Title: How to Beat Science and Influence People James Owen Weatherall, Cailin O'Connor, and Justin Bruner
Descartes Centre History of Science colloquium with Cailin O'Connor
In their recent book Merchants of Doubt (Bloomsbury, 2010), Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway describe what they call the "Tobacco Strategy", which was the strategy used by the tobacco industry to influence policy makers regarding the health risks of tobacco products. The strategy involves two parts: on the one hand one emphasizes independent research results that favor the industry's preferred conclusion; on the other, one funds additional research, but selectively publishes the results. Similar methods have subsequently been used, in many cases by the same industry consultants, to undermine research on a variety of topics, including the effectiveness of space-based anti-ballistic-missile systems, the risks and causes of acid rain, and the threat of global climate change.
In this talk I will discuss a model of the tobacco strategy, and use it to argue that both prongs of the tobacco strategy can be extremely effective -- even when policy makers rationally update on all evidence available to them. As I will elaborate, industry propagandists are especially effective when scientists deal with evidence that is ambiguous, or when they run low powered studies. In addition, attempts by journalists to maintain fair standards of reporting can, in some cases, accidentally mislead the public in similar ways.
Short biography Cailin O"Connor
Cailin O’Connor is a philosopher of science and applied mathematician specializing in models of social interaction. She is Associate Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science and a member of the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Science at the University of California, Irvine. She is currently administering the NSF Grant Dynamics and Diversity in Epistemic Communities. Her book 'The Misinformation Age' is forthcoming with Yale Press, and her book 'The Evolution of Inequity' is forthcoming with Oxford University Press.