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clifhostetler

Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

Selling Doubt

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming 1st (first) Edition by Oreskes, Naomi, Conway, Erik M. (2010) - Naomi,  Conway,  Erik M. Oreskes

I used to believe that selling one's soul to the devil was something that only happened in fictional stories. This book makes it clear that it's a real life option for credentialed scientists who accept salaries and research grants from businesses with interests in obfuscating the truth by covering it with questions.

The book provides a history of the battle between economic interests versus health and environmental interests. The topics covered by the book are well summarized by the seven chapter titles:

1. Doubt Is Our Product,

2. Strategic Defense, Phony Facts, and the Creation of the George C. Marshall Institute

3. Sowing the Seeds of Doubt: Acid Rain

4. Constructing a Counternarrative: The Fight over the Ozone Hole

5. What's Bad Science? Who Decides? The Fight over Secondhand Smoke

6. The Denial of Global Warming

7. Denial Rides Again: the Revisionist Attack on Rachel Carson

Science by its very nature is vulnerable to obfuscation by asking questions about uncertainty. But the word uncertainty in the context of science has a different meaning from the way it's used in common vernacular. In cases where the evidence would be judged "beyond a reasonable doubt" in a court of law, the news media interprets additional questioning as a sign that the no consensus has been reached.

Some of the histories covered by this book are pretty well resolved even though there are still fringe commentators who claim they weren't problems in the first place. However, global warming still remains the universal joke punch line in some circles (tag "it's caused by global warming" at the end of any story, and it's guaranteed to cause laughter by the deniers).

Ever wonder why the United States has failed to act on global warming?

"There are many reasons why the United States has failed to act on global warming, but at least one is the confusion raised by Bill Nierenberg, Fred Seitz, and Fred Singer."

All three of these individuals are physicists who have never done peer reviewed research in fields related to meteorology or climate modeling. Singer was a rocket scientist. Nierenberg and Seitz worked on the atomic bomb. The book indicates that small numbers of people such as these have had significant influence on popular perception of the issue of global warming. Consequently public opinion concludes that scientific consensus has not been reached leading to the stalling of policy making.