October 9, 2012

Merchants of Doubt

Naomi Oreskes

Brown and Williamson Tobacco:
Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the "body of fact" that exists in the mind of the general public.
(Memo to R A Pittman, 21 August 1969)

Frank Luntz (1962):
[A] compelling story, even if factually inaccurate, can be more emotionally compelling than a dry recitation of the truth. …
Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly.
Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.
(Republican Candidate Briefing, 2002)

Charles Krauthammer (1950):
With socialism dead, the gigantic heist is now proposed as a sacred service of the newest religion: environmentalism …
[The] Left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green.
Since we operate an overwhelmingly carbon-based economy, the EPA will [soon] be regulating practically everything …
Not since the creation of the Internal Revenue Service has a federal agency been given more intrusive power over every aspect of economic life …
(Washington Post)

Thomas Sowell (1930) [Hoover Institution]:
[There] has not been a mass murderer executed in the past half-century who has been responsible for as many deaths … as the sainted Rachel Carson. …
(Jewish World Review, 7 June 2001)

Tina Rosenberg (1960):
Silent Spring is now killing African children because of its persistence in the public mind. …
(New York Times Magazine, 11 April 2004)

Pete Du Pont (1935):
[Environmental] controls were [considered] more important than the lives of human beings. …
(Wall Street Journal Online, 21 February 2007)

John Tierney (1953) [Science Columnist]:
[Silent Spring was a] hodgepodge of science and junk science. …
(New York Times, 2007)

Angela Logomasini:
Carson was wrong, and millions of people continue to pay the price. …
(San Francisco Examiner, 28 May 2007)

Millions of people around the world suffer the painful and often deadly effects of malaria because one person sounded a false alarm …
That person is Rachel Carson.
(Dangerous Legacy, Competitive Enterprise Institute, 21 April 2009)

Linda Lear:
It is one of the great paradoxes of the human condition that, while we are almost paranoid in our vigilance in regard to taking toxins into our bodies, we are all but oblivious to the possibility of poisoning our planet.
(Introduction to Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, 1962)

Rachel Carson Was Right

[Rachel Carson (1907–1964) is an American hero …
[A] courageous woman who … called our attention to the harms of indiscriminate pesticide use …
(p 216)

DDT does
  • cause cancer …
  • affect human health, and …
  • cost human lives. …
There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that millions of lives have been needlessly lost [due to the withdrawal of DDT.]
[In fact,] there is substantial scientific evidence that a good deal of harm — both to humans and the other species [—] has been avoided. …
(p 229, emphasis added)

An Orwellian Problem

The network of right-wing foundations, the corporations that fund them, and the journalists who echo their claims have created a tremendous problem for American science.
[Of] the fifty six "environmentally skeptical" books published in the 1990s, 92 percent were linked to these right-wing foundations (only thirteen were published in the 1980s, and 100 percent were linked to the foundations).
Scientists have faced an ongoing misrepresentation of scientific evidence and historical facts that brands them as public enemies — even mass murderers — on the basis of phony facts. …

[The] Soviet Union routinely engaged in historical cleansing, erasing real events and real people from their official histories and even official photographs. …
The right-wing defenders of American liberty have now done the same.
(p 236)

[Pollution is a "negative externality", which imposes costs] on people who [do] not benefit from the economic activity that produced them.
DDT imposed enormous external costs through the destruction of ecosystems; acid rain, secondhand smoke, the ozone hole, and global warming did the same.
[These are] all market failures [requiring government] intervention [to address them.]
This is why free market ideologues and old Cold Warriors joined together to fight them.
(p 237)

[Cold Warriors like] Fred Seitz and Fred Singer, Robert Jastrow and Bill Nierenberg, and later Dixy Lee Ray … joined forces with the [worshippers] of the free market:
  • to blame the messenger,
  • to undermine science,
  • to deny the truth, and
  • to market doubt.
[They] embraced … the very things they had hated Soviet Communism for:
  • its lies,
  • its deceit,
  • its denial of the very realities it had created. …
If science … challenged the freedom of free enterprise … then they would fight it as they would fight any enemy.
(p 238)

[Science is showing] that certain kinds of [freedom] are not sustainable — [such as] the liberty to pollute.
[It is] showing that Isaiah Berlin was right: liberty for wolves does indeed mean death to lambs.
(p 239)

Science and Democracy

[On the issue of persistent pesticides,] science and democracy worked as they were supposed to.
Independent scientific experts summarized the evidence.
Polls showed that the public supported strong legislation to protect the environment.
… Nixon supported the creation of the EPA not because he was a visionary environmentalist, but because he knew that the environment would be an important issue in the 1972 presidential election.
Our leaders acted in concert with both science and the will of the people.
(p 222)



Star Wars

Acid Rain


Climate 1

Climate 2




Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University.

  • Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, Bloomsbury, New York, 2010.
    Naomi Oreskes & Erik Conway.

    Denial Rides Again: The Revisionist Attack On Rachel Carson

    [Ten years after Silent Spring (1962) was published and following more than three national-level science assessments,] the EPA concluded that the scientific evidence was sufficient to warrant the banning of the pesticide DDT in America. …
    [The ban] took place under a Republican administration [with] widespread public, and bipartisan political, support.
    [It] allowed for exceptions, including the sale of DDT to the World Health Organization for use in countries with endemic malaria …
    It was sensible policy, based on solid science.
    [In 1980 Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.]

    [35 years later …]
    The Internet is flooded with the [allegations that] Carson killed more people than the Nazis. …
    (p 216)
    Roger Bate {American Enterprise Institute]:
    [DDT is] probably the single most valuable chemical ever synthesized to prevent disease, but was unnecessarily banned because of hysteria generated by Carson's influence. …
    (Health Policy Outlook, 14 November 2007)
    [The Cato and Heartland Institutes likewise celebrated anew the benefits of DDT.]

    [So why resurrect] a thirty-year-old debate? …
    [The] free marketeers realized that if [by rewriting history] you could convince people that an example of successful government regulation [had actually been] a mistake — you could [advance] the argument against regulation in general.
    (p 217)

    Silent Spring and the President's Science Advisory Committee

    [In Silent Spring] Carson documented … both the anecdotal and systematic scientific evidence that DDT [was causing the death of …]
    • fish in regions that had been sprayed for pest control,
    • [birds] on college campuses and in suburban neighbor hoods, and
    • [the destruction of] squirrel populations and the pets of people unfortunate enough to have been outside during … spraying campaigns in Michigan and Illinois …
    Spraying DDT in New Brunswick to save evergreens from a budworm infestation destroyed the bugs upon which local salmon relied, and the fish starved.
    [It] also killed useful insects, vital to pollinating flowers and food crops.

    Silent Spring wasn't just about DDT — it was about the indiscriminate use of pesticides in general — but DDT was a particular focus … because of the evidence [that it accumulated] up the food chain.
    Because it was so long lasting, it continued to be concentrated in the tissues of the animals and insects that it didn't kill …
    [This was interfering with] the reproductive systems of eagles and falcons [who preying upon] small rodents [contaminated with DDT. …]

    During spraying to prevent the spread of Dutch elm disease by beetles, DDT accelerated the beetles' spread by destroying the natural predators that previously helped to keep those beetles in check.
    Spraying in the Helena National Forest to protect trees from budworms caused an outbreak of the spider mite, which further damaged the trees.
    (It also hurt birds that depended on the forest's insect population. …)

    The two other most commonly sprayed insecticides, aldrin and dieldrin, were already known to be toxic to humans … so it was reasonable to suppose that DDT might show similar effects.
    (p 219)

    Laboratory rats fed DDT had smaller litters and higher infant mortality than control subjects. …
    [And, even] if DDT [was] safe to people in the short run, it might not be in the long run. …

    [The] pesticide industry went on the attack.
    • They called Carson hysterical and emotional.
    • They claimed that the science behind her work was anecdotal, unproven, in adequate, and wrong.
    • They threatened [her] publisher with lawsuits. …
    [The] personal attacks on Carson backfired.
    [Sales] of Silent Spring [skyrocketed, and] the obvious sexism of calling a highly trained biologist and world-class writer "hysterical' … led many to rally to her defense. …

    [But was Carson right about the science?]
    (p 220)
    Precisely because pesticide chemicals are designed to kill or metabolically upset some living target organism, they are potentially dangerous to other living organisms …
    The hazards resulting from their use dictate rapid strengthening of interim measures until such time as we have realized a comprehensive program for controlling environmental pollution.
    (Use of Pesticides, A Report of the President's Science Advisory Committee, PSAC, May 15 1963)
    In the years [that followed,] the US government [went on to develop] just such a program …
    [Bipartisan] majorities in Congress passed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and established a number of agencies, such as the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences [and, in 1970, the] Environmental Protection Agency.
    There was no rush to judgment against DDT: it took three presidencies to enact the ban.
    (p 221)

    The scientists [on the President's Science Advisory Committee] did not claim that the hazards of persistent pesticides [had been established beyond reasonable doubt.]
    [Only] that the weight of evidence was sufficient to warrant policy action to control DDT.
    Environmental concerns other than pesticides might be more serious … but that was no reason to deflect or distract attention from the issue with which they were charged.
    They did not dismiss alternatives to pesticide use, such as biological pest control, and they did not accuse Carson of harboring a hidden agenda.
    Nor did they let a lack of scientific understanding of the mechanisms of pesticide damage stop them from accepting the empirical evidence [that it was, in fact, occurring.]
    Most important, while calling for more study, they didn't stall or hedge; they called for action.
    [Finally, the burden of proof was placed substantially] on those who argued that persistent pesticides were safe [—] and explicitly invoked the standard of reasonable doubt. …

    [so, what of the claims that malaria would have been eradicated] had the United States not succumbed to environmental hysteria? …

    Bjorn Lomborg [has] echoed the accusation that Carson's argument was more emotional than rational, insisting that more lives were saved by disease control and improved food supply than were ever lost to DDT.
    (p 222, emphasis added)

    After DDT's demonstrated successes in World War II, the United States and the World Health Assembly launched [the] Global Malaria Eradication Campaign [in 1955.]
    It was not based on large outdoor spraying campaigns — the principal target of Carson's indictment — but primarily on indoor spraying of household walls and surfaces with DDT (and dieldrin). …
    Endemic malaria was eliminated in developed nations … but the campaign failed in many less developed areas, especially sub-Saharan Africa.
    (p 223)

    [The campaign] was halted in 1969 — four years before the US [banned DDT.]
    [So if the US DDT ban wasn't the reason it ended, what was?]

    Indoor Residual Spraying [works] by leaving insecticide on the walls and ceilings of dwellings.
    This meant that people [could] not to wash, paint, or replaster their walls …
    [Many] didn't understand this, as it contradicted most other public health directives.
    Others just didn't like the idea [of having] dirty homes.
    But the most important reason that eradication was only partially successful was that mosquitoes were developing resistance.

    In the United States, DDT use peaked in 1959 — thirteen years before the ban [—] because it was already starting to fail. …
    Resistance [had] increased rapidly during the 1950s [mainly due to] agricultural use …
    (p 224)

    [It was] the attempt to grow food cheaply [that was] largely responsible for the development of insect resistance. …
    [Agricultural] spraying produced insect immunity [over] seven to ten years.
    Rachel Carson discussed insect resistance in Silent Spring.
    [In] countries where [DDT was … widely used for agriculture as well as] disease control [—] it became ineffective for disease control much sooner than it might otherwise have. …

    [In fact, by the 1930s mosquito control districts throughout the [US] had largely brought malaria under control by
    • drainage,
    • removal of breeding sites, and
    • pesticides other than DDT.
    Malaria infection in Florida … declined every year after 1935 [—] even though DDT was yet to be introduced.
    (p 225)

    Yellow fever was completely eradicated — thirty one years before [the] discovery of DDT's insecticidal properties.
    DDT alone did not eradicate insect-borne diseases, and those diseases have been controlled in places with little or no use of DDT.
    (p 226)

    [But what of Bjorn Lomborg's argument] that DDT saved more lives than it cost?
    [It's] a red herring.
    DDT was not banned on the basis of harm to humans …
    [It] was banned on the basis of harms to the environment. …
    DDT kills birds, fish, and beneficial insects, and continues to do so long after spraying has stopped.
    Even today, birds in the Catalina Islands show signs of DDT poisoning, probably from eating fish that have ingested materials from the sea floor laced with residual DDT, left over from its manufacture in California decades ago. …

    [Tierney argued] that when DDT was banned
    [There] wasn't evidence that it was carcinogenic.
    {Carson acknowledged this.
    [And while] she suggested that DDT was likely to cause cancer, she never claimed that large numbers of people had been killed by it. …}

    [However, since] 1971, the cancer-causing properties of diverse pesticides have been demonstrated by numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies, both in animal models and exposed humans.
    [In 2005, the Lancet] concluded that [—] when used at levels required for mosquito control [—] DDT causes significant human impacts, particularly on reproductive health. …
    Abundant scientific evidence reveals DDT's impact on child development, including
    • [prematurity],
    • low birth weight, and
    • possible birth defects.
    High concentrations of DDT in breast milk are correlated with shortened duration of lactation and early weaning — itself highly correlated with infant and childhood mortality. …
    (p 228)

    [A] fivefold increase in breast cancer risk [has been demonstrated] among women with high levels of serum DDT or its metabolites. …
    {[So while, some] lives might have been saved by continued use of DDT [—] others would have been lost.}

    We've seen how some people have fought the facts about the hazards of tobacco, acid rain, ozone depletion, secondhand smoke, and global warming.
    Their denials seemed plausible, at least to some, because they involved matters that were still under scientific investigation …
    But the construction of a revisionist history of DDT gives the game away, because it came so long after the science was settled …
    [That game was, and is,] to defend an extreme free market ideology.
    (p 229)

    [And] in this case, they didn't just deny the facts of science.
    They denied the facts of history.
    (p 230)

    Junkscience.com was originally established in a partnership with the Cato Institute, which, after [Steve] Milloy's continued tobacco funding came to light, severed its ties. …

    After Rush Limbaugh parroted the "Rachel was wrong" attack, the Competitive Enterprise Institute promoted him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
    [The American Enterprise Institute] promoted the work of the late fiction writer Michael Crichton.

    (p 232)

    His 2004 novel, State of Fear, portrayed global warming as a liberal hoax meant to bring down Western capitalism.
    [Furthermore,] as one character in the novel [insisted:]
    Banning DDT killed more people than Hitler …
    It was so safe you could eat it. …
    The Heartland Institute [sponsored] a conference in New York City in 2008 alleging that the scientific community's work on global warming is a fake.
    [Back in the 1990s] they, too, were working with Philip Morris.
    (p 233)

    In 1997, Philip Morris paid $50,000 to the Heartland Institute to support its activities …
    Besides [this,] there was $200,000 for TASSC, $125,000 for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, $100,000 for the American Enterprise Institute …
    Payments were for as little as $1,000 or as much as $300,000, and many went to groups with no evident interest in the tobacco issue, such as the Ludwig von Mises Institute or Americans for Affordable Electricity.
    Numerous other documents attest to activities designed to undermine the Clinton health care reform plan.
    Often financial contributions were referred to in company documents as "philanthropy," and because these organizations were all nonprofit and nonpartisan, the donations were all tax deductible.

    [Other] "policy" organizations to which the Philip Morris Corporation [has contributed include:]
    • [the Cato Institute,]
    • the Frontiers of Freedom Institute,
    • the Acton Institute,
    • the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute, and
    • the Independent Institute …
    [Seemingly] grass-roots organizations [like:]
    • the Citizens Against Government Waste,
    • the Independent Women's Forum, and
    • the Institute for Youth Development …
    [And] to university groups such as
    • the George Mason Law and Economics Center and
    • the University of Kansas Law and Organizational Economics Center.
    (p 234)

    Of Free Speech And Free Markets

    "Balance" had become a form of bias, whereby the media coverage was biased in favor of minority — in some cases extreme minority — views.

    In principle, the media could act as gatekeepers, ignoring the charlatans and snake oil salesmen, but if they have tried, our story shows that at least where it comes to science they have failed.
    (p 243)

    A Scientific Potemkin Village

    A key strategy in the campaigns to market doubt was to create the appearance that the claims being promoted were scientific.
    (p 244)

    [The] Journal of Physicians and Surgeons [previously known as the Medical Sentinel], which is associated with the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, who sponsored the anti-global warming petition … published articles questioning the link between HIV and AIDS, including
    • a commentary by Michael Fumento … who was defending pesticides while accepting money from the Monsanto chemical corporation [and]
    • the work of J Gordon Edwards [who] spread the erroneous claim that banning DDT cost millions of lives.
    (Neither the Web of Science nor MEDLINE/PubMed lists the journal among its peer-reviewed scientific sources.)
    (p 245)

    Free Speech and Free Markets

    [In 1973] Richard Nixon dissolved the President's Science Advisory Committee. …

    In 2005 … Chris Mooney documented how in just a few years Exxon Mobil had channeled more than $8 million to forty different organizations that challenged the scientific evidence of global warming. …
    quasi-journalistic outlets like TechCentralStation.com (a website providing 'news , analysis, research, and commentary' that received $95,000 from ExxonMobil in 2003), a FoxNews.com columnist, and even religious and civil rights groups.
    Mooney also noted how former ExxonMobil chairman and CEO Lee Raymond served as vice-chairman of the board of trustees for the American Enterprise Institute, which received $960,000 in funding from ExxonMobil, and how in 2002, ExxonMobil explicitly earmarked $60,000 for "legal activities" by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
    (p 246)

    [When] scientists released the comprehensive Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, which concluded that the Arctic was warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world — much as the Jason scientists predicted it would back in 1979 [— it] was blasted in a column by Steve Milloy, now working as a columnist for FoxNews.com and serving as an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, which received $75,000 from ExxonMobil.
    The Washington Times reprinted Milloy's column, and neither Fox News nor the Washington Times disclosed that Milloy had received money from ExxonMobil:
    • $40,000 to The Advancement of Sound Science Center and
    • $50,000 to the Free Enterprise Action Institute
    — both of which are registered to Milloy's home address.

    [Since the 1990's] the Heartland Institute distributed reports, sent faxes, and met with members of Congress on behalf of Philip Morris.
    Heartland also sponsored the National Journalism Center,
    developed to train budding journalists in free market political and economic principles.
    (p 247)

    Market Fundamentalism and the Cold War Legacy

    Fred Singer … when he denied the reality of the ozone hole, [suggested] that people involved in the issue
    probably [have] hidden agendas of their own — not just to 'save the environment' but to change our economic system …
    Some of these 'coercive utopians' are socialists, some are technology — hating Luddites; most have a great desire to regulate — on as large a scale as possible.
    [And,] in his defense of secondhand smoke:
    If we do not carefully delineate the government's role in regulating [danger] there is essentially no limit to how much government can ultimately control our lives.
    Today tobacco, tomorrow the Bill of Rights.
    Milton Friedman said much the same in Capitalism and Freedom: that economic freedom is as important as civic freedom …
    [Therefore,] one must defend free markets with the same vigor and vigilance as free speech, free religion, and free assembly.
    George Soros:
    The doctrine of laissez-faire capitalism holds that the common good is best served by the uninhibited pursuit of self-interest
    Like its bete noire, Marxism, laissez-faire economics claimed to be scientific, based upon immutable laws of nature, and also like Marxism, it has not stood the test of experience.
    If it were a scientific theory, it would have long ago been rejected.
    Free-market fundamentalism is an article of faith.

    The basic tenet of laissez-faire, that
    free and competitive markets bring supply and demand into equilibrium and thereby ensure the best allocation of resources,
    is an axiom that turns out not to be true.
    Prices can be displaced from their "equilibrium ideal" for long periods of time, as any American impacted by the ongoing housing market collapse can attest.

    Even Milton Friedman [and Friedrich Hayek] acknowledged that there may be external costs that markets fail to account for — and pollution [being] the clearest example.

    Moreover, the idea that free markets produce optimum allocation of resources depends on participants having perfect information.
    But one of several ironies of our story is that our protagonists did everything in their power to ensure that the American people did not have good (much less perfect) information on crucial issues.

    Free market fundamentalists can perhaps hold to their views because often they have very little direct experience in commerce or industry.
    The men in our story all made their careers in programs and institutions that were either directly created by the federal government or largely funded by it.
    (p 249)

    When Dixy Lee Ray addressed the Progress Foundation Economic Conference in 1992 [she declared that] Sustainability was replacing [Progress] as the leitmotif of the century, and this was a problem because liberty depended on progress.
    Without economic progress there would be no economic growth, and without growth, governments would be forced to control resources.
    And to control resources, governments would have to control people. …

    [She] concluded … that the agenda of the Earth Summit was … to
    bring about a change in the present system of independent nations [a] World Government with central planning by the United Nations.
    Fear of environmental crises, whether such crises are real or contrived, is expected to lead to total compliance. …
    Fred Singer similarly argued in the Wall Street Journal that the Earth Summit would
    shackle the planet.
    (p 252)

    With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cold Warriors looked for another great threat.
    They found it in environmentalism …
    (p 252)

    Can't Technology Save Us?

    Back in the 1980s, the Reagan administration made clear to the National Academy of Sciences their view that
    technology will ultimately be the answer to the problems of providing energy and protecting the environment.
    (p 255)

    The belief that technology can solve society's problems is central to the school of thought known as Cornucopianism, promoted by the economist Julian Simon. …
    In his 1984 book, The Resourceful Earth … Simon insisted that … the future world would be
    less crowded … less polluted, more economically stable, and less vulnerable to resource-supply disruption
    (p 256)

    In his 1995 follow-up, State of Humanity … the outlook for the future was
    even more happy than before
    (p 257)


    Cornucopians hold to a blind faith in technology that isn't borne out by the historical evidence.
    We call it "technofideism." …
    Milton Friedman:
    [The] great advances of civilization, in industry or agriculture, have never come from centralized government.
    (Capitalism and Freedom)
    To historians of technology, this would be laughable had it not been written (five years after Sputnik) by one of the most influential economists of the second half of the twentieth century.
    The most important technology of the industrial age was the ability to produce parts that were perfectly identical and interchangeable. …
    It was the US Army's Ordnance Department that developed this ability to have machines make parts for other machines, spending nearly fifty years on this effort — an inconceivable period of research for a private corporation in the nineteenth century.
    Army Ordnance wanted guns that could be repaired easily on or near a battlefield by switching out the parts.
    Once the basic technology to do this — machine tools, as we know them today — was invented, it spread rapidly through the American economy. …
    Centralized government, in the form of the US Army, was the inventor of the modern machine age. …

    … ARPANET — was developed as a complex collaboration of universities, government agencies, and industry, funded largely by the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency.
    (p 261)

    It was expanded and developed into the Internet by the government support provided by the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991, promoted by then-senator Al Gore. …

    Transistors were explicitly promoted by the US government when they realized that Minutemen missiles needed onboard rather than remote controls …
    Electricity was extended beyond the major cities by a federal loan-guarantee program during the Great Depression.
    The US interstate highway system … nuclear power …
    The relationship between technology, innovation, and economic and political systems is varied and complex [and] cannot [simply] be reduced to … the virtues of a free market.

    Because … scientific investigation seem to suggest that government [needed to] intervene in the marketplace if pollution and public health were to be effectively addressed, the … enemies of government regulation of the marketplace became the enemies of science.
    (p 262)

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