Manufactroversy

8/11/19

Ignoring the clumsy portmanteau, a manufactured controversy is a tactic often used to create confusion in anotherwise uncontroversial scientific conclusion. Its most famous historical use was when tobacco companies created doubt around the obvious link between cancer and smoking. By commissioning their own studies and reports; and using their financial muscle to lobby politicians and employ unethical PR companies, they were able to create the illusion that the link was not as sound as scientists were saying. Consequently the political will to restrict tobacco sales and to warn the public lagged behind the science by decades.

Similar actions were taken by energy companies over climate change. Because of its success, the tactic has been emulated by campaign groups such as the Discovery Institute over the teaching of evolution (they actually campaigned on the slogan 'Teach the Controversy'!). It is seen politically with the Government of Turkey actively denying the Armenian genocide, and misinformation campaigns have been run by dictatorships (and democracies) to deflect criticism since the beginning of time.

But, because it works when done by powerful business interests and politicians it is used against them as well, even if they are on the side of facts and evidence. Anti 5G groups, anti-GMO groups, anti-vaccination groups, HIV/AIDS deniers, holocaust deniers and many more use it. Though these groups may not consciously and cynically be creating a manufactroversy to maintain their profits like tobacco and energy companies did, their actions in disputing the accepted science by campaigning, lobbying, pointing to contrary studies (no matter how poorly done) and using advertising and social media all put doubt into the general public's mind. The effect on public discourse is the same.

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