The Triumph of Doubt:
Dark Money and the Science of Deception
Oxford University Press, 2020
Powerful multinational corporations have long had a financial stake in undermining scientific consensus and manufacturing uncertainty. In The Triumph of Doubt, former Obama and Clinton official David Michaels details how corrupt science becomes public policy -- and where it's happening today.
Opioids. Concussions. Obesity. Climate change.
America is a country of everyday crises -- big, long-spanning problems that persist, mostly unregulated, despite their toll on the country's health and vitality. And for every case of government inaction on one of these issues, there is a set of familiar, doubtful refrains: The science is unclear. The data are inconclusive. Regulation is unjustified. It's a slippery slope.
The Triumph of Doubt traces the ascendance of science-for-hire in American life and government, from its origins in the tobacco industry in the 1950s to its current manifestations across government, public policy, and even professional sports. Well-heeled American corporations have long had a financial stake in undermining scientific consensus and manufacturing uncertainty; in The Triumph of Doubt, former Obama and Clinton official David Michaels details how bad science becomes public policy -- and where it's happening today.
Amid fraught conversations of "alternative facts" and "truth decay," The Triumph of Doubt wields its unprecedented access to shine a light on the machinations and scope of manipulated science in American society. It is an urgent, revelatory work, one that promises to reorient conversations around science and the public good for the foreseeable future.
“David Michaels’s new book, The Triumph of Doubt, is a tour de force that examines how frequently, and easily, science has been manipulated to discredit expertise and accountability on issues ranging from obesity and concussions to opioids and climate change.”
—SHERIL KIRSHENBAUM, review in Science
“The Triumph of Doubt is a brave and important book, raising the alarm about the systemic corruption of science.”
—FELICITY LAWRENCE, review in Nature
“David Michaels is that rare combination: the fearless expert. He not only knows where the bodies are buried, he knows who buried them. The Triumph of Doubt and its predecessor, Doubt Is Their Product, are timely, readable, and essential guides for anyone seeking to understand how the corruption of science is damaging the health of everyone from football players and factory workers to soda drinkers and truck drivers—in short, anyone with a pulse.”
—DAN FAGIN, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Toms River
“Few people have done more to document disinformation about science than David Michaels. His new book is an important addition to the growing literature on doubt, disinformation, and deception.”
—NAOMI ORESKES, author of Merchants of Doubt
"A page-turner—one you’ll wish was fiction. From hired guns to dark money, The Triumph of Doubt unravels corporations’ playbook for deceiving the public through misinformation.”
—MONA HANNA-ATTISHA, author of What the Eyes Don’t See
"Scientist, public servant, and passionate advocate for health and safety, Michaels has written an absorbing sequel to his path-breaking work on manufactured doubt. He documents how powerful corporations have turned ‘product defense’ into a new political strategy, using dark money to pummel good science and keep dangerous products on the market. A must-read in the fight to restore public trust in regulatory science.”
—SHEILA JASANOFF, Harvard Kennedy School
“No one has done more to expose the deep corruption in American safety regulation that harms us all—and especially our kids. After spending seven years as America’s chief safety regulator, David Michaels offers a beautifully crafted argument for how much more we need to do. Required—if frightening—reading for anyone who cares about a clean and safe environment for America and the world.”
—LAWRENCE LESSIG, author of Fidelity and Constraint
“As a society, it’s vital we properly debate issues using data and research. The Triumph of Doubt, David Michaels’s wonderfully deep dive into the well-funded war on scientific consensus and certainty, makes the stakes clear: our planet. Read this.”
—ADAM SAVAGE, Mythbusters
“From the pharmaceutical industry’s role in the opioid crisis to the Koch brothers’ climate denial apparatus, Michaels examines big industry’s jarring history of manufacturing false scientific doubt in the name of profit. This is an important book that will serve as a tool in exposing corporate deceit.”
—SENATOR SHELDON WHITEHOUSE
“A compelling and necessary work for anyone interested in the truth and those who seek to bury it. Michaels details the methods used by those in power to hide the truth-and the moral bankruptcy at work when they do so.”
—DEMAURICE SMITH, NFL Players Association Executive Director
Doubt Is Their Product:
How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health
Oxford University Press, 2008
"Doubt is our product," a cigarette executive once observed, "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."
In this eye-opening expose, David Michaels reveals how the tobacco industry's duplicitous tactics spawned a multimillion dollar industry that is dismantling public health safeguards. Product defense consultants, he argues, have increasingly skewed the scientific literature, manufactured and magnified scientific uncertainty, and influenced policy decisions to the advantage of polluters and the manufacturers of dangerous products. To keep the public confused about the hazards posed by global warming, second-hand smoke, asbestos, lead, plastics, and many other toxic materials, industry executives have hired unscrupulous scientists and lobbyists to dispute scientific evidence about health risks. In doing so, they have not only delayed action on specific hazards, but they have constructed barriers to make it harder for lawmakers, government agencies, and courts to respond to future threats.
The Orwellian strategy of dismissing research conducted by the scientific community as "junk science" and elevating science conducted by product defense specialists to "sound science" status also creates confusion about the very nature of scientific inquiry and undermines the public's confidence in science's ability to address public health and environmental concerns. Such reckless practices have long existed, but Michaels argues that the Bush administration deepened the dysfunction by virtually handing over regulatory agencies to the very corporate powers whose products and behavior they are charged with overseeing.
In Doubt Is Their Product, Michaels proves, beyond a doubt, that our regulatory system has been broken. He offers concrete, workable suggestions for how it can be restored by taking the politics out of science and ensuring that concern for public safety, rather than private profits, guides our regulatory policy.
"In Doubt Is Their Product, David Michaels gives a lively and convincing history of how clever public relations has blocked one public health protection after another. The techniques first used to reassure us about tobacco were adapted to reassure us about asbestos, lead, vinyl chloride-and risks to nuclear facilities workers, where Dr. Michaels' experience as the relevant Assistant Secretary of Energy gave him an inside view. And if you're worried about climate change, keep worrying, because the same program is underway there."
—DONALD KENNEDY, Editor-in-Chief, "Science"
"We live in an age of unprecedented disinformation, misinformation, and outright lying by those in power. This important book shows who profits by misleading the public-and who ultimately pays with their health."
—ERIC SCHLOSSER, author of Fast Food Nation
"This well-researched book by someone who truly knows the system is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the cozy relationship between industry and regulatory agencies on matters that affect the health and safety of our families and neighbors. The cited examples illustrate how, with the help of irresponsible members of Congress and other public officials, corporate greed can trump any sense of ethics, morality, and human compassion."
—NEAL LANE, former Science Advisor to President Bill Clinton and former Director of the National Science Foundation
"This brave, shocking book exposes the abuse of science by government and industry in ways that endanger the workplace, the home, the water supply, the air quality-in fact, our planet as a whole. David Michaels speaks authoritatively from his firsthand experience as a champion of occupational safety and health. He tells a terrific story."
—DAVA SOBEL, author of Longitude and Galileo's Daughter
That science can be bought is hardly news to anyone who knows about tobacco "scientists." But how pervasive, effective and stealthy this science-for-hire is-as masterfully documented by David Michaels of George Washington University in his new book, Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health, will shock anyone who still believes that "science" and "integrity" are soulmates. In studies of how toxic chemicals affect human health, Michaels told me, "It's quite easy to take a positive result [showing harmful effects] and turn it falsely negative. This epidemiological alchemy is used widely."
—SHARON BEGLEY, "Newsweek"
David Michaels has written a powerful, thorough indictment of the way big business has ignored, suppressed or distorted vital scientific evidence to the detriment of the public's health. Doubt Is Their Product catalogues numerous corporate misdemeanours, especially in the United States, from the criminal neglect of the dangerous nature of asbestos and the lies told by the tobacco industry, to the suppression of adverse findings of deaths caused by the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx and the increased risk of suicide among teenagers taking selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors for depression. The book concludes with a list of prescriptions for securing better regulation and greater protection for the public, mainly through increased public disclosure of vested interests.
—DICK TAVERNE, "Nature"