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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.
27 of 30 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