There is a review of “Merchants of Doubt” by Oreskes at the Economist.

This quote shows roughly their take:

In this powerful book, Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway, two historians of science, show how big tobacco’s disreputable and self-serving tactics were adapted for later use in a number of debates about the environment. Their story takes in nuclear winter, missile defence, acid rain and the ozone layer. In all these debates a relatively small cadre of right-wing scientists, some of them eminent, worked through organisations sometimes created specially for the purpose to take on a scientific establishment that they perceived to be dangerously unsympathetic to the interests of capital and national security.

Notice how careful they are in that summary to avoid saying that these right-wing scientists were wrong. No, all that happened was that the right-wingers “perceived to be dangerously unsympathetic”. Later on they manage

The techniques employed included disinformation of various sorts coupled with an enduring and disgraceful willingness to stick to discredited arguments that seemed to play well. It is a shameful story for many of those concerned

but still they can’t bring themselves to say “and they were wrong”.

More interestingly, although the book subtitle is Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. the Economst somehow contrives to avoid even mentioning GW. I felt moved to tell them so; I wonder if that will prove interesting?

Comments

  1. #1 Nick
    2010/06/20

    It still avoids the nature of science. A single exception disproves a theory. From the pro GW side, that’s missing. There is a complete lack of the use of scientific method in testing their theory. When the skeptics (the correct scientific position) start testing the theory by looking for the exceptions, they turn to a McCarthy or Stalinist approach and question the motives.

    Now clearly with climate science, its not an absolute. The reason is that its statistical proof. Hence that the ‘hide the decline’ issue is highly relevant. If you hide the decline, you violate the principles of statistical proof.

    Skeptics have cottoned on to this and pushing the issue. Even the excuses that they are abnormal isn’t backed up with any peer reviewed evidence that the excluded data is wrong. It’s wrong because it doesn’t fit the theory. It’s a a self referential proof.

    Wrong.

    Nick

  2. #2 mike
    2010/06/20

    Nick–Please tell Sam and Woody to stop giving you drinks now. You’ve had enough. And please stop listening to Cliff. Thanks.

  3. #3 dhogaza
    2010/06/20

    It still avoids the nature of science. A single exception disproves a theory. From the pro GW side, that’s missing

    Untrue, Nick. All you need to do is go into the lab and prove that CO2 doesn’t absorb long-wave infrared radiation and poof! The entire edifice of modern climate science crumbles into oblivion. Along with a lot of physics.

    Get to work. We’ll expect results soon.

  4. #4 dhogaza
    2010/06/20

    This, however, is true, Nick:

    When the skeptics (the correct scientific position) start testing the theory by looking for the exceptions, they turn to a McCarthy or Stalinist approach and question the motives.

    Yes, skeptics are on a McCarthyesque witch hunt, trying to get climate scientists fired, disciplined, disgraced, etc. I’m sure we’re all glad you recognize this.

  5. #5 Jonathan Gilligan
    2010/06/20

    Nick: A single exception does not disprove a theory. That’s a terrible misunderstanding of how science actually works and what theories are.

    Peter Duesberg points to people who have had HIV infections for many years without developing AIDS as exceptions that disprove the theory that HIV causes AIDS, but he’s wrong.

    In 1982 Blas Cabrera observed a single exception to the theory that there are no magnetic monopoles, but this exception did not disprove the theory.

    What happens in real science is that a single exception is an “interesting anomaly” if it can be reproduced and otherwise is a boring, uninteresting anomaly that is quickly forgotten (no one thinks much about Cabrera’s magnetic monopole except as a historical curiosity).

    Interesting anomalies are often handled not by discarding the whole theory, but by retaining almost all of the theory and making small adjustments to account for the anomalies.

    Only if many exceptions, all readily reproducible, affect major parts of the theory, is the theory seen to be in real trouble, and even then, the theory is not discarded until a better theory arrives that can explain everything the old one did, plus accounting for the new anomaly.

    Newtonian gravity stuck around for a long time, despite the anomalous precession of Mercury, until Einstein provided a better theory.

    Until AGW doubters produce a theory of climate change that can quantitatively account for the Pleistocene ice ages with small or zero sensitivity to GHG forcing and demonstrating fewer anomalies than the current theory, their call to discard an imperfect but largely successful theory and replace it with nothing is not science but nihilism.

  6. #6 Rocco
    2010/06/20

    Nick:

    No “theory” states that all tree-rings are good temperature proxies in all situations. You’d know this if you actually bothered to read the literature.

  7. #7 carrot eater
    2010/06/20

    I think you’re being more than a little unreasonable.

    You’ve got ‘disreputable’, ‘disinformation’, “an enduring and disgraceful willingness to stick to discredited arguments”. How is that not what you wanted them to say?

    [All that is good but still not enough. I want it all! As I say: they can't bring themselves to also say that these people were wrong; nor mention GW -W]

  8. #8 Jonathan Gilligan
    2010/06/20

    The complete failure to address global warming in the review is indeed striking.

    So is the off-hand assertion by the reviewer that the book is wrong about acid rain: that the scientific reviews were tainted by “hype” and that the science of acid rain is unclear (in contrast to ozone depletion).

    The book clearly documents that even such skeptics as Nierenberg were clearly convinced that the science was solid enough to take strong regulatory action on sulfur emissions, despite uncertainties in the details, and that the public’s perception that the science was bad was the result of a political disinformation campaign. If the reviewer disagrees with the book on this, he or she should have supported that claim.

  9. #9 John Mashey
    2010/06/20

    Strange, since The Economist has generally relatively sane on AGW, and since it uses words like “powerful, which are inducements to read the book, so that’s good.
    Kitcher’s review was certainly better.

    [There is also a nice article on carbon tax in this week's. I'll get on to that -W]

  10. #10 dhogaza
    2010/06/20

    Strange, since The Economist has generally relatively sane on AGW

    Well, I doubt that the folks who write the reviews for the Books & Art section are those who write the magazine’s editorials, much less the stories that form the meat of the magazines.

    So a bit of a disconnect doesn’t surprise, nor particularly bother, me. It’s a pity GW isn’t mentioned, it’s a pity the reviewer gets the acid rain story wrong, but I don’t read anything into it regarding the magazine’s official position on either.

  11. #11 Nicolas Nierenberg
    2010/06/20

    I note that this book has a chapter (6) that repeats the same “nonsense” as in the Oreskes “Chicken Little” paper. I am still working on the chapter on acid rain, but it appears that it isn’t really any better.

    I note that Jonathan Gilligan sees that Nierenberg spoke out on the issue of acid rain. But still the chapter tries to portray him in a negative light on the issue. And how is this consistent with someone who theoretically was part of a conspiracy.

  12. #12 Brian Schmidt
    2010/06/20

    I remember William was unimpressed with the Chicken Little paper, so it’ll be interesting to get his own review of this book.

    [I haven't decided to read it yet. It is now available here, though Not Cheap -W]

  13. #13 Nicolas Nierenberg
    2010/06/20

    WMC,

    So you were criticizing a review of a book you haven’t read?

    [Certainly. As I made clear in what I wrote: the point about GW can be seen from reading the book's subtitle. Or you can just look at the fron cover -W]

  14. #14 Nicolas Nierenberg
    2010/06/21

    WMC,

    Perhaps it is quibbling, but you didn’t say you hadn’t read the book, just that the topic of warming was prominent in the subtitle of the book.

    It is fascinating to me how people accept the veracity of the accounts in this book given that the authors have a history of not being the least bit accurate.

    [Oh, I'm not claiming to have read, or to agree with, any of the accounts in the book. I agree that based on what I've read from her before I would not take her claims at face value -W]

  15. #15 AnthonyL
    2010/06/24

    “Peter Duesberg points to people who have had HIV infections for many years without developing AIDS as exceptions that disprove the theory that HIV causes AIDS, but he’s wrong.” – Jonathan Gilligan

    Now that his university has cleared Duesberg of any wrongdoing, perhaps the incessant avalanche of this kind of inane casual dismissal of Peter Duesberg as “wrong” can begin to slow down after 25 years. What is truly “unscientific” is this kind of offhand dismissal of Duesberg by the underresearched and uninformed who assume that all the mindless media hacks at Science on down are guiding them correctly by following the party line in HIV/AIDS. The plain truth is that Duesberg published complete and thorough dismissals of the Gallo 1984 claim that HIV was a “probable cause of AIDS” in 1987 in Cancer Research and in the Proceedings of the National Academy in 1989, and none of the self serving exploiters of public gullibility and the public purse who have run HIV/AIDS since have dared essay ANY rebuttal in either journal for 23 years and nor do they show any sign of ever doing so, for the obvious reason that they only come up emptyhanded whenever they try to tackle the problem, as their pathetic attempts to refute Duesberg in that truncated exchange between the two in Science shortly afterwards demonstrated. It really is about time that Web thread posters either learned about the science of HIV/AIDS and why HIV was rejected as a cause by Duesberg for reasons that remain as valid now as ever, or shut up with these silly vacuous comments about matters which are above their heads. If you want to use Duesberg as an example of any truth in science apart from the tendency of pinheads to rush to the defense of the status quo for mysterious psychological reasons when they have no idea what the debate actually entails, then use him as an example of how second rate scientists such as his opponents are as too often ruled by their flawed human nature in preferring their own interests to truth seeking, despite their supposed implicit agreement with the key professional and vocational standard of good science which is to check their own bias at the door with their hats.

    And by the way Nancy Padian a four star general of HIV/AIDS found in the biggest study ever undertaken of the supposed transmissibility of HIV between heterosexuals that it was precisely zero. And only a child would have accepted Gallo’s initial 1984 claim that HIV was a “probable” cause of AIDS when he found it in barely one third of the AIDS patients whose blood he tested. These and other obvious flaws in HIV/AIDS theory should be clear to any schoolchild, and it should be the task of the vast army of well funded HIV/AIDS researchers to explain these and other problems away, preferably in front of a Congressional committee, instead of enjoying the reflex support of the thoughtless on a blog devoted to real science vs fantasy. If you would like further info turn to scienceguardian.com where we also support real science as against fantasy.

  16. #16 Marco
    2010/06/25

    Oh dear, one of the Duesberg-cheerleaders has found his way to stoat…

    Regarding Nancy Padian:
    http://www.aidstruth.org/denialism/misuse/padian
    Which tells you everything about the credibility of AnthonyL and the position he is supporting.

    Of course, there also have been many rebuttals to Duesberg’s claims. For example, Ascher et al, in Nature no less, completely demolished Duesberg’s assertion that drugs cause AIDS. It wasn’t the first study to do so, either.

  17. #17 Marco
    2010/07/03

    AnthonyL:[cut] I don’t understand your ramblings about HIV antibodies and… [cut]

    [No, neither did I, so I've deleted the comment (and truncated yours, sorry). I can do without AIDS denialism; GW denialist is quite enough for me -W]

  18. #18 AnthonyL
    2010/07/06

    Apologies Marco for not making myself clear. Apologies also to WMC for introducing HIV mythbusting here, since he automatically categorizes it as “AIDS denialism”. I won’t argue since I am not sure that all GW questioning is “GW denialism” either, and am sorry to hear that this blog is labeling views as a means of dismissing them, rather than assessing reason and evidence on both sides in the manner of decent and responsible science.

    Is this the level which Brit climatology has fallen? Tut tut! We shall have to write up this finding on scienceguardian.com, where till now we had always thought that Oxbridge education reigned supreme. Must be those blasted provincial universities, which Kingsley Amis dismissed as “more means worse”!

  19. #19 Marco
    2010/07/06

    Fair enough, William. Seems you’ll be getting a grilling over at a ‘scienceguardian’ website. Bit like “friends of science” and “climate science coalition”.