“The Factory of Ignorance”, science put to the test of industrial cheating – Release

“The more industries prevent the emergence of a scientific consensus, the easier it is for them to fight against lawsuits and regulations” : in one sentence, the American doctor Stanton Glantz poses the issue of the documentary the Factory of Ignorance, broadcast on Arte on February 23, and that Release makes available in preview on its site from this Tuesday. Its authors, Franck Cuvelier and Pascal Vasselin, methodically dissect the strategies of industrialists to artificially maintain doubt and ignorance in their sectors.

“They use the scientific method against science”

It all started in 1953 in the United States. Tobacco companies are faced with a boom in scientific publications proving the danger of smoking. The “Big Tobacco” then responded to science with science, by launching a research program aimed at “To produce knowledge that goes against other established facts. [Ils] uses[nt] the scientific method versus established science ”, explains sociologist Yves Gingras in the documentary. To achieve their ends, these manufacturers will investigate the causes of lung cancer other than tobacco, thus sowing confusion in the minds of the public, but also of decision-makers.

This example serves as a textbook case. From this tipping point, other manufacturers refine strategies to maintain doubts about the dangerousness of their products. The use of bisphenol A in plastics, the role of insecticides in the disappearance of bees or the link between human activities and climate change, the Factory of Ignorance delves into the great affairs of our time. And describes how some companies engage the services of scientists to spread their false word and find relays, paid or not, in public opinion. Another tactic regularly used is to denounce “False science”. Environmental sciences and epidemiology have thus experienced smear campaigns aimed at disqualifying their results. Glyphosate is surely one of the best known cases.

Battle over the definition of science

This deliberate desire to keep societies in the dark and this battle over the very definition of science has become a field of research in its own right. On the front line, we find science historian Naomi Oreskes, co-author of the excellent book the Merchants of Doubt (Le Pommier, 2012). In France, the philosopher Mathias Girel is also interested in agnotology, the science of the production of ignorance. As we saw during the Covid crisis, the first attack between scientists when a debate arises consists, for some, in refusing their opponent the status of serious scientist.

These debates lead to the creation of communities of people all in agreement with each other on social networks, as the director of the Institute of Complex Systems, David Chavalarias, analyzes in the documentary. According to the researcher, whose team is investigating the climatosceptic twittosphere, the number of people involved in this subject is limited, but their activity is multiplied. “Without social networks, communities of this size could not survive facts which so scathingly contradict their belief”, he asserts.

This subject is very political. Scientific climatoscepticism was born among ultra-liberal physicists for whom environmentalists replaced Communists in the role of enemy, Naomi Oreskes demonstrated. History proves it, science is a space for questioning the dominant dogma. It no longer comes up against the Church, but the market economy. Just like the state religion in its day, liberal economics can prohibit research, simply by not funding it.

Source: Libération by www.liberation.fr.

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