How to beat science and influence people: Policymakers and propaganda in epistemic networks

James Owen Weatherall, Cailin O'Connor, Justin P. Bruner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations

Abstract

In their recent book, Oreskes and Conway ([2010]) describe the 'tobacco strategy', which was used by the tobacco industry to influence policymakers regarding the health risks of tobacco products. The strategy involved two parts, consisting of (i) promoting and sharing independent research supporting the industry's preferred position and (ii) funding additional research, but selectively publishing the results. We introduce a model of the tobacco strategy, and use it to argue that both prongs of the strategy can be extremely effective - even when policymakers rationally update on all evidence available to them. As we elaborate, this model helps illustrate the conditions under which the tobacco strategy is particularly successful. In addition, we show how journalists engaged in 'fair' reporting can inadvertently mimic the effects of industry on public belief.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1157-1186
Number of pages30
JournalBritish Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Volume71
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Philosophy
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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