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Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  3,318 Ratings  ·  443 Reviews
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 o ...more
Hardcover, 357 pages
Published May 25th 2010 by Bloomsbury Press (first published 2010)
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Apr 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
About a week ago, Not and I were browsing in a Melbourne bookstore when I noticed Merchants of Doubt. "Should we buy it?" I asked, after glancing at the back cover. Not was unenthusiastic. "It'll be one of those books," she said - by which, as I immediately understood, she meant that it would be another partisan book about a hot topic, which dishonestly reported one side of a complicated and unclear debate while ignoring the other side.

"So what kind of book would you buy?" I asked. "The kind I'
Nicole R
I am a scientist. I have a PhD in biological sciences and spent the vast majority of my 20's studying the impacts of a marine invasives species and how climate change facilitates the spread of these non-native species. I hold research scientists in high regard even though my career path has ventured down a different path. For a few years I worked on The Hill where science was politicized and attacked, and now I work with the general public as I struggle to get the average person to understand an ...more
Apr 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, science
Impossible to recommend this one too highly. A testament to the power of cognitive dissonance, is my reading of this. This is the story of a group of physicists who helped to build the atomic bomb to help defend free enterprise. Unlike many of those who worked with them on this project (that later went on to see the bomb as the world’s greatest threat to our continued existence and therefore who tried to remove this threat by then working to ban the bomb) they spent the rest of their careers tal ...more
Jun 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is a truly impressive book. The subtitle really says it all; "How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming". The authors did an immense amount of research, revealing how and why a small group of scientists had such a powerful, and negative impact on important issues. The issues were: the danger of cigarette smoke, strategic defense, acid rain, secondhand smoke, the ozone hole, global warming, and the recent vilification of Rachel Carson. The ...more
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I would first like to comment on the idea that a "small group of people" caused all of this. I think that is misleading, and the subtitle of the book is misleading. Here is a list of just some people and groups that I think help all of these attacks on science and reason to happen:

1. Corporations like Phillip Morris, Exxon, Monsanto, Dow Chemical. The list can go on. I say those names and I am stunned by what appears to me the total greed and lack of morality they can exhibit. I belong to a Viet
Clif Hostetler
Dec 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: current-events
I used to believe that selling one's soul to the devil was something that only happened in fictional stories. This book makes it clear that it's a real life option for credentialed scientists who accept salaries and research grants from businesses with interests in obfuscating the truth by covering it with questions.

The book provides a history of the battle between economic interests versus health and environmental interests. The topics covered by the book are well summarized by the seven chapt
Maru Kun
The story begins, where else, with smoking - that ur-science denial project which spawned many of the weapons of modern-day sowing of doubt. Amazingly denying the dangers of smoking is a project which still lumbers on in dark corners of the developing world hiding from the scrutiny of western media.

The story moves on to acid rain, then passive smoking, ozone depletion and - one I wasn't expecting - a born-again denialist program praising the long forgotten benefits to human wellbeing of DDT.

Mar 28, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Lawyer Doug thinks: What's the big deal? As much as the authors try to spin it, the science on a lot of these issues were not definitively settled at the time. These people that the book villify - and this book is pretty venomous in its portrayal of some of the characters - are advocating a position and are using facts to frame their argument. This book make is seem like the global warming advocates are innocent and blameless, but they use the same tactics of massaging science to get their messa ...more
W. Littlejohn
Apr 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
This immensely important and timely book demands attention from anyone determined to think critically and intelligently about the current interface of politics, economics, and science, which one might describe as the three gods of our time. The book is not flawless, to be sure. As a complete layman in such issues, I can detect certain ideological flaws, which I shall come to in due course, and it is hard not to think that the authors present a somewhat one-sided perspective on a highly contentio ...more
Jul 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Environmentalists, science policy types
I'm giving this book an extra half star because I know one of the authors and I can read between the lines and see that her contributions are more circumspect and better thought out than the compromised version that ended up in this book. Merchants of Doubt is about the misuse of science by politicians. It's a very good, methodically researched introduction to how science gets twisted in the political process. Where this book loses credibility, however, is that it shows only one side of the stor ...more
Nandakishore Varma
Apr 20, 2015 marked it as to-read
Shelves: science
On another internet forum I used to frequent, there was a hot argument whether science was "good" or "bad". Two or three members were convinced about the inherent "badness" of science - they were great believers in metaphysics and spirituality. Another member and I were arguing for the inherent value neutrality of science.

There was one guy who was pro-science, but vehemently against value-neutrality. He argued that science, unless inherently coupled with ethics, is bad. While I appreciated this
Dec 23, 2011 rated it did not like it
Bottom line:
- the masses are easy to manipulate
- science, just like intelligence (CIA) has become a political tool
- political "scientists" on behalf of some business lobbies have sewn seeds of doubt
- the doubt is enough to confuse the mass media, and thereby the masses
- doubt is always in the interest of the status quo, because doubt prevents action and change

This could have been a single page news article. No need to write a book, unless the scope is expanded, or some more interesting facts (so
Todd Martin
Jun 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Back in the 1970’s, in response to irrefutable evidence that tobacco smoke represented a significant health issue, anti-regulatory forces hit upon a successful strategy that was to become the template for all future fights. The tactic was to sow doubt and to foment uncertainty about the science as a means to prevent regulatory action. And it worked.

Why is this approach so successful? Part of the answer lies in the public misunderstanding of science; what it is, and how it works. Science (in par
Nov 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
God. Dammit.
Atila Iamarino
Impressionante a ligação entre negação do clima, negação que cigarro causa câncer e quais as causas de chuva ácida. E mais impressionante ainda que sejam promovidas pelo mesmo grupo político nos EUA. Nunca entendi porque discutir questão ambiental é instantaneamente rotulado de esquerda nos Estados Unidos até ler o livro. Naomi Oreskes e Erik M. Conway explicam como para parte da direita americana, qualquer tentativa de regulação ambiental = comunismo – o que ignora completamente o total descaso ...more
Erik Graff
Aug 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans
Recommended to Erik by: Tom Miley
Shelves: history
A few years ago a diverse group of right-wingers affiliated with a variety of conservative and 'libertarian' think-tanks, corporations, foundations and publications attempted the take-over of America's sole liberal 'great books' school, Shimer College. Shimer is a small institution, but its charter, dating to the mid-19th century, is priceless and the whole notion of 'the Great Books' has traditionally attracted idealogues of the Right. Under two presidents, Rice and Lindsay, both arising from R ...more
Jun 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a heavy book with a lot of facts and proof to back it up that everyone should read. It shows how businesses and/or our government hire scientists to cause doubt in proven theories. It is then sold to the American public as fact. It tells us about RJ Reynolds and how cigarettes "don't" cause cancer, George H W Bush working for Ronald Reagan and their SDI program which cost the US $60 billion on lies, how we were told that acid rain and ozone holes were not real, how secondhand smoke is a ...more
Michael Burnam-Fink
Apr 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017, sts
Merchants of Doubt reads like a case presented by the prosecution. Oreskes and Conway look at several late 20th century scientific controversies: the link between cigarettes and cancer; the risks of nuclear weapon, the damage done by acid rain, CFCs and the ozone layer, and above all climate change, to find that these controversies extend far beyond the limits of reasonable doubt. This is no accident, but rather the result of a deliberate public relations strategy formulated by a small group of ...more
Jun 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway

"Merchants of Doubt" is a fascinating book that tells the upsetting story of how a small power-group of conservative scientists ran destructive campaigns to mislead the public about science. The book provides a number of fascinating cases that has a direct impact on the public. This 368-page book is composed of the following seven chapters: 1. Doubt Is Our Product, 2. Strategic Defense, Phony Facts, and the Creation of the George C. Marshall
Apr 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, non-fiction
A scientific theory cannot be reduced to two lines and explain the subject matter without bias. But a doubt can dismantle the very same theory in just a few words.

Science has always been at war - sometimes it challenges the ideology of the masses and in more recent years, it impacts profits of large organizations. Scientific history becomes important in this context to be documented and well circulated. The propaganda isn't against science, at least not always. The propaganda attacks the way a s
A decent book although as soon as you've read the title you 'get it' so kinda why bother. Still, a useful and forensic look at how a few shills hopped around from the tobacco industry to global warming denial promoting the 'teach the controversy' message. As long as the debate is kept alive, action is stymied and more people believe lies about second hand smoke or carbon emissions. Interesting just how few people were at the core of these projects. Merchants of Doubt helped me think about how co ...more
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Sep 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
“Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming” (Bloomsbury Press) examines the growth of ‘junk science’ from its creation to its implementation in a thoroughly detailed and fact-filled expose of the continuing pattern of industry to (often secretly) fund high-level, scientific studies to ‘disprove’ established research on the negative effects of harmful products. Their powerful re-assembly of the history of such programs over t ...more
Oct 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Merchants of Doubt isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty close. Contained within its pages is a careful analysis of how a handful of corporations and scientists distorted public understanding for their own narrow purposes. The book is meticulously researched while also being appropriately simplified, given the wide range of material covered. I do wish the book had more explicitly pointed out the cost to the environment and human health caused by stirring up unnecessary doubt, especially on more settled ...more
Jan 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, history
I heard about this from a podcast on the Science Podcast:

I found it in my local library and was not disappointed. When "fair and balanced" counter balances the discoveries of science against the views of those with a profit motive, we are all the poorer. It saddens me that so many americans, including some cherished family members, have no idea of what goes into establishing a justified, true belief. The corporate control of our news outlets make it easy
Son Tung
Sep 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Excellent arguments with paramount volume of facts. One of those books i have to recommend my friends in flesh in my social circles for a better discussion on science. The details make compelling case studies of the interplay between science, politics and free market ideologists (this includes corporations and even scientists).
Teo 2050
~6.5h @ 2x. Contents:
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Keith Swenson
May 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all thinking people
Rarely have I finished a book with such a strong feeling of the importance of the book. For years -- more than a decade -- I have been wondering why it is that public debate of many important issues get so sidetracked into obviously false, manipulated positions. We thought the Internet would be an instrument of truth enlightening the masses, but instead it seems to be an instrument of the worst kinds of gossip, along with information to purposefully mislead and confuse. Good and decent people I ...more
Darian Onaciu
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Excellent book about how certain corporations manipulated public opinion through different means and discredited the work of legitimate scientists because it went against the economic interests of the conglomerates.

The writing is clear and concise, the arguments crisp and the tone is inquisitive and analytical.
The authors take in the whole problem, analyze it and then highlight the involvement of each party, drawing a conclusion based on all the available evidence.

If you're interested about how
Jul 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars

Alright, two major takeaways from this book regardless of how you feel about the authors' conclusions:

1. Compare people's credentials—and their affiliations—to the topic at hand. This isn't as straightforward as Dr. Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon, having opinions about economics or climate change. It could be down to whether or not a now-disgraced physician like Andrew Wakefield has the chops to conduct research at all (fun fact, a number of coauthors had their names pulled even b
Josh Friedlander
Jan 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
It's rare that a highly partisan book on a controversial issue can so utterly convince me of the rightness of its cause, so the authors of this book deserve credit for the work they've done, which strikes a balance between relentless scientific fact-citing, damning historical evidence, and some careful, nuanced discussions on market failures, the tragedy of the commons, and the exact definition of proof in empirical research.

"Why can't scientists stop contradicting themselves?" I wrote to a sci
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Is this upsetting to anyone else ????? 2 38 Sep 01, 2012 04:03PM  
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  • Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming
  • Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence
  • Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk
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  • Higher Speculations: Grand Theories and Failed Revolutions in Physics and Cosmology
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Naomi Oreskes is an American historian of science. She became Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University in 2013, after 15 years as Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego.
More about Naomi Oreskes
“The industry had realized you could create the impression of controversy simply by asking questions” 8 likes
“While the idea of equal time for opposing opinions makes sense in a two-party political system, it does not work for science, because science is not about opinion. It is about evidence.” 7 likes
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