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Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming | [Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway]

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

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. Our 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.
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Publisher's Summary

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. Our 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.

©2010 Naomi Oreskes/Erik M. Conway (P)2010 Audible, Inc

What the Critics Say

“Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway have demonstrated what many of us have long suspected: that the ‘debate’ over the climate crisis--and many other environmental issues--was manufactured by the same people who brought you ‘safe’ cigarettes. Anyone concerned about the state of democracy in America should read this book.” (Former Vice President Al Gore)

“Brilliantly reported and written with brutal clarity… The real shocker of this book is that it takes us, in just 274 brisk pages, through seven scientific issues that called for decisive government regulation and didn't get it, sometimes for decades, because a few scientists sprinkled doubt-dust in the offices of regulators, politicians and journalists….Oreskes and Conway do a great public service.” (Huffington Post)

Merchants of Doubt might be one of the most important books of the year. Exhaustively researched and documented, it explains how over the past several decades mercenary scientists have partnered with tobacco companies and chemical corporations to help them convince the public that their products are safe – even when solid science proves otherwise…Merchants of Doubt is a hefty read, well-researched and comprehensive…I hope it sells, because what it has to say needs to be heard.” (Christian Science Monitor)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Roger Alameda, CA, United States 01-23-11
    Roger Alameda, CA, United States 01-23-11 Member Since 2005
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    "Valuable scholarship, but not exactly literature"

    The "Merchants of Doubt" of the title were a few scientists who had been productive researchers during the cold war. The book tells the story of how, in their later years, they used their accrued clout and credibility to attack and undermine important scientific discoveries involving tobacco, acid rain, ozone depletion, and especially, climate change. Their motives were both ideological (they considered environmental science a threat to the free market that they venerated) and mercenary (they were on the take from industry groups and conservative foundations).

    It's a really impressive piece or research and reporting, and it's easy to admire. But to actually enjoy it, you'd have to have to be willing to get into the weeds. The authors build their case like prosecutors, brick by brick, and they ask the reader to examine each brick up close. Do you want to read about how one of the authors of an IPCC report wrote a chapter with summaries at the beginning and end of the chapter; how he was instructed to have only one summary to make it consistent with the other chapters; and how, after doing this, he was attacked for "removing material?" Do you want to read about how that report was falsely maligned as containing sensationalistic language, when in fact the authors agonized over whether to describe the human effect on observed climate change as "appreciable" or merely "discernible?" If that's what you like, this book is for you. Some people might find it a little dry.

    Overall I'm glad I listened to this. It's depressingly common to hear people debate what ought to be a science question by ranting on about socialism, the UN and the enemies of freedom. When you hear that kind of talk, if you've listened to this book, you will know where it comes from, who put it out, and who paid for it-- and it will be easy to envision the ghost of Fred Singer (one of the principal villains), wherever he is, smiling a little.

    21 of 23 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daniel Julien Austin, TX USA 08-14-12
    Daniel Julien Austin, TX USA 08-14-12 Member Since 2005
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    "Interesting story mired in detail"

    This is an interesting book, but mired in detail and hampered by the reader. The writers' case (contrary to some reviewers) is amply supported by evidence. However, the level of detail detracts from the narrative flow. I think the arguments would have been easier to follow if presented more briefly, with the supporting detail moved to an appendix, where the interested reader could turn for more detail if desired.

    The narrator spoke very clearly, but his phrasing was poor, with many pauses that had nothing to do with the sentence structure. A more animated tone and better flow would have helped immensely.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amy Harrisburg, PA, United States 12-07-10
    Amy Harrisburg, PA, United States 12-07-10 Member Since 2004
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    "Excruciating detail"

    This book provides a sad commentary on the way certain highly respected members of the scientific community can disregard factual developments that do not comport with their respective world views, and can choose personal profit over morality. I learned a great deal. However, the author could have used a good editor. My husband and I listened to much of the book on a long trip, and we both actually cheered when we got to the end of the section on acid rain. There is far too much extraneous detail in the book, which detracts from what could be a hard-hitting message.

    18 of 22 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Steve Las Vegas, NV 01-17-11
    Steve Las Vegas, NV 01-17-11 Member Since 2001
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "worthy subject, but way too much detail."

    I only got half way through. It's too bad, because I think the subject matter is extremely important and eye-opening. But for the first half, anyway, it just gets buried in the details. For the first time, I wished there had been an abridged version.

    11 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jonathan Moss Beach, CA, United States 05-29-12
    Jonathan Moss Beach, CA, United States 05-29-12 Member Since 2010
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    "The Manufacturing of Scientific Doubt Revealed"
    What made the experience of listening to Merchants of Doubt the most enjoyable?

    This book draws back the curtain about how certain scientists and corporations have created public doubt about several major scientific issues during the past fifty years. It's narrative is remarkably informative.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    N/A


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Peter Johnson?

    Unsure. Peter Johnson does a decent job, but his voice tends towards a monotone that is unpleasant at times.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    At times it blew me away and left me saying 'wow.' It's amazing how human knowledge can be socially engineered by manipulative individuals in positions of power.


    Any additional comments?

    This is a well-researched, interesting, and remarkably insightful history about the manufacture of scientific doubt by organizations and individuals who adhere to free-market fundamentalism. The connections it draws and the conclusions it makes are eye-opening, provocative, and often deeply disconcerting. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of science or how misinformation is propagated.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ellen 07-22-11
    Ellen 07-22-11
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    "A "must read" for the literate citizen"

    This book is well thought out and well researched. It will shock and sadden in some ways but it is necessary reading for any enlightened citizen of the 21st century.

    8 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marita von Weissenberg New Havem, CT USA 08-02-12
    Marita von Weissenberg New Havem, CT USA 08-02-12 Member Since 2009
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    "Information packed"
    What did you love best about Merchants of Doubt?

    Merchants of Doubt explained one of the great mysteries of America: why is popular opinion about issues such as second hand smoke or global warming so out of joint with the scientific community's view?


    Any additional comments?

    While this is a book about science, and the reader's voice is pleasant, the lack of intonation and over-all monotony of the performance made it hard to focus on the book at times. The audio is not for the novice audiobooker.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sam Motes Tampa 01-28-14
    Sam Motes Tampa 01-28-14 Listener Since 2009

    Audible obsessed lifelong learner.

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    "Eye opening read on the assault on reason"

    Proof that it is easier to plant a seed of doubt through disinformation and half truths the. Proof something to not be true. Makes a compelling argument that when over ninety percent of scientists stand on one side of a topic the practice of equal time meaning 50% of the time leads to false believes that both sides have as strong arguments as the other. Covers the denial of smoking, second hand smoke, nuclear winter, global warming, and DDT as all risks that have come under attack by this drive to promote agendas over the common good.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Acteon Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 12-27-13
    Acteon Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada 12-27-13 Member Since 2009

    Acteon

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    "Essential"
    What made the experience of listening to Merchants of Doubt the most enjoyable?

    Getting the hidden details and the covert links.


    Any additional comments?

    I have often wondered why people, in particular those responsible for vital decisions, are so slow to take appropriate action. This book made me understand the role of deliberate disinformation, the harm it does, as well as the methods and motivation of its perpetrators. This knowledge is essential to understanding what we are faced with in the world and what we should look out for in our efforts to survive and to help.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ken Mercadante Bedford, TX United States 11-02-12
    Ken Mercadante Bedford, TX United States 11-02-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Exposed, but not defeated"

    It's amazing how people can compromize ethics and priciples to satisfy their ego and profit margins. Even knowing people will die from their actions. What's really surprising is no one is calling these people to account for their lies. This book is a wake-up call for society to stop blindly believing everything you hear in the media. Everyone has an agenda. And that agenda usually has dollar signs attached.

    And they're not done yet. My family is going through a similar discovery process regarding a medical procedure. Thousands have died, and the doctors performing the procedure know their patients are going to die, and they're not disclosing the risks. When this breaks wide it's going to be bigger than tobacco.

    I highly recommend this book. It's well-paced, fascinating, educational, and packs a serious punch.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
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