Manufacturing Doubt

By Michael Edmonds 18/09/2011


For decades during which more and more scientific evidence was accumulating to show smoking was a health hazard, tobacco companies actively promoted their products, claiming that the scientific evidence wasn’t convincing.

This link puts forward the case that petrochemical companies and their allies have been using the same arguments to introduce doubt into the climate change debate – not surprising given their industry will suffer the most in attempts to combat climate change. Some of the statements from the political puppets make me cringe. “The more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the more plants grow”  – that’s all fine and dandy if we want plants to inherit the earth while we die off!

The use of doubt against science evidence is not restricted to these two areas. It regularly arises in “alternative” health fields. The hypocrisy of this is often mind blowing. In the same few sentences pundits of alternative medicine will not only cast doubt on science, ignoring huge amounts of evidence contrary to their beliefs, but will also put forward their own theories with no scientific evidence to support them.

In sowing doubt, those who try to silence science often rely on the fact that science is telling us something uncomfortable and/or inconvenient. Messages of fear and uncertainty are used to misdirect the public’s attention. How do we best fight this? In the case of climate change fear is often invoked (given the global situation that is not an unreasonable approach). However, perhaps it is just as important is to keep explaining to the public how science works, to keep describing the benefits and joy the science creates as well as showing the human side of science – the many men and women who have pursued science as a career specifically because they want to make the world a better place.

0 Responses to “Manufacturing Doubt”

  • Can’t access the video right now but the premise reminds me of Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conways book “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming”

    Does the video reference this?

  • Darcy,

    The video doesn’t mention it but I think the premise is similar to the Oreskes & Conway book, although I haven’t had a chance to read it myself yet. Have you and would you recommend it?

  • More and more we need to focus on the opportunity here; that we know what to do, and it looks good, lets act. Now!. Paint a plan to a life in the future with sustainable energy, crystal sky, fresh air, healthy children, equal opportunities, leisure, art and beauty and economic health. Check out the Natural Step sustainability model for one approach. As quickly as possible move from the science; just say, “we know enough about the science” (Sarah Parkin) “this is the biggest opportunity in your life”.

  • Maurice,

    Couldn’t agree with you more. The problem is that there are a lot of people who aren’t in the same head space as you are.

  • Unfortunately I haven’t read it, no. but have heard a couple of interviews with Naomi which were quite good.