Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway is a gripping read about — as the book’s subtitle states — “how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming.”
Most disturbingly, many of the tactics discussed in the book are being replicated to a tee by the food industry. The excerpt highlighted below, for instance, perfectly describes what we are seeing these days with Big Food and Big Soda’s reliance on doctors and dietitians to attack any study that links its products to negative health effects:
“From 1979 to 1985, [physicist] Fred Seitz directed a program for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company that distributed $45 million to scientists around the country for biomedical research that could generate evidence and cultivate experts to be used in court to defend the “product.” In the mid-1990s, [another physicist,] Fred Singer co-authored a major report attacking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the heath risks of secondhand smoke.
Several years earlier, the U.S. surgeon general had declared that secondhand smoke was hazardous not only to smokers’ health, but to anyone exposed to it. Singer attacked this finding, claiming the work was rigged, and that the EPA review of the science — done by leading experts from around the country — was distorted by a political agenda to expand government control over all aspects of our lives. Singer’s anti-EPA report was funded by a grant from The Tobacco Institute, channeled through a think tank, the Alexis de Tacqueville Institution.
Millions of pages of documents released during tobacco litigation demonstrate these links. They show the crucial role that scientists played in sowing doubt about the links between smoking and health risks. These documents — which have scarcely been studied except by lawyers and a handful of academics — also show that the same strategy was applied not only to global warming, but to a laundry list of environmental and health concerns, including asbestos, secondhand smoke, acid rain, and the ozone hole.
Call it “The Tobacco Strategy.” Its target was science, and so it relied heavily on scientists — with guidance from industry lawyers and public relations experts — willing to hold the rifle and pull the trigger.”
This “tobacco strategy” is executed in many ways by the food industry, including the establishment of “institutes” and “councils” meant to downplay any concerns about sugar-sweetened beverages and highly processed foods (the same institutes and councils that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics approves as reliable sources of continuing education for dietitians!).