Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Merchants of Doubt

I started reading Merchants of Doubt in anticipation of the new movie that was released in March. The book by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway is so beautifully written, it hardly reads like a science book, but a science book it is.  But it is so much more.  It puts into focus how this country has been bamboozled into two decades of denial and inaction on not only the most pressing issue of our time, but also other critically important issues that demanded regulatory attention due to market failure.

And those failures of course are legend.

This from Wikipedia:

Oreskes and Conway write that a handful of politically conservative scientists, with strong ties to particular industries, have "played a disproportionate role in debates about controversial questions".[5] The authors write that this has resulted in "deliberate obfuscation" of the issues which has had an influence on public opinion and policy-making.[5]

The book criticizes the so-called Merchants of Doubt, some predominantly American science key players, above all Bill Nierenberg, Fred Seitz, and Fred Singer. All three are physicists: Singer was a rocket scientist, whereas Nierenberg and Seitz worked on the atomic bomb.[6] They have been active on topics like acid rain, tobacco smoking, global warming and pesticides. The book claims that these scientists have challenged and diluted the scientific consensus in the various fields, as of the dangers of smoking, the effects of acid rain, the existence of the ozone hole, and the existence of anthropogenic climate change.[5]

Seitz and Singer helped to form institutions such as the Heritage Foundation, Competitive Enterprise Institute and Marshall Institute in the United States. Funded by corporations and conservative foundations, these organizations have opposed many forms of state intervention or regulation of U.S. citizens. The book lists similar tactics in each case: "discredit the science, disseminate false information, spread confusion, and promote doubt"

In seven compelling chapters addressing tobacco, acid rain, the ozone hole, global warming, and DDT, Oreskes and Conway roll back the rug on this dark corner of the American scientific community, showing how the ideology of free market fundamentalism, aided by a too-compliant media, has skewed public understanding of some of the most pressing issues of our era.

The movie however, which finally came to our home town for a very short stand was good, but not great. Rotten Tomatoes describes it:
Filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the curtain on a secretive group of highly charismatic, silver-tongued pundits-for-hire who present themselves in the media as scientific authorities - yet have the contrary aim of spreading maximum confusion about well-studied public threats ranging from toxic chemicals to pharmaceuticals to climate change.
I'm generally not one of those people who says that the book was better than the movie.  But it was.  It tells a much more in depth and sinister tale.

The book tells a story about Al Gore's professor who turned him on to the whole climate change story when he was in college.  Towards the end of his life, one of our villains, Fred Singer, asked  professor Reveille to co-write a paper  with him.  He agreed, but soon thereafter he had a stroke and his health began to falter.  Even then, Reveille made notes on Singer's paper which Singer never included or changed.

Soon after the passing of Al Gore's mentor, the bogus Singer report was published in a non peer reviewed journal.  Its key take away was that there is no need to act now on Climate Change....something Reveille never said nor ever believed.  Yet, the Merchants of Doubt hung that nonstatement around Al Gore like a necklace of Dove Turds.  These people are not just liars....they are mean.

Their belief in the efficacy of the free market  and its importance to a free society in general, over our ability to save ourselves through joint action other than in war is folly, and folly of a high order.

Because you see, according to Fred Singer, an environmentalist is a watermelon...green on the outside and red on the inside.

The merchants of doubt on the other hand are white men with black hearts.

Anyone concerned about the state of democracy in America should read this book.”—Former Vice President Al Gore


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