Friday, December 31, 2010


Merchants of Doubt

Merchants of Doubt was a work read that covered the basics of how science gets ignored, drowned out, overcompensated, and warped to advance the ends of the industry sponsoring the "research" effort. Essentially a few scientists that have gravitas because of past work on atomic weapons get paid to say that the research done on cigarette smoke, greenhouse gases, the ozone layer, acid rain, or secondhand smoke should be doubted. These scientists are often the same individuals across fields - Misters Seitz and Singer, etc, are called upon to doubt voluminous research finding cigarettes to be dangerous, anthropogenic (man-made) global warming, a depleted ozone layer, the effects of acid rain. They aren't experts in these fields, and yet the media reports both the conclusions of experts AND these schmucks to provide "balance." It's infuriating to the experts and to us, the laypeople who don't want to breathe air that will kill us and our children or destroy the ecosystem that's sustained so much human progress. Oreskes and Conway do a great job of showing how these unscientists push back on real science with industry support.

What I didn't like about the book, other than the slight dryness of the prose, is that they didn't tell us the status of the research done that did not side with the vast majority of established theorems. Were there studies that found we're not causing global warming, or that secondhand smoke is actually healthy for you? Tell us there definitely weren't, or if there were, that they were bunk and how. The focus on how the rhetorical war was won (or lost) was very useful for someone in my line of work, but I wanted to see if the other side had a single half-leg to stand on.

Regardless, it's a great book and I'm glad I read it.

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