Singer Blowing Smoke Yet Again

December 20, 2010

If you are looking for a good primer on how the world managed to so badly bungle and delay action on the climate issue, you could do much worse than Naomi Oreske and Erik Conway’s book, Merchants of Doubt – “the troubling story of how a cadre of influential scientists have clouded public understanding of scientific facts to advance a political and economic agenda.”

The book describes how a series of science based public policy issues, the cases of Smoking and Cancer, DDT, Acid rain, Ozone depletion, and manmade climate change, became confused, distorted and clouded in the public mind, by a  small group of right wing scientists, who perfected a template for delaying regulatory actions even when  science clearly indicates the need.

The Dean of the Doubt merchants is probably Fred Singer, and the portrait of Singer in the book is not a flattering one.  Which is probably why he felt he had to attempt a feeble hit job in the only media outlet with standards low enough to accept it, the execrable American Thinker.

Tim Lambert, John Cook, and Scott Mandia have covered  the story.

Lambert contrasts Singer’s description of what Oreskes/Conway wrote, with what they actually wrote:

Oreskes’ and Conway’s science is as poor as their historical expertise. To cite just one example, their book blames lung cancer from cigarette smoking on the radioactive oxygen-15 isotope. They cannot explain, of course, how O-15 gets into cigarettes, or how it is created. They seem to be unaware that its half-life is only 122 seconds. In other words, they have no clue about the science, and apparently, they assume that the burning of tobacco creates isotopes — a remarkable discovery worthy of alchemists.

Compare that with what Oreskes and Conway actually wrote:

After all, the natural environment was hardly carcinogen-free [Seitz] noted, and even “the oxygen in the air we breathe … plays a role in radiation-induced cancer”.98 (Oxygen, like most elements, has a radioactive version — oxygen 15 — although it is not naturally occurring.)99

It is impressive how many things Singer wrong in just one paragraph. Oreskes and Conway do not blame lung cancer on oxygen 15. They do not say that cigarettes contain oxygen 15, in fact stating that it is not naturally occurring. They do not say that burning tobacco creates oxygen 15. It’s likely that they are aware of the half-life of oxygen 15, since its given in the reference they give to show that oxygen 15 does not occur naturally.

Cook points out:

Singer attacks Oreskes’ and Conways’ understanding of the science by completely misrepresenting their understanding of the science.

Mandia has the graphs showing Singer’s links to the usual suspects.

Click for larger file


As a consultant, Singer produced documents for the tobacco industry, as part of a campaign to cast doubt on the need for regulation of second hand smoke.


The method of sowing doubt in a public debate on a scientific issue has proven an effective one for industry’s wishing to squeeze the last few dollars of profit out of deadly practices before governments finally come under enough pressure to regulate them. In the case of tobacco, the benefits were 40 years of profits while the issue was fogged and politicians dithered.  As the most recent science on second hand smoke suggests, there is in fact no safe level of smoke, and the delays have cost untold numbers of innocents their health and their lives.

Singer’s more recent history as a Climate Denier has successfully folowed the same formula – as discussed in the video below.

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2 Responses to “Singer Blowing Smoke Yet Again”

  1. kronocide Says:

    Birth of a Meme; They’re trying to pick apart ‘those studies’ by focusing on ‘confidence intervals.’ I’ve not found any information about them yet. Is this a new meme or old hat?

  2. greenman3610 Says:

    I’ve not heard that phrase – maybe old wine in new skin?


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