Merchants of Doubt

  • by Naomi Oreskes, Erik M. Conway
  • Narrated by Peter Johnson
  • 13 hrs and 13 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

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.


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)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

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.
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- Roger

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.
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- Amy

Book Details

  • Release Date: 11-16-2010
  • Publisher: Audible Studios