Friday, April 11, 2008


Leah Ceccarelli has just penned a fascinating analysis of how so-called scientific controversies are created to serve political purposes:

"With all the sophisticated sophistry besieging mass audiences today, there is a need for the study of rhetoric now more than ever before.  This is especially the case when it comes to the contemporary assault on science known as manufactured controversy:  when significant disagreement doesn't exist inside the scientific community, but is successfully invented for a public audience to achieve specific political ends.  Three recent examples of manufactured controversy are global warming skepticism, AIDS dissent in South Africa, and the intelligent design movement's 'teach the controversy' campaign."

The entire essay was published in the science policy journal of the Center for American Progress.  Dr.  Ceccarelli is an associate professor in the Communications Department at the University of Washington.  She reaches rhetoric and is the author of the award winning book Shaping Science with Rhetoric.   


Liz Ditz said...

I would add the continuation of the "vaccines cause autism" delusion to your list. It was a reasonable hypothesis in (say) 1999, but since then, over two dozen studies have been published, overwhelmingly rejecting the hypothesis.

SabrinaW said...

This is a good idea - while genuine discussion helps to promote the growth of more rigorous ideas, simply stirring up confusion and controversy worsens discourse. It is useful to have a single word to identify this sort of thing so we can point it out and move on to more important things, like actually improving education in our schools.

I also agree with liz ditz that the vaccine-autism link is a great example of manufactroversy that ends up hurting people by promoting uncertainty and undermining beneficial practices.