Summary of Merchants of Doubt

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“As recently as 2007, 40% of Americans believed that scientific experts were still arguing about the realities of global warming.” And, of course, they were not; global warming is a long-acknowledged, scientific fact, say science professor Naomi Oreskes and science writer Erik M. Conway. They present their case that “merchants of doubt” – a dedicated cabal of conservative scientists on the payrolls of industries and right-wing think tanks – have labored successfully over the decades to convince a broad spectrum of the public that the truth is not true, that scientific fact is merely opinion, that secondhand smoke will not kill you, that industrial pollution did not cause acid rain, that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) did not deplete the ozone layer and that global warming does not exist. In this jaw-dropping, meticulously researched work of science, politics and investigative journalism, Oreskes and Conway track the shockingly long history of widespread, willful dissemination of scientific fiction in the service of politics and profits. getAbstract recommends this sure-to-be classic to all those interested in the environment, in the processes of politics, science and media, and in learning the hard facts that underlie so much propaganda.

About the Authors

University of San Diego history and science studies professor Naomi Oreskes wrote “Beyond the Ivory Tower,” a global warming study in Science. Erik M. Conway has written four books, among them Atmospheric Science at NASA: A History.



“The Merchants of Doubt”

During the Cold War, “extremely hawkish” physicists Frederick Seitz and S. Fred Singer feared the Soviet Union and became prominent backers of Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense system. Their outspoken politics brought them into a network of right-wing think tanks, institutions, corporations and political figures. Between 1979 and 1985, Seitz worked for R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which provided $45 million for “biomedical research that could generate be used in court” against those suing big tobacco. After decades of tobacco advocacy, Singer cowrote a significant attack on the Environmental Protection Agency’s position on the hazards of secondhand smoke. Claiming it was harmless, he said those who sought to limit people’s exposure to it just wanted an excuse to impose government regulation. A conservative think tank gave the Tobacco Institute funding for Singer’s report.

Later, Seitz and astrophysicist Robert Jastrow tried to deny global warming in a report that got them invited to George H. W. Bush’s White House. The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek and other media covered the report...

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    K. G. 9 years ago
    In the news today: Globally, 2010 was the third warmest year on record since 1850.
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    J. M. 9 years ago
    Great work, more is needed to be done to understand the methodology of this type of concerted effort to misrepresent facts as in doubt when they in fact are not. Both to understand and identify when this is happening and to use as a potential tactic in business. To suggest that industry and government have not wilfully mislead the public on a variety of topics directly affecting the health and safety of the public is naive at best.