This article / column in the LA Times is a fascinating look at a professor who studies the phenomenon of ignorance for sale by large corporations. It's not exactly 'news', but an interesting window into the practice of 'sowing doubt' as a strategy that does not actually offer any alternative view or set of facts. It simply tells gullible people that threatening (to business) scientific theories and conclusions are 'controversial' or 'just part of the discussion', so people will accept alternatives as being equally valid. But the business interests themselves don't push any alternative. They just sow doubt and let gullibility do the rest of the work. An excerpt:
The tobacco industry was a pioneer at this. Its goal was to erode public acceptance of the scientifically proven links between smoking and disease: In the words of an internal 1969 memo legal opponents extracted from Brown & Williamson's files, "Doubt is our product." Big Tobacco's method should not be to debunk the evidence, the memo's author wrote, but to establish a "controversy."
When this sort of manipulation of information is done for profit, or to confound the development of beneficial public policy, it becomes a threat to health and to democratic society. Big Tobacco's program has been carefully studied by the sugar industry, which has become a major target of public health advocates.
It's also echoed by vaccination opponents, who continue to use a single dishonest and thoroughly discredited British paper to sow doubts about the safety of childhood immunizations, and by climate change deniers.
And all those fabricated Obamacare horror stories wholesaled by Republican and conservative opponents of the Affordable Care Act and their aiders and abetters in the right-wing press? Their purpose is to sow doubt about the entire project of healthcare reform; if the aim were to identify specific shortcomings of the act, they'd have to accompany every story with a proposal about how to fix it.
Proctor came to the study of agnotology through his study of the Nazi scientific establishment and subsequently of the tobacco industry's defensive campaign.
Early in his career, he told me, he asked an advisor if Nazi science was an appropriate topic of research. "Of course," he was told. "Nonsense is nonsense, but the history of nonsense is scholarship." As part of his scholarship, Proctor says he "watches Fox News all the time."