Colleague Susan Schneegans, editor of the UNESCO A World of Science and the Science Report series has pointed me to a new book: In the context of the US ‘Civil War’ between science and dogma (as Shawn Otto puts it in his book — see posting) the authors raise the question whether science with its hidden agendas was actually just ‘politics by other means’: Merchants of Doubt. It should of course be asked as well whether the perspective of the book itself is catering to the same agendas.
Focusing on the case of the USA, the authors, historians of science, show how scientists with a hidden political agenda organized successive disinformation campaigns in the public media over the past half-century to cloud the issues and sap public support for government regulation of the tobacco industry, DDT, acid rain and, most recently climate change. In most cases, the same scientists and conservative think tanks were involved, often financed by the companies that stood the most to lose from government regulation. This issue has particular relevance today in light of the campaign by climate change sceptics to oblige the media to be “impartial” in their coverage of climate change.
Oreskes and Conway argue that climate sceptics consider science ‘as politics by other means’. They argue that these lobbyists feel threatened by environmental science because it has pinpointed the negative impact of the free market system (acid rain, DDT etc) on the environment and human health and thus the need for government regulation. To pressure the media to introduce ‘balance’ in their reporting, they insist on equal time for opposing views via their Fairness Doctrine developed at the time of the tobacco issue. Oreskes and Conway write:
While the idea of equal time for opposing opinions makes sense in a two-party 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 … that is 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 do not deserve equal time in a scientific debate.