Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming Hardcover – May 25 2010
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Finalist for Los Angeles Times Book Prize
Named a Best Book of 2010 by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway have demonstrated what many of us have long suspected: that the 'debate' over the climate crisis--and many other environmental issues--was manufactured by the same people who brought you 'safe' cigarettes. Anyone concerned about the state of democracy in America should read this book. (Former Vice President Al Gore, author of An Inconvenient Truth)
As the science of global warming has grown more certain over the last two decades, the attack on that science has grown more shrill; this volume helps explain that paradox, and not only for climate change. A fascinating account of a very thorny problem. (Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet)
Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway have written an important and timely book. Merchants of Doubt should finally put to rest the question of whether the science of climate change is settled. It is, and we ignore this message at our peril. (Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change)
There can be no science without doubt: brute dogma leaves no room for inquiry. But over the last half century, a tiny minority of scientists have wielded doubt as a political weapon to halt what they did not want said: that tobacco kills or that the climate is warming because of what we humans are doing. 'Doubt is our product' read a tobacco memo--and indeed, millions of dollars have gone into creating the impression of scientific controversy where there has not been one. This book about the politics of doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway explores the long, connected, and intentional obfuscation of science by manufactured controversy. It is clear, scientifically responsible, and historically compelling--it is an essential and passionate book about our times. (Peter Galison, Joseph Pellegrino University Professor, Harvard University, author of Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps)
With the carefulness of historians and the skills of master storytellers, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway lay out the sordid history of tobacco industry protectionists, who framed the debate as scientifically 'unproven,' gaining decades of market share for those merchants of death--who knew all along the risks of their products. Merchants of Doubt shows that some of the very same individuals were part of the plans to frame the climate change debate as unproven, using the same tried and true tactics of misrepresentation of facts, non-representative scientists, and industry-friendly legislators. Again, tried and true public re-framing of reality worked. But now all this chicanery is exposed for the deception it has been in Oreskes and Conway's powerful and timely work. (Stephen H Schneider, Professor, Stanford University, author of Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth's Climate)
A well-documented, pulls-no-punches account of how science works and how political motives can hijack the process by which scientific information is disseminated to the public. (Kirkus Reviews)
Sweeping and comprehensive… Oreskes and Conway do an excellent job of bringing to life a complex and important environmental battle… [a] darkly fascinating history… Merchants of Doubt is an important book. How important? If you read just one book on climate change this year, read Merchants of Doubt. And if you have time to read two, reread Merchants of Doubt. (Grist.org)
Oreskes and Conway tell an important story…This book deserves serious attention for the lessons it provides about the misuse of science for political and commercial ends. (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway smoke out the Merchants of Doubt. (Vanity Fair)
In their impeccably researched genealogy of denialism Merchants of Doubt, Conway and Oreskes show that a key group of figures in global warming denial earned their spurs in tobacco-industry-funded attempts to discredit the links between smoking and cancer. (New Humanist)
Brilliantly reported and written with brutal clarity… The real shocker of this book is that it takes us, in just 274 brisk pages, through seven scientific issues that called for decisive government regulation and didn't get it, sometimes for decades, because a few scientists sprinkled doubt-dust in the offices of regulators, politicians and journalists…Oreskes and Conway do a great public service. (Huffington Post)
In their fascinating and important study, Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway offer convincing evidence for a surprising and disturbing thesis. Opposition to scientifically well-supported claims about the dangers of cigarette smoking, the difficulties of the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars"), the effects of acid rain, the existence of the ozone hole, the problems caused by secondhand smoke, and--ultimately--the existence of anthropogenic climate change was used in "the service of political goals and commercial interests" to obstruct the transmission to the American public of important information…Because it is so thorough in disclosing how major policy decisions have been delayed or distorted, Merchants of Doubt deserves a wide readership. It is tempting to require that all those engaged in the business of conveying scientific information to the general public should read it. (Science)
Merchants of Doubt, by the science historian Naomi Oreskes and the writer Erik Conway, investigates a sort of reverse conspiracy theory: ecoterrorists and socialists are not the ones foisting dubious science upon us; rather it is deniers who are running their own well-funded and organized long-term hoax. Several previous works have ably illuminated similar themes, but this one hits bone…[Merchants of Doubt] provide[s] both the historical perspective and the current political insights needed to get a grip on what is happening now. (OnEarth)
All in all, Oreskes and Conway paint an unflattering picture of why some scientists continue to stand against the overwhelming scientific consensus on issues at the center of public discussion. (USA Today)
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… This book should be a staple for any scientist and progressive, especially those whose work intersects 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 and wonderfully written. (Daily Kos)
The disturbing tale of how some scientists sell their souls to advance political and economic agendas. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
After enduring decades of inexplicably persistent news reports casting doubt on the fact that cigarettes cause lung cancer, pollution harms the planet, and nuclear weapons are extremely dangerous, one might be forgiven for wondering if the same mob of misguided mercenaries might be behind them all. As it turns out--according to the evidence assembled in Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming--they are. (Chronicle of Higher Education)
A devastating portrayal of organized scientific disinformation campaigns that makes clear just how gullible the press, scientific community and the public have been (and to a large extent, continue to be). (Capital Weather Gang/WashingtonPost.com)
Well-researched and lucidly written. (Washington Times)
Excellent. (America Magazine)
An important book … The next time a friend or Fox News commentator or political candidate assaults you with the claim that 'climate change isn't happening or 'isn't caused by human activities,' you will recognize the source of their colossal misunderstanding. The good news is, honest science wins in the end. The bad news: The earth is heating up while this artificially heated debate rages, though Merchants of Doubt, if widely read, should help douse the media flames. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Merchants of Doubt might be one of the most important books of the year. Exhaustively researched and documented, it explains how over the past several decades mercenary scientists have partnered with tobacco companies and chemical corporations to help them convince the public that their products are safe - even when solid science proves otherwise…Merchants of Doubt is a hefty read, well-researched and comprehensive…I hope it sells, because what it has to say needs to be heard. (Christian Science Monitor)
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…This book should be a staple for any scientist and progressive, especially those whose work intersects 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 and wonderfully written. (Austin Science Policy Examiner)
No mere summary or review could hope to do more than scratch the surface of the information contained in this book…Merchants of Doubt [is] so compelling that it cannot be dismissed with a mere "talk to the hand." The facts cannot be denied any longer - no free markets can address clearly market failures like acid rain and global warming, and ignoring reality only works for so long before reality finally does something that simply cannot be ignored. (Scholars and Rogues)
Oreskes and Conway--through a combination of thorough scholarly research and adept story telling--unravel deep common links to past environmental and public health controversies among those now most often identified as climate "skeptics," "contrarians," "deniers," "doubters" … and more. What makes their new book from Bloomsbury Press particularly worthwhile at a time of no shortage of new and intriguing climate change books? It's their combination of thorough research with writing reminiscent of the best investigative journalism (remember that?)… essential reading for anyone seriously wanting to understand the tawdry background of climate science politicization as it was targeted, in particular, at some of the individual scientists and scientific undertakings most respected by the established science academy. (Yale Forum on Climate Change)
The eye-opener of the year. (Head Butler)
Fascinating…Merchants is an impressive and disturbing piece of scholarship that does a good job of answering the questions [the authors] pose. It should be read by every editor and every member of Congress, and by climate scientists as well. (Climate Progress)
Historians a thousand years from now may wonder what went wrong: How, after scholars had so thoroughly nailed down the reality of anthropogenic climate change, did so many Americans get fooled into thinking it was all a left-wing hoax? Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway give us some very good--if disturbing--answers in their fascinating, detailed and artfully written new book, Merchants of Doubt…There is much in this book to outrage anyone who cares about the future of the planet, human health, or scientific integrity. (American Scientist)
If you really needed any more reasons to dislike the campaign against dealing with climate change, this book will supply it. (Daily Kos)
Investigates a sort of reverse conspiracy theory: ecoterrorists and socialists are not the ones foisting dubious science upon us; rather it is deniers who are running their own well-funded and organized long-term hoax. Several previous works have ably illuminated similar themes, but this one hits bone. (SustainableBusiness.com)
Oreskes and Conway outline how science is supposed to work and how some critical evidence has been drowned out of the U.S. public discourse. An important study about science and the media that informed citizens need to read. (Library Journal)
The authors explain in exhaustively-researched detail how renowned scientists abandon science, how environmentalism has become equated with communism, and how the Cold War has come to be connected with climate denial…A must read. (Earth Gauge)
Well written, timely and provocative. (Skeptical Inquirer)
A 'must' for any science collection. (California Bookwatch)
If you really want to know why we have failed to act on climate change, read Merchants of Doubt. (BioScience)
Superb. (Huffington Post)
Historian Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway burrow into the shadowy world of once-eminent researchers who traded lab coats for talking points aimed at gainsaying everything from tobacco to climate science. (USA Today)
With exhaustive detail Oreskes and Conway relate the history of how industries and special interests in the United States have confused the populace and government in order to protect profits and ideology at the expense of American's health and the quality of the environment. (San Francisco Book Review)
[A] page-turner exposes how a group of scientists misled the public on environmental and health matters for decades. (Sunday Times (UK) Must Reads column)
It takes some explaining, but Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway lay it out, case by case, until the entire mycelium of lies is revealed. Unusually for a fully referenced science book, it is a page-turner with the narrative power of a whodunit… Oreskes and Conway have exposed the lie. (Sunday Times (UK))
After five years of painstaking archival research, [Merchants of Doubt] paints a disturbing picture of how the same powerful individuals have time and again sought to dispute well-established scientific consensus, gaining the ear of policymakers and the media, who have given undue time and space to the claims of these contrarians--with catastrophic consequences. (Times (UK))
The strength of [Merchants of Doubt] is the rigour of the research and the in-depth focus on key incidents… We have for too long known enough to warrant action and this book reconfirms that there is no longer any excuse for delay. (The Ecologist (UK))
Merchants of Doubt may help restore some trust by showing that science is rarely black and white, and how its shades of grey have sometimes been distorted by a few willing hands. (Independent (UK))
There is no doubt that Oreskes and Conway deserve considerable praise for this outstanding book and for exposing the influence of these dark ideologies. Merchants of Doubt--which contains detailed notes on all sources--is clearly and cleanly outlined, carefully paced and is my runaway contender for best science book of the year. (Observer (UK))
Merchants of Doubt is a sizzling page-turner. It is also a meticulously researched history book and a portal into the world of real science … a fascinating story. (The West Australian)
"Merchants of Doubt is a fantastic read that outlines the machinations behind the professional denial-creation industry that is funded to cast doubt on the solid science behind things like global warming and tobacco use. Authors Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway do a great job of pulling together all the threads to show how professional doubt-mongers sow lies and misrepresentations at the financial behest of giant industries like Big Tobacco, Big Oil and Big Coal." (Mother Nature Network)
So important…[an] even-handed exposé. (Christopher Lane, PsychologyToday.com)
About the Author
Naomi Oreskes is Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Her essay "Beyond the Ivory Tower" was a milestone in the fight against global warming denial.
Erik Conway is the resident historian at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
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Top Customer Reviews
Overall, I found this book to be interesting, clear, very detailed, often quite captivating and accessible to anyone. The science in each case is well explained without going into unnecessary depth. However, I did find that some of the details regarding the toing and froing and fine tuning of various reports, as well as some of the political shenanigans were rather tiresome. Nevertheless, because of the high-profile nature of the topics discussed and the generally engaging way in which the opposing arguments are presented, I believe that this book should appeal to a broad readership.
Conway and Oreskes begin with the case study of tobacco smoke. Even as late as the 1950s, the supposed health benefits of smoking were widely publicized. Soon, though, studies linking tobacco smoke to lung cancer began to mount. Faced with the destruction of their industry, the largest tobacco companies founded the Tobacco Institute to publish research contesting the mainstream health claims. The tobacco lobby also hired Fred Singer and Fred Seitz, prominent former US weapons scientists, to be the public voices casting doubt on the negative health effects of tobacco.
After the tobacco controversy was (mostly) decided in the mainstream's favour, Singer and Seitz consulted for other industries that faced huge losses if forced to comply with environmental or health regulations. They used their positions within the US government to delay or restrict the publication of scientific reports on acid rain and global warming, and were fairly successful in convincing journalists to give their minority positions equal time rather than balanced time.
In 1984, Seitz co-founded the George C Marshall Institute with another scientist, Bill Nierenberg, to lobby for the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI, also called Star Wars) missile defence program.Read more ›
With exhaustive - and almost exhausting - citations, the authors have produced a scathing indictment of the American industrial, political, and pseudo-scientific complex. The huge corporations, their Republican benefactors ( and beneficiaries) and right-wing institutes and religious foundations are revealed as grossly cynical manipulators ver the lives of millions of people.
The degree of cynicism exhibited by the people at the center of the issues dealt with wield enormous power in a fashion that differs from Naziism only in that Naziism was forthright and open; the American complex described in the book operate as clandestine manipulators of the supposedly "free" market they claim to cherish. Their odious criminal influence is not just on science, but also on education, journalism, public health, decency - on democracy itself.
The authors have set a standard of science, journalism and public service that is rarely seen. I can only wish that the American voters had enough curiosity and interest to know how cruelly their elite" treats them.
The transformation began under Ronald Reagan when credible scientists opposed star wars, and it continues today. Scientists and their research ran into politics, big business, and the far right, which opposes government regulation in any form, even when it protects and serves the needs of society. The far right maintains that society will be protected by market forces, government need not be involved. But "negative externalities" come into play: negative because they hurt society, and externalities because they are outside of the free market system: what financial motives would induce industry to protect us against sulfur-induced acid rain, smoking induced lung cancers, asthma in children raised in homes with smoking parents?
This book shows how industry and government used a small group of right wing physicists to raise doubts about peer-reviewed science done in the interests of society. And it continues today. The "uncertainty" surrounding the climate change debate is a perfect example. Credible scientists including those in the US National Academy of Science have known for 30 years that climate change is upon us and that much if not all of it is it's man made. Yet in the interests of fairness, the voices of a few who question the science are given equal value as the majority who know their stuff, and the public and press can't separate the wheat from the chaff.
This book is full of revelations and a must read for progressives who think that government, informed by science, has a role to play in protecting the people it serves.
Most recent customer reviews
Scared me, just like it was suppose to. Great examples, not just theoryPublished 15 months ago by TalkBack
There is evil in the world, and it is profit-motivated. Okay, so lying about the harmful effects of tobacco is bad, but not evil, right? Read morePublished 20 months ago by C. Riordon
I waited a long time to read this book ' in retrospect, too long. I have long been a fan of Naomi Oreskes; I believe she is a brilliant and sensible scientist with a compelling way... Read morePublished on Jan. 15 2012 by climatesight