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The Merchantess of Doubt

My summer reading includes a number of easy-read popular science volumes, including a thoughful, factful and scholarly work called “Merchants of Doubt” co-written by Naomi Oreskes, famous for her study of the contrast between Climate Change Science and the Media representation of it, startling figures that appear in Al Gore’s film “An Inconvenient Truth” :-

One passage, early in the book, has highlighted for me that the mainstream Media have completely forgotten the lessons of yesteryear.

Although it has taken decades for change, these days, it would be a matter for civil outrage if nightly television news were to carry the views of tobacco-industry affiliated commentators as if they had equal weight with doctors and research scientists who have studied the oncology and disease-enhancing damages of cigarette smoking.

However, the newspapers, television and radio still persist in giving costly air time to Climate Change denier-delayer-sceptics, even presenting their failed challenges directly alongside the real and genuine science.

Here’s what Naomi has to say :-

“Merchants of Doubt”
by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway
Chapter 1 “Doubt Is Our Product” page 31

“The [tobacco] industry was finally found guilty under the RICO Act (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations). In 2006, U.S. district judge Gladys Kessler found that the tobacco industry had “devised and executed a scheme to defraud consumers and potential consumers” about the hazards of cigarettes, hazards that their own internal company documents proved they had known about since the 1950s.”

“But it took a long time – just about half a century – to get to that point. Along the way the tobacco industry won many of the suits that were brought against it. Juries, of course, were much more likely to believe scientific experts than industry executives – especially scientists who appeared to be independent – and neither [Martin J.] Cline nor [Stanley] Prusiner ever worked “directly” for the tobacco industry; many of the funds were channelled through law firms.”

“External research could also help bolster the industry’s position that the public could decide for themselves. “We believe any proof developed should be presented fully and objectively to the public and that the public should then be allowed to make its own decisions based on the evidence,” they had argued, seemingly reasonably. The problem was that public had no way to know that this “evidence” was part of an industry campaign designed to confuse. It was, in fact, part of a criminal conspiracy to commit fraud.”

“Cline and Prusiner were reputable scientists, so one might ask, Didn’t they have a right to be heard ? In later years [Frederick] Seitz and his colleagues would often make this claim, insisting that they deserved equal time, and their ability to invoke the Fairness Doctrine to obtain time and space for their views in the mainstream media was crucial to the impact of their efforts.”

“Did they deserve equal time ? The simple answer is no. 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. It is about claims that can be, and have been, tested through scientific research – experiments, experience, and observation – research that is then subject to critical review by a jury of scientific peers. Claims that have not gone through that process – or have gone through it and failed – are not scientific, and not deserve equal time in a scientific debate.”

There is no fairness or balance in BBC Radio 2 giving Nigel Lawson a platform alongside Professor Kevin Anderson :-
(Sorry. I think the radiocast may only be available in the United Kindom.)

Neither is there any fairness or balance in the BBC Panorama team giving John Christy and Bjorn Lomborg equal time to Robert Watson and Bob Ward :-
(Sorry. The film is only available in the United Kingdom.)

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