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Manufacturing Doubt: Journalists' Roles and the Construction of Ignorance in a Scientific Controversy
Unformatted Document Text:  When the tobacco industry launched its campaign to “manufacture doubt" on the scientific link between smoking and cancer in the 1950s (Proctor, 1995; Miller, 1992), few could have predicted the eventual influence of such tactics on the shape of scientific controversies. In the years since, corporate interests, citizen activists, and political groups alike have adopted and expanded the tobacco industry's early doubt-production strategies, actively working -- and actively using the news media -- to discredit and discourage science that threatens their interests. Perhaps the most prominent recent example is the fossil fuel industry's successful efforts to manufacture doubt about global warming despite broad scientific consensus (Mooney, 2005; Corbett, 2004; Zehr, 2000; Gelbspan, 1997; Beder, 1997; Trumbo, 1996), and even more recent efforts by conservative religious interests to amplify gaps in Darwin's theory of evolution (Mooney and Nisbet, 2005; Shanks, 2004; Pennock, 2001) despite its standing as the central organizing concept of biology. Earlier campaigns included efforts to sow doubt about scientific evidence that CFCs were damaging the ozone (Brown and Lyon, 1992), an issue in which environmentalists also used claims of scientific uncertainty to argue for halting industry's activities (Smithson, 1980). To Australian sociologist Michael Smithson, it is strategic campaigns such as these that highlight the fact that scientific ignorance, far from being simply something that scientists work to erase, is often intentionally constructed (Smithson, 1993, 1989). Especially in the public sphere, where science is increasingly part of political debate, actors may try to halt or continue a potentially harmful activity by making “ignorance appeals,” or claims that something is not known. Scientists themselves, when they appeal to funding agencies, are obliged under institutionalized norms to “specify ignorance” (Merton, 1987) in order to, for example, acquire the resources needed to generate knowledge; they do this by pointing out gaps in knowledge

Authors: Stocking, S. Holly. and Holstein, Lisa.
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When the tobacco industry launched its campaign to “manufacture doubt" on the
scientific link between smoking and cancer in the 1950s (Proctor, 1995; Miller, 1992), few could
have predicted the eventual influence of such tactics on the shape of scientific controversies. In
the years since, corporate interests, citizen activists, and political groups alike have adopted and
expanded the tobacco industry's early doubt-production strategies, actively working -- and
actively using the news media -- to discredit and discourage science that threatens their interests.
Perhaps the most prominent recent example is the fossil fuel industry's successful efforts to
manufacture doubt about global warming despite broad scientific consensus (Mooney, 2005;
Corbett, 2004; Zehr, 2000; Gelbspan, 1997; Beder, 1997; Trumbo, 1996), and even more recent
efforts by conservative religious interests to amplify gaps in Darwin's theory of evolution
(Mooney and Nisbet, 2005; Shanks, 2004; Pennock, 2001) despite its standing as the central
organizing concept of biology. Earlier campaigns included efforts to sow doubt about scientific
evidence that CFCs were damaging the ozone (Brown and Lyon, 1992), an issue in which
environmentalists also used claims of scientific uncertainty to argue for halting industry's
activities (Smithson, 1980).
To Australian sociologist Michael Smithson, it is strategic campaigns such as these that
highlight the fact that scientific ignorance, far from being simply something that scientists work
to erase, is often intentionally constructed (Smithson, 1993, 1989). Especially in the public
sphere, where science is increasingly part of political debate, actors may try to halt or continue a
potentially harmful activity by making “ignorance appeals,” or claims that something is not
known.
Scientists themselves, when they appeal to funding agencies, are obliged under
institutionalized norms to “specify ignorance” (Merton, 1987) in order to, for example, acquire
the resources needed to generate knowledge; they do this by pointing out gaps in knowledge


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