Saturday, March 31, 2012

Science under fire from 'merchants of doubt': US historian

Jerome Cartillier in Yahoo News via AFP: Scientists are facing an uphill battle to warn the public about pressing issues due to dissenters in their ranks who intentionally sow uncertainty, says a US historian.

These naysayers -- some of whom are paid by interest groups -- have helped undermine action on vital problems despite evidence of the need to respond, said Naomi Oreskes, a professor of history and science studies at the University of California at San Diego.

They sap convictions by endlessly questioning data, dismissing experimental innovation, stressing uncertainties and clamouring for more research, she said. Over the last half-century, they have helped weaken legislative action or brake political momentum on tobacco, acid rain, protection of the ozone layer and climate change.

"This strategy is so clever and effective," Oreskes said in an interview this week in Paris to promote a French translation of "Merchants of Doubt," a book she co-authored with California Institute of Technology historian Erik Conway.

"It takes something which is an essential part of science -- healthy skepticism, curiosity -- and turns it against itself and makes it corrosive." Oreskes's book traces the starting point of professional science skeptics to when big tobacco companies were facing the first clear evidence that smoking caused cancer....

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