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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.
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.
26 of 29 people found this review helpful
Exceptional. Put this book at the very top of your reading list. The authors provide a clear, stunning, and engaging history of how a handful of scientists were able to keep doubt alive during every occasion in which scientific evidence threatened to cut into a corporation's profit or a politician's proposed policy. These merchants of doubt were on the wrong side of history on every occasion. They didn't carry out their own scientific work. Rather they attacked the work of others as they attempted to convince the public that smoking does not kill, pollution does not cause acid rain, our seas are not rising, our glaciers are not melting because of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere caused by our fossil fuels, and DDT is good for the humans and the environment.
This book gives a detailed account of the evidence for each of the above claims (i.e.., smoking kills), and a detailed account of how "scientists," who were paid by the politicians and corporations in questions, twisted the data and even falsified documentation in order to stop the public from synthesizing the true scientific evidence into their knowledge base. Their tactic was always to confuse and keep the doubt alive. Some scientists for hire were extremely good at taking a Machiavellian approach to their jobs. This is why it appears as if there is a debate over global warming, when indeed there is not.
Drawing a line through the arguments of the past and the arguments now, and demonstrating a specific pattern used by a handful of scientists, provided a strong and clear understanding of how false information was able to remain a viable option for society for so long. The authors have put all the science in one place, as well as the way that science was twisted and misused, so that anyone reading this book will finally understand exactly what scientists have said about tobacco use, pollution, global warming, etc. This book, so thoroughly researched, is poised to become the definitive source on how to prepare for debates about climate change and other important issues. I can imagine people saying, "Have you read Merchants of Doubt? If not, you are not qualified to have this discussion. We can revisit after you are up to speed."
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
This is a must-read for anyone who cares about science and the future of our planet.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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.
20 of 26 people found this review helpful
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.
6 of 8 people found this review helpful
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?
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.
6 of 8 people found this review helpful
I think the book is not really suitable for listening. I found my mind often drifted and I can barely recall a small part of the information. However, I got the main message.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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.
5 of 7 people found this review helpful
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.
11 of 16 people found this review helpful
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.
4 of 6 people found this review helpful