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

" ... Scientists and others concerned with the environment began debating the value of nuclear weapons. The tobacco industry recruited several scientists out of the faction that saw US weapons programs as the vanguard of democracy against the tyranny of communism. The stage was set for industry apologists to proclaim themselves freedom-loving, red-blooded patriots and denounce anyone who questioned them as socialist-loving traitors. ... "

By DarkSyde | Daily Kos | Jun 06, 2010

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

By Naomi Oreskes and Eric M. Conway
Publisher Bloomsbury Press $16.00 - $26.00

Ever wonder how the terms liberty and freedom got all tangled up in fake science, how industry friendly think-tanks got their start, or what motivates scientists to sell out beyond the obvious? Merchants of Doubt expertly follows the historical twists and turns to answer all those questions and more in exquisite detail translated into entertaining narratives easily digested by readers from all backgrounds.

Beginning at the end of World War II and into the space-race, conventional wisdom had it that physicists and rocket scientists were the smartest people on earth. But scientists and others concerned with the environment began debating the value of nuclear weapons. The tobacco industry recruited several scientists out of the faction that saw US weapons programs as the vanguard of democracy against the tyranny of communism. The stage was set for industry apologists to proclaim themselves freedom-loving, red-blooded patriots and denounce anyone who questioned them as socialist-loving traitors.

Merchants of Doubt details how the tobacco industry clung on and even flourished for years after the link between smoking and cardiopulmonary disease was established, protected in part by company funded scientists throwing up a wall of chaff to obscure legitimate medical research. Soon other scientists got in on the company gravy and expanded the manufacture of doubt to other industries in need of scientific indulgence, and the foundation for the modern denial industry was laid.

The book reveals how those pioneering shills evolved into a small group of well funded pseudo-scientists who now hold influence over perception and policy far out of proportion to their numbers or the credibility of their claims. Along the way the authors expertly cut off examples of denial at its roots, including the ridiculous claim that DDT was really safe and banning it killed more people than Hitler, or why ozone depletion and climate change are mere modern day hysteria.

This book should be a staple for any scientist or those interested in science, especially journalists and others whose work intersects or informs public policy. Merchants of Doubt will not only leave you better equipped to combat the propaganda now packaged and fed to an unsuspecting public as legitimate science on a daily basis, it is a meticulously researched, wonderfully written, and the book doesn't shy away from naming names.

Naomi Oreskes is a professor of history and science studies at the University of California. Her study "Beyond the Ivory Tower" published in the journal Science was a milestone in the fight against global warming and was cited by Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth. Eric Conway has published four previous books including Atmospheric Science at NASA: A History. Both authors are available below for Q & A and will be offering a free signed copy of the book to one lucky commenter.

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2010/6/6/872549/-Book-Review:-Merchants-of-Doubt

  • Lyle Courtsal

    Wow, I can remember when we first lied our way into Iraq, and I wondered which side was “insurgent”; why of course it was our side. We were the ones going in under lies to steal oil. What was really shameful was to see how many people mindlessly accepted lies as truth as a way to channel their rage somewhere other than where the truth lay. We now have 104 nuclear plants due to the completely depraved actions of Edward Teller; the nuclear avangelist/messiah of the cold war hysteria.