I AM OUT OF SCHOOL, WHY DO I NEED TO LEARN MORE ABOUT SCIENCE?

Science is not a class you endure in high school.  Science is not a degree you earn in college.  You may have passed your science class and possibly earned a degree in a specific area of science.  It is entirely possible that you have done one or both of those things.  It is also entirely possible that you have never really realized the importance of the scientific process in your life and the lives of those who share your world.

Your life has been impacted by science in ways you probably never even consider.  In our lifetime the average life expectancy has increased by 20 years.  If you get to enjoy those 20 extra years, you can thank those who have dedicated their lives to the fields of medical and nutritional research.  Advances in these fields have made it possible to live healthier, longer lives.  For the most part, these advances didn’t happen by accident.

I don’t get sick often.  I haven’t had the flu in at least five years.  I have no idea why other than the possible explanation that I am lucky, (or there some truth to the notion that there are even some things the flu can’t stand).  However, this year I decided to take a little more control over my health and I broke down and got a flu shot.  I didn’t get the flu this year either.  Is it because of the flu shot?  I have no idea.  However, I do know that my system was prepared ahead of time in case I got exposed to that nasty flu that was going around.

Did getting vaccinated for this years’ four most common strains of influenza virus guarantee that I wouldn’t get the flu?  Absolutely not!  However, it meant that the chances of getting the flu were significantly decreased.  I will take those odds every day.  Thanks to the results of years of medical research, I can be prepared.

Are you a parent?  If you are you have been inundated with claims about ways to keep your child healthy.  Are all of these claims true?  Of course not!  How are you supposed to know what to believe?  Can you trust the science?  Can you trust the claims of others?  How do you separate legitimate truth from partial truth?   If you know how to think scientifically you can make legitimate decisions that can impact your life in positive ways.  You can also ignore scientific evidence and ruin your life and the life of others.

Do you smoke cigarettes?  If you do you have completely ignored the evidence that has been developed through the scientific process over the years stating that you are at least twenty times more likely to develop lung cancer than a non smoker.  Does that mean you are going to get lung cancer?  No, it only means that you have a far greater chance of getting lung cancer than someone who doesn’t make that decision.  Have you ever heard someone say,  “I know someone who has smoked for forty years and doesn’t have cancer.”  If you use that for an excuse what you are saying is that because one person dodged the cancer bullet, you are going to do the same.  Scientifically speaking, smoking is playing Russian roulette with your health.  You have that option.  Ignoring scientific evidence that has been produced by multiple researchers using multiple methods of studies with multiple lines of supporting evidence is not the brightest move one can make.  However, you are welcome to make the decision.

Here are some areas of scientific discovery that you may have made decisions about in your life:

  • Is the development of autism in children in any way related to vaccinations?
  • Do seatbelts save lives?  Do I make my kids wear them?
  • Do condoms stop the spread of disease?  Do they prevent pregnancy?
  • If my son plays football, is there a chance of serious head injury?
  • Is ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)(Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in any way related to the amount of hits to the head I may receive when playing football?
  • Do female soccer players experience more concussion injuries than males?  If so, why?
  • Is second-hand smoke dangerous?
  • Is obesity related to heart disease?
  • Is diet related to heart disease?
  • Is smoking related to heart disease?
  • What is the relationship between diet and diabetes?
  • Are claims by those selling products that “promote or support” any given system in your body legitimate?
  • Does Echinacea really limit the symptoms of a cold?
  • Is there really a significant portion of older men in our society suffering from “low-T?” (lower than normal testosterone levels)
  • Does estrogen therapy contribute to an increase in breast cancer?
  • What about x-rays?  Is my dentist or doctor contributing to an increased possibility of me getting cancer?
  • Do cell phones cause brain tumors?
  • Does green coffee bean extract really work as a means of losing weight?
  • Is green coffee bean extract safe to use?
  • Is using adderall to increase concentration dangerous?
  • Is exposure to asbestos safe?
  • Does exposure to high-tension electrical lines cause serious illness in children?
  • Does increased carbon in our atmosphere contribute to climate change?
  • Does increased carbon in our atmosphere contribute to an increase in the number and severity of killer storms?

I could fill three or four pages of questions like these.  Some of the questions may seem trivial to you.  However, every one of them can impact the lives of your parents, spouses, children and friends.  You can probably think of your own related questions if given 5 minutes to think about it.  As a matter of fact, you probably have a question in the back of your mind about a specific concern right now. (If you want you can send it to me.  I would love to provide some feedback and get a conversation started).

Here is my point.  Your life has been significantly impacted by the contributions of science.  Interestingly enough, you may have been impacted, but you may not have an understanding of even the most basic facts about what science really is, who does science, where is science being done, and who pays for it.  Here is a big one….how can I trust scientific claims?  You may not even believe that you should even know those things.

Let me ask you a question.  How do you determine what to believe and how to respond to any of the science-related issues you are bombarded with daily?  Do you automatically believe every claim you are presented with?  If you are curious, you can find answers that make sense.

Science is both a process and a body of knowledge.  It is also a way of thinking that will go a long way to improving your life.  After reading this, do you feel you need to know more?

If you want to learn to think analytically about the questions you have, class is in session.

CLIMATE CHANGE: WHY DO YOU BELIEVE WHAT YOU BELIEVE?

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As an individual with a science degree and 15 years experience teaching high school science it is very easy for me to understand why I am so strongly convinced in the legitimacy of climate change and its causes.  I am trained to think like a scientist.  If there is overwhelming scientific evidence that a certain phenomenon is occurring, I accept the evidence and the conclusions that are drawn from it. That does not mean, however, that I am not interested in questioning the evidence and the means used to obtain it.  The nature of the scientific process requires legitimate questioning.   My acceptance of the reality of the effects of human interference in our planets’ atmosphere has nothing to do with anything political or any particular world view.  My acceptance is based on trusting the process of science to reveal the causes and effects of climate change.

However, it does not escape me that there are literally hundreds of thousands of individuals who do not arrive at the same conclusion about climate change.  The scientist in me has been trying for years to figure out why, in the face of overwhelming evidence, there are those who refuse to accept the reality of climate change as I do.  I have decided to try and come up with a definitive list of why one may believe or not believe the overwhelming evidence.  In this first post, I will try and illustrate reasons why someone would accept that climate change is real and that it is caused by residues of human behavior.

Reasons Why We Might Accept The Conclusions of Climate Science

Reason One: You are scientifically literate and accept the evidence     This is the category that describes my rationale for my belief in the reality of climate change.  To a person like me, the amount of scientific evidence, and the changes that have occurred in our climate (not our weather) overwhelmingly confirm that the incredible amount of CO2 that has been dumped into our atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution is causing changes that were predicted decades ago by some of the worlds’ great scientific minds.  The effects of CO2 in our atmosphere were predicted long ago and there has been no evidence that the changes in our climate are in any way related to naturally occurring events such as an increase in energy from the sun, the effects of El Nino’s, La Nina’s and volcanic eruptions.

Reason Two: You are not scientifically literate but you accept that climate scientists know what they are talking about.                                If you do not consider yourself a trained scientist you belong to a very large group of individuals that inhabit the planet.  Science may not be your “thing”.   In fact, you don’t have time for it, and have no natural compulsion to investigate the realities of the evidence. There is nothing wrong with that.  However, you believe there are others who are literate, and you accept their work as legitimate.  After all, you are not trained to be a doctor, but when you go see one, you tend to accept what they tell you because they are trained at looking at the evidence and make educated conclusions that you accept.  Not many of us say “Sorry Doc, I don’t think my leg is broken.”

Reason Three: You belong to a political party whose members overwhelmingly accept the reality of climate change and so you naturally go along.                                                                                              There is no doubt that those who consider themselves politically independent or progressive have a very high percentage of individuals who believe in the reality of climate change.  If your world view centers on progressive or liberal ideas, you are definitely more likely to believe that scientific evidence of climate change is overwhelming.  Interestingly enough, those who fall into this group lean heavily towards protecting the environment from human caused destruction.  If you fall into this group, there is a good chance that you value the efforts of the scientific community much more strongly than those who believe differently than you.  Belonging to this group also tends to place you in a category of individuals who believe that governmental intrusion into the actions of corporations that pollute our environment is a very good thing.  You may also believe that there is not enough governmental oversight of corporations that produce products (and byproducts) that endanger your personal health and the overall health of the planet.

It would be interesting to know if you belong to any or all of the groups I mentioned above.  There may be other reasons for believing what you believe.  For the most part those of us who believe that climate change is happening, and is caused by the increases in CO2 in our atmosphere, will relate to one or more of the three groups mentioned.

This is a topic that can result in some great commentary from all of you.  Your comments are welcome.

Introducing : Notes From The Greenhouse

With all of the attention in the press recently about new studies that indicate that our climate is changing and that these changes are the result of CO2 in our atmosphere there is an increased curiousity among the inhabitants of the greenhouse regarding climate change.  The vast majority of the people inhabiting the planet have very limited scientific background.  The study of climate is not something that many have a grasp on.  I am in the process of preparing a series of presentations designed to cover some of the basic topics that are currently being discussed by both sides of the climate change issue.

The first set of notes is on the topic of the Medieval Warm Period.  On a very basic level, the Medieval Warm Period is a period of time where certain regions of the planet experienced increased temperatures.  The discussion involves what both sides of the argument are saying with regard to the importance of the Medieval Warm Period.  While there is no way to adequately cover the entire realm of peer-reviewed and non-peer reviewed science on the topic, you can get an understanding of what both sides are saying in regard to its importance.  Feel free to take a look at the notes and make comments and suggestions about this and other topics that may interest you.

 

Take a look at the discussion notes by clicking on the link below:

Notes From The Greenhouse – Medieval Warm Period

GENERATION OF DOUBT 3 – WHITE HOUSE MANIPULATION

In my last two posts I discussed the efforts of the tobacco companies to generate doubt in the mind of the public. The tobacco companies’ ability to sow seeds of doubt in an unsuspecting public extended their window of profit and reduced the chances of losing lawsuits related to the fact that smoking caused cancer. Now I want to discuss how this “tobacco strategy” has been used successfully over the years to create doubt in the mind of the public regarding the validity of other scientific research.

The “Great Smog” of London

In December of 1952, the city of London, England experienced a four-day pollution event that resulted in the premature deaths of over 4000 people. An estimated 100,000 individuals experienced respiratory problems as a result of this “Great Smog” event. Cold weather and a lack of air circulation during the four days of the event contributed to the problem. Particulate matter from burning coal to heat homes and generate electricity created the smog that saturated the air during that short period of time.

Research indicated that there was a need to reduce the amount of particulate matter being poured into the atmosphere to lessen the probability of these pollution events. Devices were introduced that reduced the amount of particulates being released into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, later on it was discovered that removing the particulates resulted in reducing the acid neutralizing effects of the particulates on the other pollutants emitted from burning coal. Particulates were reduced, but the remaining pollutants contributed to the creation of a new environmental problem, acid rain.

Acid Rain & The Reagan Administration

Sulfur and nitrogen emissions from electrical utilities, cars and factories can mix with rain, snow, and clouds in the atmosphere to produce precipitation that is highly acidic in nature. Once in the atmosphere, it can travel long distances. Pollution produced in one area is moved in the atmosphere to other areas. Acid rain affects lakes, rivers, soils, forests, and wildlife in areas that are nowhere near the source of pollution. Most of the northeastern United States and large areas of Canada were experiencing the effects of acid rain by 1974. Studies suggested that the rain falling in the northeast had been made acidic by pollution coming from tall smokestacks installed on electrical utilities located in the Midwestern section of the country. Over the years, studies confirmed the effects of acid rain on the environment.

When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 he brought his desire to reduce governmental regulation to improve the environment for private enterprise in. To this day, Republicans stress the need to reduce governmental interference and regulation in the marketplace. This worldview tends to place Republicans at odds with those who seek to protect the public and the natural environment from the effects of pollution. The election of Ronald Reagan marked the beginning of Republican efforts to shift their efforts from environmental preservation and environmental regulation towards deregulation which resulted in a reduction of environmental quality. Until this time, Republicans had been a party that had been known for its efforts in preserving and maintaining the environment. The Reagan Administrations’ efforts to block regulations designed at protecting the environment put it on a direct path towards a collision with science. Since the Reagan Administration, there has been an ongoing battle between Republican administrations and the scientific community. Reagan was the first, but certainly not the last.

In 1982, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) commissioned a panel to review the scientific evidence regarding acid rain. Prior to this time, the National Academy of Sciences had already completed such a study. It was unusual to repeat the work of a prestigious study. The evidence was clear that acid rain was causing widespread damage to the environment. The previous study had stated that there was “clear evidence of serious hazard to human health and the biosphere”.

Presidents of the United States can take scientific advice from any source of their choosing. In this case, the Reagan Administration elected to dismiss a study completed by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences and to put a new panel together to “study” the science. Reagan selected a very distinguished scientist, William A. Nierenberg to head the study group. Nierenberg was known as an individual that did not have a positive view of environmentalists and in fact hated them. In spite of this, the final report was in agreement with previous studies.

Nierenberg hand-picked all of the members of his panel but one. The panel was made of prestigious scientists who were members of either the National Academy of Science or the National Academy of Engineering. However, the White House inserted a panel member, Fred Singer, whose beliefs were basically at odds with the other members of the group.

Earlier in his career, Singer had been aligned with those who believed strongly in efforts to preserve the environment. By 1980, his beliefs had changed. He was concerned that the cost of environmental protection was not worth the benefits. He also believed that decreasing government regulation on the marketplace would unleash the power of the market and could result in discoveries that would mitigate environmental destruction.

The results of the White House panel were very much similar to the previous National Academy of Science study. A report was forwarded to the Reagan Administration. However, individuals within the administration made changes to the report. The changes that were made had the impact of weakening the reports’ conclusions. The changes made created the illusion that the science regarding acid rain was unsettled. Fred Singer was only one member of the panel. However, his contributions to the final report were aligned with the beliefs of the administration.

In essence, the panel agreed strongly with the National Academy of Science study, but their final report was hijacked by the Reagan White House. The result of this hijacking of the report was that the Reagan Administration could claim that scientific research involving the acid rain issue was unsettled. The final report made it appear that the panel was divided. However, the panel was actually divided 8-1 with the only dissenter appointed by the Reagan White House.

The Reagan White House manipulated the peer-review process. Based upon their manipulation, the Reagan White House could now establish their position that pollution controls should not be ordered until further studies were completed. Congress did not act on the problem. As a result, no significant pollution controls were put in place during the Reagan Administration. The Administration suppressed a report that stressed the need for a reduction in the factors contributing to significant air pollution during the time of a critical congressional vote on the issue.

In essence, strong scientific evidence was made to look significantly less strong. Congress reacted by not imposing regulations and the Reagan Administration won the battle. Action against acid rain was delayed for years. The Reagan Administration created doubts about the science, and thus were able to impose their “reduced-regulation” mindset on the country. This is an example of using political power to create doubt about scientific evidence in the minds of congress and the public. It is an example that has been repeated many times since. Creation of doubt is effective, regardless of who attempts to create it.

Opinions On Climate Change

GENERATION OF DOUBT-2

In my previous post I discussed the incredibly effective doubt-generating campaign of the tobacco industry at a time when their corporate profits were jeopardized by the discovery that use of tobacco could cause cancer.  The bottom line is that they denied and they lied, and people died and are still dying to this day. 

 The tobacco companies are experts at generating doubt in the mind of the public in spite of the fact that their own scientists confirm the results of scientific studies performed by others.  They are also intelligent enough to realize that when a doubt-generating campaign fools the public into purchasing their deadly products, repeating the campaign in the face of new discoveries makes financial sense.  They spend millions on their campaigns to add millions to their bottom line.

 The Battle Over Second-Hand Smoke

In a 1986 report, the Surgeon General of the United States concluded that second-hand smoke could cause cancer in healthy non-smokers.  I lived in a home where both parents smoked and my father died in 1989 of lung cancer at the age of 59.  I remember finding out about the Surgeon Generals’ Report and remember thinking that even though I don’t smoke, I could get cancer because I was exposed to second hand smoke for 20 years.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has concluded that “there is no risk-free level of exposure to second-hand smoke even in small amounts.”

 How would you characterize an industry that had knowledge that  a new-found danger  for years and never let the public know?  Would you call that reckless?  Would it be characterized as “evil?”  Is it nothing more than a solid business practice?  It has now been proven that tobacco industry scientists knew that second-hand smoke contained more toxic chemicals than mainstream smoke, and they knew this in the 1970’s.  Evil indeed. 

 In 1980, before the Surgeon Generals’ Report was published, the New England Journal Of Medicine published a research paper showing that nonsmokers working in smoky offices had decreased lung function, as much as if they had been light smokers.  The report chronicled the effects of a smoky workplace on twenty-one hundred subjects.  Another study from Japan looked at 540 women whose husbands smoked.  This study showed that the more the husbands smoked, the more the wives died of lung cancer.  This was a 14 year study.

 At this point the tobacco industry started fighting back.  Soon a new study was out that claimed that the Japanese study was full of statistical errors.  (Later proven to be a false claim)  The Tobacco Institute convinced media outlets to present both “sides” of the story.  The media, as is their habit, fell into the trap of believing that both sides deserved equal coverage in spite of the fact that they did not deserve equal weight.  The new study was of course funded by the tobacco industry.  Do you see a pattern here?  The media, in its haste to appear “neutral”, gave both studies equal weight in their stories in spite of the fact that one study was a significant piece of scientific research and the other was an attack on the previous study and was funded by the very organizations that stood to lose the most.  To this day, the media provides coverage for studies that carry very little scientific weight and validity.  Welcome to “Doubt-Generation 101” a course in fooling the public and maintaining profit, brought to you by corporations who feed you addictive and deadly products.  

 At this point, the tobacco industry began to fight proposed actions to protect nonsmokers from ETS (environmental tobacco smoke).  Today, just as in the realization that smoking causes cancer, the public has been convinced that second hand smoke can, and does do, the same thing.  However, not all believe.

 I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a smoker complain that they are not allowed to smoke in certain places they were used to smoking in.  You have heard them.  You might even be one that does the complaining.  The complaint usually sounds like this: “No one is going to tell me that I can’t smoke where I want to!  It is my body and I can chose to do as I please.  If you don’t like my smoke, go ahead and leave.”    Then there is also this one: “The government has no right to tell me what I can or can’t do.  If I want to smoke it is none of their business!”   I guess individual “liberty” trumps the well-being of the public.  Pathetic.

 Those words are spoken by those who are probably addicted to two things.  One, they are addicted to cigarettes.  Two they are addicted to fighting the cause of personal freedom at the expense of the health of others.  Not a pretty picture is it?  When you hear words such as these spoken, you can thank the tobacco industry for their doubt-generating campaign.   

 No one wants to believe that their child’s asthma is in any way related to the fact their child is being brought up in smoke-filled rooms.  However, parents all over the world are doing just that.   No man wants to believe that his wife died of lung cancer even though he was the one who smoked.  No one wants to believe that among women who smoke, their lung cancer rate is higher if their husbands also smoked.  No one wants to believe.  Yet, the evidence is there and has been for years.  It is not about belief, it is about evidence. 

 The methods used by the tobacco industry to fight second hand smoke legislation are the same as the ones used to fight their previous campaign against the science and scientists that definitively proved the deadly nature of their product.  In fact, the individuals involved were basically the same.  The same group of corporate CEO’s and corporate scientists (hired guns) were involved in both fights.  They were effective campaigns, they denied the science, they lied and covered up their own science, they attacked legitimate science and scientists, and people died.   Welcome to the world of corporate doubt-generation. 

 In my next post, I will discuss how the generation of doubt spread to other “scientific controversy”.

 For a detailed study of the effectiveness of doubt-generating funds I would suggest that you pick up and read a copy of “Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes and Eric M. Conway.  A great deal of the information presented in this post comes from this terrific work.

GENERATION OF DOUBT

When the product of legitimate scientific research could result in a negative impact on corporate profit, corporations react swiftly to protect their bottom line.  The amount of money spent by corporations to create doubt about scientific claims is staggering.  The money is spent in a myriad of ways, most of which are highly effective in casting doubt upon any scientific claim that could result in a decrease in corporate profit. 

 Public doubt and uncertainty about a given scientific claim tends to delay action that would end up negatively influencing a corporations’ bottom line.  “Doubt-generating-funds” have proven over and over, to be money well-spent in the battle of public perception.  There are several possible explanations as to why these funds are so effective.

  1.  In general terms, a large proportion of the public is not scientifically literate or does not take the time to legitimately investigate the issue.
  2. Scientists have generally done a poor job of communicating the scope and importance of their work.
  3. The public tends to select their sources of information based upon their world view.
  4. Corporations use highly-skilled communicators and methods to present their message.
  5. Corporate messaging dominates the public airwaves.
  6. Low-levels of doubt are highly effective.
  7. Politicians who influence public policy use corporate donations to keep themselves in power.

 Examples of Effective Doubt Generation

Corporate influence in the global warming debate has been, and continues to be, unbelievably effective.  This effectiveness is largely due to techniques and efforts that have been honed over many years of successful doubt-generation campaigns.  Doubt-generating funds are not spent to reveal truth, they are spent to delay public acceptance of truth.  This delay extends the amount of time a corporation can make profit.   Doubt-generation has a long history.  Here is a typical example of the effective and sometimes deadly consequences of corporate doubt generation. 

 Big Tobacco

If you have been completely disconnected from all sources of information for the past 50 years or so, I have a news flash for you. Tobacco use causes cancer and cancer kills people.   In the year 2012 it is almost embarrassing to even have to make the statement I just made.  Scientific research over the years has conclusively determined that tobacco causes cancer.  There are very few of us whose lives have not been impacted by the untimely death of a friend or loved one due to cancer.  Yet, there are individuals living on the planet in 2012 that do not believe it.  Granted, there are not as many of them now as there were in 1960, but the fact is, there are still individuals who have doubt.  The fact that the doubt still remains is a testament to the tobacco industry’s massive efforts at creating doubt in the mind of smokers. 

 German scientists in the 1930’s demonstrated a link between tobacco use and lung cancer.  The Nazi government ran a major antismoking campaign.  Hitler himself forbade smoking in his presence.  However, because of its’ Nazi associations, the world didn’t pay much attention to the science.  Then in 1953, researchers in the United States demonstrated a relationship between cigarette tar and fatal cancers in mice.  

 When scientific research indicated that the use of tobacco could lead to cancer, the tobacco industry responded with one of the most massive scientific and public relations efforts ever attempted at that point in history.  Many of us have lived through this campaign.  Many others have not been so fortunate.  Cancer deaths related to tobacco use are staggering. 

 Basically, the public relations effort was designed to deceive the public about the health effects of tobacco use.  America’s largest and most effective public relations firm, Hill and Knowlton, put together a public relations program to defend the product against scientific claims that could result in a reduced demand for tobacco, and thus reduce the profit margins of big tobacco. The goal of the effort was to convince the public that there was “no scientific basis for the charges”.  A secondary goal was to convince the public that publicity-seeking scientists were making sensational charges about tobacco for the purpose of attracting more funds for their research.

 The Tobacco Industry Committee for Public Information was created to give a pro cigarette message to the public.  Many years later, a federal judge found that the industry was guilty of “conspiracy to commit fraud-a massive and ongoing fraud to deceive the American public about the health effects of smoking” Yet, to this day, there are those that doubt the well-established relationship between tobacco and cancer.

 What were the tactics used in this highly influential and fraudulent campaign?   Remember that the goal of the campaign was to create doubt in the minds of the public.  (Never mind that those who were addicted to tobacco were fairly easy targets.)  The tactics included the following:

  1. Stress that there was “no proof” that tobacco was harmful.
  2. Manufacturing a “debate” about the science.
  3. Convince mass media to present both “sides” of the “debate” as if they were of equal validity and value. (An appeal to journalistic balance)
  4. Provide “facts” to the media that support the tobacco industry agenda.
  5. Produce scientific evidence that would create doubt in the mind of jurors that would be making decisions about medically-related lawsuits that were sure to come from deaths from cancer.

 During this process, “journalistic balance” meant applying equal weight to both sides of the argument rather than giving “accurate” weight to both sides.  Those in charge of the selection of stories to broadcast or print were made to believe that there was equal vailidity to both sides of the issue.  There was never equal validity to the big tobacco arguments because of the fact that there was never equal accuracy in regard to the science. 

 Interestingly enough, by the early 1960’s, the scientists working in the tobacco industry had concluded that smoking caused cancer and that nicotine was addictive.  In 1964, the Surgeon General’s report on Smoking and Health had concluded that smokers were ten to twenty times more likely to get lung cancer than non-smokers.  Yet, the industry-generated campaign to create doubt in the minds of the public continued.  In 1981, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association devoted just under $300,000 to research.  The tobacco industry gave $6.3 million.   Those numbers alone shed a great deal of light on the importance of creating doubt in the mind of the public. 

 Over the years, the tobacco industry has funded an incredible number of scientific efforts that were designed to provide “facts” that could be used in court cases against those who brought medically-related lawsuits against the tobacco industry.  In 2006, a district judge found that the tobacco industry had “devised and executed a scheme to defraud consumers and potential consumers” about the hazards of cigarettes.  Remember, internal tobacco industry documents confirmed that the industry had known about the hazards based upon their own research since the 1950’s.  In fact, the tobacco industry had participated in a criminal conspiracy to commit fraud. 

 How effective was their campaign to create doubt in the mind of an unknowing public?  Today the World Health Organization has found that smoking is the known or probable cause of twenty-five different diseases that are responsible for 5 million deaths worldwide.  Half of these deaths occur in middle age.

 The generation of public doubt about legitimate, peer-reviewed scientific discovery is fairly easy to accomplish.  Doubt is crucial to science.  It is at the core of scientific advancement.  When corporations use the generation of doubt, they are literally using the nature of science and scientific progress against itself.  This can only happen if the public is gullible enough, disinterested enough, and/or lacks the drive to determine that they are being fooled.

In the case of the tobacco wars, creation of doubt in the mind of the public extended the amount of time huge tobacco corporations made maximum profit.  They accomplished their goal of making maximum profit at the expense of the lives of the individuals who believed in their fraudulent claims.  This story has been repeated numerous times.  The successful efforts of tobacco corporations have been copied in subsequent years by other corporations with the same basic result.  The use of massive amounts of corporate funds for the purpose of generating doubt in the public is an ongoing issue.   In my next post I will cover some of the other “doubt-generating” programs that have been effective and are effective to this day.

For a detailed study of the effectiveness of doubt-generating funds I would suggest that you pick up and read a copy of “Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes and Eric M. Conway.  A great deal of the information presented in this post comes from this terrific work.

Comments are always welcome!