy I think this needed to be either punchier or more detailed. It seems to have fallen into a bit of a no-man's-land; it's not particularly exciting or emotionally stirring, but I don't think it's rigorous enough to change the mind of someone who sees themself as a rational, independent sceptic.

Still, the authors did a valuable job in gathering together, and putting into narrative form, information about some of the repeating patterns (and common cast of characters) that show up on the contrarian or 'sceptical' side of various commercially or ideologically threatening scientific questions. ( )
  matt_ar | Dec 6, 2019 |
My confirmation bias predicted I would like this book, as I am familiar with many of the names and their histories. My bias was correct, but I still needed to check what the authors were presenting, because I like to think I think. Well sourced, and well written, this is another book that needs to be read by everyone...but won't be.

Beyond exposing Fred Seitz, Robert Jastrow, William Nierenberg, and Fred Singer (and a few others) for the despicable disgraces to the scientific world that they are, Ms. Oreskes and Mr. Conway do an excellent job explaining what true peer review and true science really consist of. From defense of smoking, an indefensible Star Wars program, acid rain, ozone depletion, second-hand smoking to denial of climate science, these guys have had devastating effects on US policy. And that was before Fox"News". Now they don't even need to use the pseudo-science bait-and-switch tactics; the right-wing media has devolved to simple gainsaying - and their viewers/listeners don't have a critical thought in their heads to question their confirmation biases.

My one complaint about the book is that the authors more than not used the term "skeptics" (they did also use "deniers"). All science is about skepticism, but these disruptors, obfuscators, ... liars ... are not "skeptics". Singer is lower than low, and still at it.

I'm disgusted. At the "scientists". ( )
  Razinha | May 23, 2017 |

I actually think there's very little to say about this book, because its impact is rather obvious.

This book was dense. It was also super-important for a large variety of reasons. I knew a ton about peer review and how scientists work going in, and I did NOT know this story. This story is about how a small group of scientists obfuscated the truth about environmental problems ranging from acid rain to global warming, and they did this in a way (through the media and otherwise) that caused the public to doubt the already-proven science. It is incredibly well researched and straightforwardly written, so although it may not be easily digestible, it is eminently readable.

Over 40% of the US population still believes global warming is a hoax. I urge you all to read this book so you can know for yourself why that is utterly ridiculous and be able to inform others who may have questions or concerns. ( )
1 vote khage | Feb 17, 2016 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Oreskes, Naomiprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Conway, Erik M.main authorall editionsconfirmed
Johnson, PeterNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Treiner, JacquesTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"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 that link smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole.

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This book 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.
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