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

4.3 out of 5 stars 310 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press (2010)
  • ASIN: B003OWBJSS
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (310 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,276,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Jesse Kornbluth on May 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
If you are a candidate for a stroke or heart attack --- or just have fond hopes that your child or grandchild will grow up in a world without a sell-by date --- you really should step back from this screen.

I have read many books that infuriated me, and I was glad for the experience. It's good to get pissed off at injustice, fictional or real, and come away energized, eager to do your small part in correcting whatever wrong the book exposed. But although "Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming" is brilliantly reported and written with brutal clarity, it has left me with a different reaction --- frustration that lobbyists and "experts" have blocked all meaningful steps to avert environment disaster. And will continue to do so, not just until millions are afflicted with skin cancer and the wheat fields are bone dry and the poor are fighting in the streets for water. No. In the very last minute of the very last hour of humanity's very last day on earth, a scientist on the payroll of an oil or coal company --- most likely a scientist who has no expertise in environmental matters and whose scientific contributions ended decades ago --- will be saying there's "still doubt" about global warming.

Naomi Oreskes is a real scientist and historian. She's Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego; her books include "Plate Tectonics: An Insider's History of the Modern Theory of the Earth," cited by Library Journal as one of the best science and technology books of 2002.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a model of engaged historical scholarship. It is thorough and documented well, written clearly, and addresses an issue of great contemporary importance. Oreskes and Conway document a series of attempts to dispute important scientific findings related to a series of public health and environmental hazards. From the hazards of tobacco to global warming, the pattern is the same. Supported by generous funding from industries with much to lose from increased regulation, a small group of dissident scientists - generally not experts in the relevant fields - create doubt about the scientific findings via public relations campaigns, lobbying in Congress, and lobbying of the executive branch. These PR campaigns and lobbying efforts generally involve indefensible tactics. As Oreskes and Conway point out, and as demonstrated extremely well in Allan Brandt's excellent book The Cigarette Century, this general approach was pioneered in the 1950s by the tobacco industry in response to emerging epidemiologic and experimental evidence of the dangers of cigarette smoking.

These tactics were used, often effectively, by opponents of efforts to reduce the hazards of smoking, second-hand smoking, acid rain, ozone depletion, and most recently, global warming. Remarkably, a smalll core group of prominent scientists figure over and over again as participants in the generally unprincipled attempts to discredit important scientific findings and their often inconvenient policy implications. These individuals were/are physicists with substantial reputations and impressive records of service in important administrative positions and in important advisory roles at the Federal level.
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Format: Hardcover
The historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway--who is also a longstanding friend and colleague--have set the bar very high in scholarly anaylsis with this book, located in the vital center of the debate about global climate change. "Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming" is a serious analysis of the opposition to global warming from such contrary scientists as Robert Jastrow, S. Fred Singer, and others. Well documented with 64 pages of endnotes and rigorously analysed, the authors demonstrate the ties between some senior scientists and political and business interests who stand to lose if decisions are taken that direct changes in American policy.

The effort they describe has been built about sowing the seeds of doubt, hence the title, and what Oreskes and Conway would contend is the obfuscation of some entities in the fray. The individuals that have undertaken this effort cut their teeth in the service of corporations that had everything to lose if findings about the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, and acid rain settled in the minds of the public. The continuation of this effort, and its particular permutations in relation to the issue of global climate change, are documented in detail here.

As the authors make clear, it has been obvious since the 1970s that some elements of the business community have been irate about the use of scientific studies by government officials as justification for regulations that circumscribe their actions. Those opposed have been successful largely through a questioning of the science on which the government has based its actions.
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