Book traces efforts to create doubt of science

Reposted from the Poughkeepsie Journal

In their book “Merchants of Doubt,” (Bloomsbury Press, 2010), scientific historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway provide readers with a provocative explanation of how and why a handful of Cold War veterans have been able to control the hearts and minds of many U.S. citizens. The exposé begins at the end of the Cold War, with capitalist ideals emerging victorious and a massively organized body of scientists, military experts, media organizations, politicians and corporations looking to transition into non-wartime work.

Motivated by the ideals of laissez-faire governance and opposition to government regulation, several retired Cold War scientists called upon their connections with high-level military officials, presidents and media organizations to present themselves as authorities and discredit scientific results that threatened their ideals. “Merchants of Doubt” traces the involvement of these scientists in helping found conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, Competitive Enterprise Institute and Marshall Institute, where they quickly gained capacity building support from conservative corporations and others sharing the idealistic belief in and a hope to benefit from looser government regulation. The goal of this new network was to coordinate a diffusive campaign to purposefully seed unwarranted scientific doubt in the hearts and minds of the American public.

The book describes how these Cold War veterans still see themselves as defenders of the modern Western social order, dependent upon capitalism, industrialization and fossil fuels. They feel that acknowledging the reality of climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels would threaten the modern industrial capitalist system that ultimately prevailed out of the Cold War. As the centralized “red threat” of communism faded away in the early 1990s, the science of climate change was just beginning to emerge. Some of these Cold War veterans and other conservative leaders refocused their attention on the burgeoning “green threat” of environmentalism.

“Merchants of Doubt” outlines the complex network of actors involved in this “denial machine.” With capacity-building and implementation from international fossil fuel corporations, conservative think tanks and front groups; and communication and information-sharing outlets in the blogosphere, public relations firms, and conservative private media outlets employing “expert” contrarian scientists and economists, the machine is able to convince politicians and the public that global climate governance is not necessary and is detrimental to society.

Oreskes and Conway draw the reader in with an intriguing plot reminiscent of Hollywood conspiracy flicks, yet thorough research leads readers on an insightful journey through a much more frightening story rooted in reality.

About Tim Maher