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November 8, 2011 / Rich Bellon

A Major Award for Oreskes and Conway’s Merchants of Doubt

The History of Science Society has awarded its prestigious Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize for the best book for a general audience to Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway for Merchants of Doubt.  This book illustrates how history can inform intense debates over science policy and science politics.

 The award citation:

 “Merchants of Doubt provides a penetrating analysis of important aspects of science and society in late twentieth century America, centering on the use of seemingly scientific methods to undermine scientific authority in popular culture and the halls of Congress. Through their powerfully argued and deftly structured study of the public debates engulfing five of the leading environmental and public-health questions of the past half-century – DDT, tobacco smoke, acid rain, the ozone hole, and global warming – Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway reveal a historical pattern in which a small group of science advisors undermine scientific findings and raise doubt about the work of scientific experts. Relying on the nature of science to test hypotheses in the pursuit of knowledge, the funding of those who would be harmed by health and environmental regulations, and the desire of media to present both sides on every issue, this small group of doubters have managed to hamstring ,and in some cases to kidnap, national science policy. Merchants of Doubt underlines that the history of science, as a discipline of rigorous scholarship, can offer critical insights and wise counsel to citizens and policymakers on crucial contemporary issues.  By doing so, it exemplifies how historical research can illumine public policy. Oreskes and Conway write in a clear, engaging style that makes their book accessible for a wide readership. For the quality of its research, analysis, and writing, we recognize Merchants of Doubt for the History of Science Society’s leading award for books in the history of science that can reach a popular or student audience, the 2011 Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize.”

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