In 1954, the tobacco industry realized it had a serious problem. Thirteen scientific studies had been published over the preceding five years linking smoking to lung cancer. With the public growing increasingly alarmed about the health effects of smoking, the tobacco industry had to move quickly to protect profits and stem the tide of increasingly worrisome scientific news. Big Tobacco turned to one the world’s five largest public relations firms, Hill and Knowlton, to help out. Hill and Knowlton designed a brilliant Public Relations (PR) campaign to convince the public that smoking is not dangerous. They encouraged the tobacco industry to set up their own research organization, the Council for Tobacco Research (CTR), which would produce science favorable to the industry, emphasize doubt in all the science linking smoking to lung cancer, and question all independent research unfavorable to the tobacco industry. The CTR did a masterful job at this for decades, significantly delaying and reducing regulation of tobacco products. George Washington University epidemiologist David Michaels, who is President Obama’s nominee to head the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), wrote a meticulously researched 2008 book called, Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health. In the book, he wrote: “the industry understood that the public is in no position to distinguish good science from bad. Create doubt, uncertainty, and confusion. Throw mud at the anti-smoking research under the assumption that some of it is bound to stick. And buy time, lots of it, in the bargain”. The title of Michaels’ book comes from a 1969 memo from a tobacco company executive: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy”. Hill and Knowlton, on behalf of the tobacco industry, had founded the “Manufactured Doubt” industry.
People see what they want to see, especially if they are getting paid. When their goal is deceit and misinformation, it is not surprising they see it in everything. The Manufactured Doubt industry is quite well-funded and I expect it to bring the full weight of its wealth to bear in order to fund its goals.
This post gives some real background to what scientists have been fighting for a long long time. Whether it is cigarette smoking, climate change, evolution or vaccines. The only difference in the individual campaigns is the wealth of the particular industry. Luckily for a biologist like me, the anti-vaxxers are not extremely well funded, do not have large think tanks nor have many lobbyists. They do have several celebrities.
Not so for researchers looking at climate change where trillions of dollars are at stake for the fossil fuel industry, which funds hundreds of lobbyists and think tanks to influence public opinion.
But, money for Manufactured Doubt does not change science. It can only change public opinion. That is the main effort presented by these emails. Not to actually change any of the science but to affect public policy.
Because the law, as it now stands, forces these fossil fuel companies to do everything they can to legally maximize profits, even galvanizing public policy in ways that are destructive to the world and to humanity. There is nothing illegal about lobbying but just remember that is what members of the Manufactured Doubt industry are trying to do.
Not manufacture doubt in the the research community but if the political community. For this goal, almost anything is reasonable to them, even if it involves hacking into computers or paying lobbyists with a PhD (who might have actually been a researcher at some point) to spout the latest talking points of the Manufactured Doubt industry.