“Doubt is our Product”: 50 Year War on Science Bears Terrible Fruit in the Age of Covid, Climate Change

August 14, 2021

“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.”

Executive at Brown&Williamson Tobacco Company, 1969

Blogs at London School of Economics:

However, another factor is that at every stage the tobacco industry has resisted scientific evidence which indicates harms associated with the use of its products. One way in which it has done this is by suggesting that there is uncertainty around the core evidence base used to support tobacco control policies. A 1969 document from the Brown and Williamson tobacco company (a subsidiary of British American Tobacco) outlines this strategy: “Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ [linking smoking with disease] that exists in the mind of the general public”.

This approach seeks to “neutralize the influence of academic scientists”, and has since been adopted more widely by other lobby groups. The energy industry has used a similar approach in response to consensus among climate scientists on the role of human activity in climate change. But what’s the problem? There are always a number of ways to interpret data, scientists will hold different theoretical positions despite being in possession of the same basic facts, people are entitled to their opinion. That’s fine, but the tobacco industry goes beyond this and actively misrepresents the facts. Why do I care? Because recently our research was misrepresented in this way.

12 Responses to ““Doubt is our Product”: 50 Year War on Science Bears Terrible Fruit in the Age of Covid, Climate Change”

  1. redskylite Says:

    Indeed, the professional sowers of doubt, have left a terrible legacy and left us with almost an impossible task. The leading video not available in N.Z – this alternative link works, though.

  2. Gingerbaker Says:

    Modern day eugenics.

    I admit to barely caring anymore about stupid people insisting on their right to die from their stupidity. Thousands less Republicans left every month is something to celebrate and that is the only silver lining I can see.

    Really wonder why mandatory vaccination is not being discussed more at the highest levels. Political expediency despite mass death?!? What the hell happens to us when a truly lethal and highly contagious strain emerges?

    • jimbills Says:

      It’s not just Republicans, though. A large proportion of minority groups aren’t vaccinated, and the same is true of under-50 people regardless of political beliefs.

      And here’s the thing – no one lives in a vacuum, except maybe on the space station. The unvaccinated mingle everywhere with the vaccinated, and not everyone hospitalized is unvaccinated – although most are. We can’t afford to be flippant and think only the dumb are going to suffer from this.

      You live in one of the most vaccinated states in the country – possibly the most vaccinated. Yet – Delta exists where you live. Iceland – ditto.

      The Delta variant is about as contagious as the virus can get, and that’s why it has rapidly dominated Covid cases. The virus could mutate into something more lethal, but the highest probability is that it will mutate into something that bypasses the vaccines. Again, the stupid aren’t the only ones that are going to pay for that stupidity.

      Vaccine mandates have long been the province of the states and local districts. The most likely place to find them has been in school districts. It’d be wisest to have a federal mandate, but I think that’s practically impossible politically, and it doesn’t have much of a precedent:

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        ” We can’t afford to be flippant and think only the dumb are going to suffer from this.”

        Well, I guess I was too lazy to flesh out all of what you said in my comment, which is why I said the *only* silver lining I can see….

        Whether the virus can mutate into something more lethal is an interesting question – one about which I know very little, except to point out the much higher lethality of related SARS. The fact that this little bastard can get into all sorts of tissues already is not a good sign.

        I hope to Christ we are not on the cusp of something much much worse, because this virus is here to stay without vaccine mandates.

        • jimbills Says:

          Unfortunately, I’ve been reading epidemiologists’ thoughts on it, and I think it’s here to stay. We would have had to vaccinate the entire world at the same time to have a shot at eradicating it. We couldn’t even do it here in the States. What will happen is even if vaccinated or previously infected, some will lose their immunity, get infected and spread it, and so it will continue. It’d have to be a situation where the vast majority is recently immunized (with protection against the current variant) everywhere at once – and that’s not likely. Additionally, it’s a virus that other species can catch and spread.


          Hopefully, it’ll just be a situation where we get a shot for new variants each year, and it turns out to be no more fatal (over time) than the flu (that it becomes less fatal than now because it’s no longer a novel virus to the vast majority). But, yeah, it could turn out to be much, much worse – and that’s pretty awful to contemplate.

          • redskylite Says:

            “Hopefully, it’ll just be a situation where we get a shot for new variants each year”, – what I’ve read is quite a few medical scientists believe a fully vaccine resistant strain will emerge eventually, I guess it will keep the virologists busy trying to keep ahead of the beast.

            On a completely different note and way off topic, I remember an interesting discourse we had on the urban dictionary word “hopium” a few months ago, with regard to my penchant to get excited with new technology etc.

            I came across this non-scientific and kind of spiritual native American video on youtube, – maybe this is “HOPI-um” to the soul.

          • jimbills Says:

            Right – well, Delta is in some ways already moderately vaccine-resistant. There are a lot of breakthrough cases. There’s another variant already out there, Lambda, that might be fully vaccine resistant.

            But, the difference between a novel virus and a known virus to an individual are massive. The avian flu is so much worse than regular influenza because it’s essentially a novel virus. Covid was so bad in the first few waves because it was novel. But once someone has either had the virus and survived, or they have had a vaccine, it’s no longer novel to them. Even with a vaccine resistant strain, the body will produce antibodies, and the chances of death are much lower.

            A later strain could end up being more fatal, but a virus evolves to survive and spread. Higher fatality tends to work against that. It doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen – it just means the chances of it are lower.

            Meanwhile, the drug companies will be producing updated booster shots each year, just as they do with flu shots.

            Hence, my own hopium on the matter.

            On the video, recently I’ve been into reading first-hand accounts of life in the American West in the 19th century. I’m currently reading one by a trapper, William Thomas Hamilton. He and his friends plowed over the native wildlife without a second thought besides how much money their skins would bring. It’s a sickness inherent in our culture.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      A friend who is also beyond exasperation suggested that we send some spray trucks to the moronic red states and spray coronavirus on everything—-get it over with, he says.

      “What the hell happens to us when a truly lethal and highly contagious strain emerges?” The same thing that is going to happen soon as the impacts of climate change trend toward catastrophe—-all this talk of “leaving a mess for our children and grandchildren” is pure BS and denial—-those of us in our 50’s and 60’s are going to be “in the mess” within a decade.

  3. J4Zonian Says:

    I (we?) keep hearing the word “we” in pronouncements about AR6. Scientists say “we” know this or that, “we” are faced with a crisis, “we” have to act. They’re stepping on a fine line of things that are both true and false. Yes, humanity is all in this together when it comes to dying of diseases and disasters. Sort of. (It’s not about cowards and the brave; the poor die many more deaths than the rich.) Some people know things, others either don’t, or say they don’t. There’s no “we”. Humanity is not stopping “us” from acting; the right and the rich are. Most of “us” want to act, and would have a long time ago, except for lies, manipulation and power. If we’re going to act, the first act has to be to remove the right and the rich from the decision-making process. There’s no way to do what we need with them where they are, no way around them and no way to ignore them.

    Democrats refuse to embrace reality and take meaningful action to avoid catastrophe or help the people of the US and the world. They’ve stuck to doing nothing good for half a century. They could take over federal and most state governments, but refuse to, because it would involve putting things in progressive frames, giving up their commitment to extreme inequality and capitalism, and changing their identity. They’ve proved unwilling to do the ones they’re even able to.

    Because they’re more concentrated in ruralities and small states in the south and interior, conservatives are given a huge advantage through Constitutional small state bias. If California had equal representation to the small states—one person one vote—the Senate, the House, and the country would be solidly progressive and there would never be another Republican president. Even without that, demographics, and desire for climate, Covid, and health care action would let Democrats run the table, and progressives would run the Democrats.

    Conservatives are terrified by that, and have lost contact with reality and morality trying to stave it off. Denial of Republicans’ essentially evil nature now is paralyzing the oligarchic Democrats, who can’t seem to summon the will to break with the fascist party or stop trying to negotiate with its psychopaths. In terms of stages—really, tasks—of mourning, Republicans are stuck entirely in denial and Democrats are stuck simultaneously in denial, depression, and bargaining.

    The Republicans are trying to solidify their power even more through voter suppression and gerrymandering the census results. They already control 61 state legislative chambers to the Democrats’ 37, and have 23 trifectas (both chambers + governor) to the Democrats’ 15. The right is verging on total, permanent control of the country, and only a massive peaceful uprising has any chance of stopping it.

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