I’ve mentioned that I will be borrowing frequently from various authors who have researched and written extensively about how corporations manufacture doubt and uncertainty in order to avoid accountability for their toxic products. Below I’ve set out some quotable quotes on this subject from several of those authors. I encourage you to read these books in their entirety.
“Knowledge, in science, is always incomplete, but manufactured uncertainty is different. It is the negation of knowledge. It is purposeful disinformation, biased and misleading. It is the weapon wielded to mischaracterize fundamental policy conflicts over protecting health, calling them instead disagreements over the science. The goal is to paralyze the regulatory and legal systems and to sway public opinion. … The strategy of doubt and other ploys used in the tobacco wars served as fully staged dress rehearsals for the struggles over environmental pollutants that followed.”
– Philip and Alice Shabecoff, Poisoned for Profit: How Toxins Are Making Our Children Chronically Ill
“Trade associations make it their business, among other things, to exploit, disseminate, and, if need be, produce divergent expert opinion in matters of environmental carcinogenesis. This has important consequences for public perceptions of science. The production and management of uncertainty has facilitated what might be called the MacNeil-Lehrerization of science: the media display of equal and opposing views on apparently settled questions, generating the sense that endless research is needed to resolve guilt or innocence in questions of carcinogenesis.”
– Robert N. Proctor, Cancer Wars: What We Know & Don’t Know About Cancer (1995) at 131.
“Challenges financed and managed by advocates are also not aimed at facilitating the emergence of a scientific consensus around an established scientific truth. To the contrary, they are meant to prolong the perception of dissensus both within and outside of the scientific community. Thus, on the heels of the famous 1964 surgeon general’s report concluding that, “[c]igarette smoking is causally related to lung cancer in men,” the tobacco industry assembled a team of lawyers called the Committee of Counsel to fund critiques and obfuscatory research through consulting contracts, rather than grants, with the costs being split up among the companies on a market share basis. The secret process lacked even the pretense of peer review, and contracts were awarded not on the basis of scientific merit, but on the anticipated impact that resulting critiques would have on evolving public policy.”
– Thomas McGarity & Wendy Wagner, Bending Science: How Special Interests Corrupt Public Health Research (2008) at 135.
“Industry doubt-mongering worked in part because most of us don’t really understand what it means to say something is a cause. We think it means that if A causes B, then if you do A, you will get B. If smoking causes cancer, then if you smoke, you will get cancer. But life is more complicated than that. … Doubt-mongering also works because we think science is about facts – cold, hard, definite facts. If someone tells us that things are uncertain, we think that means that the science is muddled. This is a mistake. There are always uncertainties in any live science, because science is a process of discovery. … Doubt is crucial to science – in the version we call curiosity or healthy skepticism, it drives science forward – but it also makes science vulnerable to misrepresentation, because it is easy to take uncertainties out of context and create the impression that everything is unresolved. This was the tobacco industry’s key insight: that you could use normal scientific uncertainty to undermine the status of actual scientific knowledge. As in jujitsu, you could use science against itself.”
– Naomi Oreskes & Erik Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2010) at 34.
“[A]s a woman with cancer who grew up in a county with numerous hazardous waste sites, several carcinogen-emitting industries, and public water wells that, from time to time, show detectable levels of toxic chemicals, I am less concerned about whether the cancer in my community is more directly connected to the dump sites, the air emissions, the occupational exposures, or the drinking water. I am more concerned that the uncertainty over details is being used to call into doubt the fact that profound connections do exist between human health and the environment. I am more concerned that uncertainty is too often parlayed into an excuse to do nothing until more research can be conducted.”
– -Sandra Steingraber, Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment (2d ed. 2010) at 71.