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Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming Hardcover – 2 Aug 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press; 1 edition (2 Aug. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596916109
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596916104
  • Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3.6 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 545,428 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 the 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.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Arscott on 22 Dec. 2013
Format: Paperback
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 why there is not more anger about this fact. It is also surprising that we constantly allow the same denials to be maintained by industries damaging the environment in which we live.

This book will not get the readership it deserves, and it is unlikely to be read by anyone other than people who already know the basics of the false debates created around these issues. Those who genuinely believe - for example - that global warming is a conspiracy created by scientists to gain funding will continue to post 1-star reviews of this book, shortly afterwards placing fingers firmly in their ears in order to avoid ever having contradictory information entering their heads.

No respected scientific institute rejects the evidence supporting global warming, or the conclusions of the IPCC, yet a few negative statements published in newspapers - or in books - but never in peer-reviewed journals is enough for people to completely accept that yes, global warming must be a conspiracy to build windmills or raise the price of petrol. These people are impossible to argue with, which is why the press needs to be appropriately regulated to ensure that people form opinions based on the best evidence available to them, rather than lies and disinformation.

Sadly, people will often choose to believe the things that suit them - i.e. that humanity cannot possibly have an impact on our environment so we can carry on exactly as we are.

I suspect when the oil really starts to run out and the climate really starts to make things unpleasant for us, they'll find something else to blame. Even if they do have an epiphany, it'll be too late by then to do anything.

If you do care, read this book and encourage others to do so.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By G. K. Lowell on 29 July 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Recently there has been a growth in contrarian claims that major environmental problems just aren't real. If you read the Mail, Telegraph and, sadly, even the Times in recent years you might think there was a debate about whether or not global warming/climate change was really happening.
There is no debate: the basic principles were established long ago. Science is never complete, there is always scope for debate about the details, the rate at which various things will occur, models can always be improved. And this is where confusion is spread. 'Free market fundamentalists' as this book ends up defining the main players in this story use the nature of science; that there is always some uncertainty and more needs to be researched to deliberately confuse issues; to suggest that not knowing precisely how pumping CO2 into the atmosphere will affect the climate in minute detail is the same thing as not knowing that it will cause the world to heat up overall.
This book shows how an anti-science movement began when the tobacco industry recruited scientists to help obscure the harm cigarette smoking caused. (Oddly most of the scientists in this story began as cold war rocket scientists.) There was a calculated strategy of distortion and misleading the public about the harm caused by cigarettes, and the same people went on to argue against almost every ecological threat and for nuclear weapons right up to the present day. It's the same people, the same "think" tanks, the same techniques, the same funders (though in recent years the fossil fuel corporations have played an increasingly large role.)
And it all stems from wishful thinking. 'The invisible hand of the market' will create the 'best of all possible worlds' and any regulation is a bad thing.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Alexander Sokol on 7 Jun. 2013
Format: Paperback 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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