Thanks to #readinghour increasing my reading pace, I recently finished reading Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. I really enjoyed it and think it’s a very important book, including for those of us who are ecologists who also think about the factors that influence public views on science. The book demonstrates that the campaigns to deny the harms (and, in some cases, even the existence) of acid rain, the ozone hole, cigarette smoking, DDT, and climate change all used the same tactics – saying that the issue wasn’t totally settled, there was still work to do, that taking action would be premature, etc. That would be interesting on its own, but the really striking part is that, in addition to these campaigns using the same doubt-mongering strategies, it was often the exact same scientists making those claims. The book also has a good overview of how modern science works, which, in my opinion, would make it a really interesting book to use in an undergraduate course. This would obviously work well in a course related to climate change or environmental science, but it also would work in courses focused on information literacy or on biodiversity and conservation.
This won’t be a complete review, but there are a few points I thought worth blogging about, including:
- the ends justify the means?
- the dark flip side of “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world”
- an all purpose expert is an oxymoron
- harping on a subject until your opponents give up in exhaustion
- science communication & intimidation