Merchants of Doubt Book Summary - Merchants of Doubt Book explained in key points
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Merchants of Doubt summary

Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway

How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues From Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

3.8 (296 ratings)
18 mins

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Merchants of Doubt exposes how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming, deceiving the public.

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    Merchants of Doubt
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    The tobacco industry intentionally misinformed the public about the dangers of smoking.

    Nowadays, even a kid could tell you that smoking kills. But this now well-known fact was not such common knowledge in the second half of the twentieth century. It’s shocking now, but plenty of people had no idea about smoking’s adverse health effects. But did the tobacco industry itself know about its product’s dirty secret?

    Absolutely.

    In fact, they knew that smoking was harmful as early as the 1950s, when the tobacco industry first came under scrutiny regarding the harmful effects of cigarettes. Realizing that they had to take action, in 1953, the four biggest tobacco companies in the United States – American Tobacco, Benson and Hedges, Philip Morris and US Tobacco – joined forces in defense of their industry.

    Their strategy?

    To hire a PR firm, Hill and Knowlton, to save tobacco’s deteriorating image. This same decision would later be used as evidence in court to prove that the tobacco industry was well aware of its product’s harmful effects, and had thus knowingly misled their customers.

    The strategy itself was simple: simply cast doubt upon the idea that smoking was bad for your health. So, as more research indicating tobacco’s harmful effects began to emerge in the 1960s and ‘70s, the tobacco companies opted for the only strategy at their disposal: challenging scientifically proven facts by propagating doubt about their validity.

    For instance, in 1979, the tobacco industry began a program that funded top universities like Harvard. They committed $45 million over six years for one purpose: to prove that smoking was not connected to health problems.

    But they didn’t just fund universities; they also hired a respected scientist by the name of Frederick Seitz, who distributed the money himself and gave the tobacco industry’s credibility an added boost.

    They even summoned scientists to testify in court that there was no connection between smoking tobacco and poor health. However, the industry could only suppress the truth for so long, and eventually people wisened up.

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    What is Merchants of Doubt about?

    Merchants of Doubt (2011) examines some of the world’s major scientific debates on topics including the environment, smoking and nuclear weapons. These blinks will explain how a handful of extremely vocal scientists have heavily misrepresented these issues through the mainstream media, often with the goal of aiding corporate and industry interests.

    Merchants of Doubt Review

    Merchants of Doubt (2010) by Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway is a thought-provoking book that uncovers the tactics used by certain scientists to sow doubt about critical issues like climate change. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • Well-researched and comprehensive, it meticulously exposes the network of scientists who have undermined public understanding of scientific consensus on important matters.
    • The authors skillfully connect the dots between different cases, highlighting the consistent pattern of doubt-mongering and its effects on policy-making and public discourse.
    • Juxtaposing science, politics, and history, this book presents a gripping narrative that sheds light on the complex dynamics that shape public opinion and decision-making processes.

    Best quote from Merchants of Doubt

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

    —Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway
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    Who should read Merchants of Doubt?

    • Anyone interested in politics, the media and public opinion
    • Journalists, activists and anyone with a social conscience

    About the Author

    Naomi Oreskes teaches at Harvard University where she specializes in the history of science. She has previously spent 15 years as a professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego, and is also respected authority on geophysics and global warming.

    Erik M. Conway is a historian and author, and currently works at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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    Merchants of Doubt FAQs 

    What is the main message of Merchants of Doubt?

    Merchants of Doubt exposes the tactics of industries that sow doubt about science for their own gain.

    How long does it take to read Merchants of Doubt?

    The reading time for Merchants of Doubt varies, but the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Merchants of Doubt a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Merchants of Doubt is a thought-provoking and revealing book that offers valuable insights into the manipulation of science.

    Who is the author of Merchants of Doubt?

    Merchants of Doubt is written by Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway.

    What to read after Merchants of Doubt?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Merchants of Doubt, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
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    • Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss and Tahl Raz