Doubt is our product

Testimony of the 7 CEOs of Big Tobacco

In a recent book, “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming”, US historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway take on those they say have sown doubt about key scientific findings for their own political ends.

They tell 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.

Another interesting read is the following speech of Kim Carr, Australian federal Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. He delivered it when presenting the 2010 Prime Minister’s prizes for science.

Here are a few excerpts:

“In theory, political journalism claims that both sides of an argument need to be heard. In practice, that means claims vetted and dismissed in the halls of science by peer review may well clog up the halls of public opinion. Put simply, not all opinions are of equal intellectual value in scientific debate. And quackery certainly doesn’t deserve equal time with credible research.

Since the days of Galileo, individual scientists have been reluctant to engage in public controversy. A sense of isolation can be intimidating, and intimidation is a powerful silencer. That’s why the friends of science within the political system have to speak up.

But we need more. Modern science is dependent on collaboration, on the work of teams. We need today a team of champions prepared to challenge the merchants of doubt.”

Now, we need our own Mr. Goodyear to make such declarations.

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