Tobacco Info

From Tobacco Info No. 9 - April 2012
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Tobacco control and environmental advocates share the same skeptics

Merchants of Doubt reveals two American physicists planting pseudo-science

By Mel Lefebvre

The tobacco control community might be interested in celebrating Earth Day on April 22 in support of a common challenge both causes have at their root: professional skeptics who spread doubt, calling significant findings “junk science” to discredit scientific results that are inconvenient to business goals.
Naomi Oreskes, a scientific historian, outlines this common struggle in her book, Merchants of Doubt. “For half a century, the tobacco industry ... and those skeptical of acid rain, the ozone hole, and global warming strove to ‘maintain the controversy’ and ‘keep the debate alive’ by fostering claims that were contrary to the mainstream of scientific evidence and expert judgment.”

Organizations like the Heartland Institute, the TASSC (The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition – founded by Philip Morris), and phony grassroots organizations reveal the willingness of professional skeptics to endanger public health and the environment to reach their financial goals.

Oreskes names retired U.S. physicists Frederick Seitz and Fred Singer as responsible for the spread of doubt from tobacco control to today’s climate change controversy. Both physicists led campaigns that effectively spread uncertainty, undermining the curiosity-based, answer-seeking  mechanisms of science in order to create doubt in the collective consciousness.

As Oreskes says: “We assume (opposing viewpoints) have validity ... but often, one side is represented by a single ‘expert’ ... When it came to global warming, we saw how the views of Seitz (and Singer) ... were juxtaposed against the collective wisdom of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an organization that encompasses the views and work of thousands of climate scientists around the globe ... Consider for a moment the case against tobacco. There too scientists were nearly unanimous in their conclusion, based on research, that tobacco use had serious health consequences. Meanwhile, the tobacco industry tried to play the role of defense attorney, offering up denials and dodges and pseudo-scientific studies denying a link between smoking and lung cancer.”

Oreskes’ book is an important body of information that meticulously examines the case against Big Tobacco’s big thinkers, shining a light on the systematic creation of doubt that undermines human health and the environment for the sake of big business.

The tobacco control community already has a unified voice against the individuals and businesses that oppose them, which is an excellent reflection of Earth Day’s “Mobilize the Earth” theme, which seeks to unite voices and mobilize global movements.