SciHistorian Oreskes on ‘Merchants of Doubt’

By Daniel Collins 06/03/2010


Here’s an insightful video for a contemplative weekend. Naomi Oreskes, science historian from UCSD, recently gave a talk on her book ‘Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming’. In addition to chronicling the history of climate science and climate anti-science in the US, a major theme she addresses is what consensus means in science.

Perhaps Oreskes most important work was her 2004 Science paper that reviewed where scientific papers on ‘global climate change’ stood in relation to reports and statements by national and international science organisations. What she found was that not a single paper directly dissented, while 75% supported the organisations’ statements.

What impressed me when I first heard her in 2007 is that she successfully combines her knowledge of historical methods, epistemology and geoscience to develop a well-argued and thorough time-line of related events.