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

Author: Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway
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by cagenut   2020-09-25
If it helps you triangulate these things, its worth keeping in mind that very little of these tactics (and even many of the actors!) are unique to the oil industry.

Merchants of Doubt [1] goes into the pattern in an almost legal/academic way: https://www.amazon.com/Merchants-Doubt-Handful-Scientists-Ob...

Thank You For Smoking tells the same basic message but as a semi-satirical movie: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0427944/

by acqq   2020-04-09
> Mostly academics like nutritionists, psychologists and so on.

So it's completely unrelated to the topics I refer to. What I refer to is:

https://www.amazon.com/Merchants-Doubt-Handful-Scientists-Ob...

Claiming that the misinterpretation of science happened only in the distant past is intentional attempt to obscure the real problem.

There is objective truth and it is far from what some people with a lot of money peddle as the truth and what gets replicated across the media. And the media definitely don't cover what effectively advertising campaigns are as such -- paid disinformation for the benefits of some specific corporations or interest groups.

by acqq   2020-04-09
> if I as lay person am going to be getting my information from sources like NYT and National Geographic

If you'd like to have better understanding of any topic you have to learn to improve your critical thinking capabilities. The media simply print different "opinions" and "statements" and even mark them as such. You have to learn that the media never reflect the truth, the way they are used to cover almost any topic. They are simply the reflections of the power of those who do the influence. Big corporations (or organizations having immense funding) have big influence even when it is not obvious to the "lay person".

From the media side, how it typically work is that the "debate" and the "controversy" sell (more ads, more readers, more viewers). So very often they would give as much attention to one person representing the conclusion 95% of all world scientist as to another person representing a set of fringe "contrarians" financed by some NGO's which are actually financed by some corporations whose interest is to promote that view:

https://www.amazon.com/Merchants-Doubt-Handful-Scientists-Ob...

by ThrowAwayMathPerson   2019-11-17

Haha. If only. In reality, it's so much worse. We can only hold so much information, and the "resolution" (depth/granularity) of our understanding diminishes over time. Throughout history people could contend with increases in the complexity of the collective human understanding of the world, but the breadth of the information available in any given society was so small that it was manageable. Furthermore, their forms of government relied more on a class of experts for governance and statemenship.

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Now everyone is involved in governance through voting, and the world is so complex that one individual cannot be expected to have a functional understanding of more than a tiny portion of it. This fundamentally changes how a society can, and should, organize. Should we all have opinions on the finer points of climate change without being experts in it? Should we be voting for people based on their specific policies related to climate change without that understanding? Can we just rely on endorsements from relevant experts? What happens when some of those experts decide they are willing to sellout to the opposition? This: Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

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The first step in solving a problem is admitting there is a problem. The second step is defining that problem. The third is designing a plan. The fourth is executing that plan, and the last is maintaining/updating that plan. We are still stuck on the first step, but we are trying to patch the leaking boat in the meantime, while claiming it solves the design flaws that led to the leaks. Let's not confuse the holes with the design flaws.

by silence7   2019-11-17

I like to talk about how Exxon's own researchers came to the same conclusion as the publicly-funded researchers, and that Exxon then went and adopted the tactics and personnel that the tobacco industry used to deny the link between cancer and cigarette smoke.

It's also worth noting that most of the reputable climate scientists could make a lot more by going to work shilling for the fossil fuels industry.

by silence7   2019-11-17

Yeah, but on climate, there are a whole bunch of people paid to produce crank content. Unless you happen to be familiar with the reputation of the author, you really really can't trust material which hasn't been peer-reviewed.

There are other fields where this is less of a problem, and where working papers are where it's at.

Edit: For climate, the most common way for people outside academia to get climate papers out of pay-walled journals is the request system on researchgate.net

by imVINCE   2019-08-24

I think it comes down to a general erosion of the concept of objective truth arising from decades of conservative bashing of science which discredits their stances.

It began with Carl Sagan and others discrediting the Global Defense Initiative as being onerously costly, ineffective, impossible to test, and a first step towards the total militarization of space. Hawkish Republicans high on McCarthyism found a retired doctor (who didn’t even study physics, but medicine IIRC) to provide “alternative facts” on the plan and to try to undermine the mainstream scientific community. Thus was born an attitude of skepticism towards mainstream science among Republicans.

Since then, the strategy has been applied to tobacco smoke, secondhand smoke, acid rain, DDT, and climate change.

Merchants of Doubt is a well-sourced, thorough review of this deplorable pattern of behavior among American politicians to discredit science for corporate and political gain.

e: word

by silence7   2019-08-24

The problem is that the people there aren't engaged in rational discourse -- it's an effort to sow unwarranted doubt, led by a bunch of people who got their careers started telling people that tobacco smoke doesn't cause lung cancer. You can't hold rational discourse with them; the most you can do is to discredit them, and making them hard to find would be a step along that route.

by matt2001   2019-08-24

This is how they operate - described very well in this book:

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

It helps in understanding why we have become tribal on this issue. It was by design.

They have known since the 1970's that they were creating a climate catastrophe, but chose to obscure the truth. Afterall, it was very effective for big tobacco.

by silence7   2019-07-21

The reality is that if we had a re-run of the maunder minimum, it would cool temperatures by something like 0.3°C. The greenhouse gasses people are emitting are going to cause warming around 4°C by century-end if we don't cut emissions, and more warming thereafter. There's also precious little credible evidence that we're about to see a re-run of the Maunder Minimum, which kind of makes the whole thing moot.

There are a bunch of people paid by the fossil fuels industry to come up with something bogus and confusing every week or two, and this is one example of that. You'll run into this a lot. The folks running SkepticalScience.com maintain a set of articles explaining why pretty much each of those false claims is wrong. I suggest using a site-specific search, like this one to find what you're looking for.

by imVINCE   2019-07-21

This actually began during the Cold War; the 1983 Strategic Defense Initiative (the "Star Wars" program) under Reagan was a plan to build a network of satellites designed to down incoming ICBMs.

The scientific community was opposed to the project. It was impossible to test (how do you test a system designed to shoot down ALL of a nuclear arsenal without firing an entire nuclear arsenal at yourself?), it was extraordinarily costly, and it would result in the weaponization of space.

The Reagan administration decided to get "its own scientists" to convince Congress to fund the project. They basically hired a bunch of PhD shills to argue that the scientific community was politicized, communist-leaning liberals and that the SDI project was scientifically sound. This led to discussions of "nuclear winter" which gave Carl Sagan his platform.

Fast forward a few years, and the same "scientists" hired by the Reagan administration were hired to argue that acid rain was not a major environmental problem.

Later, that same group was arguing that second-hand smoke was not harmful.

Next, they argued that smoking itself was not harmful.

Today, those same people are leading campaigns of disinformation attempting to discredit the science surrounding climate change.

If you'd like to learn more about the history of scientific disinformation in conservative America

by silence7   2019-07-21

The really exhaustive one is the IPCC AR5 report. It has a multi-thousand page report detailing the peer-reviewed scientific evidence that the world has warmed and that humans are responsible. They look both at models, and at fairly simple things, like radiative forcing, which will let you do the math for expected outcome in a pencil-and-paper kind of way. The IPCC operates by consensus though, so they tend to understate some things where there is evidence, but a meaningful minority of scientists aren't yet in agreement about it.

The simple easy way to look at it is this graphic.

The critiques of it are mostly in the form of "I made some subtle error, but I won't tell you about it" or "I'm going to insinuate something about a person, irrespective of the evidence." They get pushed because there are a whole lot of people getting paid to push them. In particular, the fossil fuels industry adopted the institutions, personnel, and tactics of the cigarette-cancer denial effort run by the tobacco industry.

by realbarryo420   2019-07-21

I'd also recommend Merchants of Doubt, which isn't about the evidence of global warming per se but about how science, or at least the public face of science, has been and can be hijacked by political movements.

by silence7   2019-07-21

Not going to watch anything from the Heartland Institute. Basically a bunch of paid liars. Extensive documentation in the book Merchants of Doubt.

If you want to undstand the details of why a specific claim that they make is wrong, skepticalscience.com is a good resource.

by silence7   2019-07-21

They've known for decades, but chose to hire the tobacco-cancer denial machine instead of ending fossil fuel extraction.

by silence7   2019-07-21

There are too many of these things to be worth watching individually. Here's how you debunk stuff yourself:

  • Start with 'what's really warming the world' data animation ( bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-whats-warming-the-world/ ), which shows GHGs are the only forcing (among 'the usual candidates') that tracks with global temperature rise?
  • Look at the fact that 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming is happening and is human-caused? ( skepticalscience.com/global-warming-scientific-consensus-intermediate.htm )
  • See if claims are addressed (with science citations) in this list of almost 200 assertions at SkepticalScience.com ( skepticalscience.com/argument.php ), and have you read the page for it?
  • (Here are two useful tools for finding where a specific claim is mentioned :
    • Within a webpage, you can search for, say, "CO2", by typing ctrl-F (or apple-F, or windows-F) to bring up a search field (at upper right), then typing 'CO2' into it.
    • You can search throughout a website, by adding site:SkepticalScience.com to your search string, like so: https://www.google.com/search?q=CO2+site%3Askepticalscience.com(click on it, then change 'CO2' to the search term you want) )
  • Is the concern actually about something else? What is he you worried would happen, if he did conclude that we need to stop climate change?
  • Is there a history of tobacco-cancer denial by the video producer? A lot of the climate denial people got their start working for the tobacco-cancer denial machine. The book Merchants of Doubt goes into this in incredible detail. You can often find stuff online with an appropriate search as well.

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Unfortunately, it's almost never the case that providing a point-by-point debunking changes the minds of parents. See if you can change the household media diet instead. Try to get them off of Fox and talk radio and extremist blogs, and onto mainstream news sources. Do something like ask for a household New York Times subscription for your birthday.

by silence7   2019-07-21

Your post basically amounts to a bunch of conspiracy theories plus a statement that you wont be convinced by any amount of evidence. What would actually change your mind?

It's worth mentioning that those conspiracy theories were created when a bunch of oil company executives hired their own scientists to figure out what the climate impact of their product would be. They got an honest answer, and instead of ending their business, decided to hire the people who had run the tobacco-cancer denial operation for decades. The story is told in the book Merchants of Doubt

I'll leave you with this https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-whats-warming-the-world/

by silence7   2019-01-13

There is such a thing as earned expertise: when somebody spends a lifetime studying an issue, they're likely to know what they are talking about. When almost all the people with such expertise (with the exception of a few who are either paid off, or socially attached to those who are) agree, it's at least worth taking a very careful look at what they're saying. It doesn't help that the group which denies that there is a change started off as the tobacco-smoke-doesn't-cause-cancer crowd , and that the stuff they publish has no consistent explanation for the observations, and that it's demonstrably wrong.

So yeah, I'm going to listen to them. It also helps that they publish fully-footnoted reports summarizing the research every few years, and that the basic underlying physics is simple enough that people have been demonstrating it in their backyards since the 1800s.

Or are you just here to troll?

by silence7   2019-01-13

You can start with basic lab experiments which show that adding CO2 to the atmosphere without other changes will cause warming. People have been doing this since the 1800s, when people referred to CO2 as 'carbonic acid gas'

Add to the fact that CO2 concentrations really are rising, and it comes from burning fossil fuels.

You can also talk about how changes in CO2 concentration were a big part of how the world warmed at the end of the last ice age

Talk about how almost all the scientists who study the issue are convinced that the warming is due to greenhouse gasses people have emitted.

If you want fully-footnoted details, it's here.

Consider talking about how the fossil fuels industry hired the tobacco-cancer denial machine to instill doubt in peoples' minds , and that they make it hard to find accurate and truthful information.

Be aware that providing evidence is often not sufficient to convince people -- it sometimes makes them just dig themselves in deeper. If you can change which media he consumes, that's more likely to make a difference.

by silence7   2019-01-13

Truth isn't balanced by lies, and letting the same people who spent decades telling the world that tobacco smoke doesn't cause cancer lie some more doesn't have any real benefit.

The reality is that on those rare occasions when the US press covers climate at all, they've largely been engaging in the kind of false balance you are asking for. The outcome? A confused public, which doesn't realize that almost all the scientists who study the same issue have come to the same conclusion.