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

Erik M. Conway , Naomi Oreskes
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Jun 2011
The U.S. scientific community has long led the world in research on such areas as public health, environmental science, and issues affecting quality of life. These scientists have produced landmark studies on the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and global warming. But at the same time, a small yet potent subset of this community leads the world in vehement denial of these dangers. Merchants of Doubt tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades. Remarkably, the same individuals surface repeatedly-some of the same figures who have claimed that the science of global warming is "not settled" denied the truth of studies linking smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole. "Doubt is our product," wrote one tobacco executive. These "experts" supplied it. Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, historians of science, roll back the rug on this dark corner of the American scientific community, showing how ideology and corporate interests, aided by a too-compliant media, have skewed public understanding of some of the most pressing issues of our era.

Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; UK open market ed edition (6 Jun 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408824663
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408824665
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 15.2 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 428,253 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Anyone concerned about the state of democracy in America should read this book (Al Gore)

Brilliantly reported and written with brutal clarity (Huffington Post)

It is tempting to require that all those engaged in the business of conveying scientific information to the general public should read it (Science)

A hard-hitting thriller ... also a meticulously researched history book and a portal into the world of real science ... A fascinating story (West Australian)

Excellent, important (Choice) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

The troubling story of how a cadre of influential scientists have clouded public understanding of scientific facts to advance a political and economic agenda. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
In 1988 the United States was on course to take remedial action to slow the pace of man-made global warming. But by the mid 1990s the issue was dead. This change was brought about by a small, loosely connected group of individuals, who used skills and techniques they had honed during earlier campaigns:
> on behalf of tobacco companies to deny the adverse health effects of smoking (when the tobacco companys' own scientists had known the truth for decades);
> on behalf of chemical companies to deny the existence of the ozone hole, and when that was established beyond doubt, to pretend that it was not caused by the release of CFCs;
> on behalf of the fossil fuel industry to deny that the burning of coal was the principle cause of acid rain;
> and other issues.
And again and again the same names, Singer, Seitz and Nierenberg in particular, keep cropping up.

This extraordinarily important book describes the history of each campaign in turn, and exposes the techniques of disinformation which proved, and continue to prove, so devastatingly effective, especially when people were being fed things they wanted to hear which allowed them to continue irresponsible behaviour. The power of a few determined mavericks to successfully undermine the combined expertise and authority of mainstream scientific bodies at the highest level is chillingly apparent.

The authority of the book, with its moderate, scholarly tone and its 64 pages of references, is all too evident. Indeed the reader can only wish that its appalling story were not so obviously true.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched and very important 7 Jun 2013
Format:Paperback|Amazon Verified Purchase
In "Merchants of Doubt", Oreskes & Conway argues that for a number of scientific topics, an aggressive minority, financed by industrial companies and free-market think tanks, have used disinformation and smear campaigns to obstruct the scientific procedure and discredit scientific consensus. The topics span the link between cancer and smoking, acid rain, the ozone hole, global warming and pesticides: The authors argue that both the public and the government have been misled about these issues, and that the consequence has been lackluster responses to these problems. The book is not only about documenting these episodes, but also discusses the relationship between science and the media, and how science should be discussed publicly and how it should be used by government bodies.

The book appears very meticulously researched, and is well-written. The authors in general do not appear unduly biased against the "merchants of doubt" such as Frederick Seitz and Fred Singer et cetera, for the most part keeping the debate at a fair level and explicitly acknowledging the scientific accolades of those scientists whom they accuse of obstructing the dissemination of proper science. One exception is that they repeatedly explain the motivations of several of the obstructive scientists as coming from their cold war anti-communism and free-market fundamentalism: Given the political opinions and affiliations of these scientists, this is a fair hypothesis, but to some degree remains a hypothesis and not a fact on level with most of the remainder of the book. Also, the authors occasionally make a few mediocre arguments, for example when defending the use of 90% confidence intervals instead of 95% confidence intervals (p. 156-157) or when criticizing Lomborg's focus on resource allocation (p. 228, p. 259).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Here is the whole story 9 April 2013
Format:Hardcover|Amazon Verified Purchase
If you have been interested in global warming, the limits to growth and so on there is not all that much new material here, but newcomers to the debate will find the book extremely valuable.
For me the value consists in the description of how the doubting business started, who started it, how was it financed, in short how did everything fit together.
On a national note (I am a Dane) Lomborg is debunked at the end of the book. For a Dane that is neither here nor there because he was debunked in his fatherland well before he became internationally known, but for the rest of the world this section may be useful.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
By Rolf Dobelli TOP 500 REVIEWER
"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 show how "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.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for those interested in science 'debate'
It has long been quite common knowledge that the smoking industry knew the harm caused by smoking many decades before they would publicly acknowledge it, yet it remains a mystery... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Kevin Arscott
1.0 out of 5 stars sorry but we have every right to doubt the IPCC
The author writes well but clearly only got the AGW religious to proof read the book. Since when was challenging science a bad thing ? Read more
Published 19 months ago by Johan RF
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone should read this book.
The only reason this book does not have a full 5 star rating, is because a few "flat earthers" are using this review as a forum to debate climate change!? Read more
Published 19 months ago by SD900Ducati
1.0 out of 5 stars complete rubbish
another zealot who wants us all to fall for this rubbish. Research it yourself, its easy! There is no global warming, it is not caused by man, its just the natural weather cycles... Read more
Published 20 months ago by the-truth
1.0 out of 5 stars Distortion of science
Ms Oreskes previously wrote about Wegener and the theory of continental drift, showing how his ideas were rejected by geologists in the 1930s. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Dr. P. R. Lewis
5.0 out of 5 stars a very interesting read
At long last a book that tells it like it is, how influential people conspired to hide the truth about many of the issues that should be of concern to us all.
Published 24 months ago by M. Shubinsky
2.0 out of 5 stars A great point - but....
The central fact of this book is that bug business has been paying off the same set of scientists for decades to prop up thier products which are bad for us - think... Read more
Published on 12 Jun 2011 by Marc Munier
5.0 out of 5 stars I cannot praise this book highly enough
Many will find it astonishing that, in 1980, an economist such as Thomas Schelling should have attempted to justify his "we don't need to do anything about climate change" argument... Read more
Published on 3 Mar 2011 by Martin Lack
1.0 out of 5 stars Hot Air Goes Up In Smoke
I bought this book because a reviewer said it brought together the scientific rebuttal of the claims of climate change deniers. It does no such thing. Read more
Published on 25 Sep 2010 by Doubting Thomas
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