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Doubting Science Why?


pile of books, feather and ink

I. Understanding the Historical Context:

In the classical book by Naomi Oreskes & Erik M.Conway, “Merchants of Doubt” they meticulously document how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming and how the same tactics and narrative continues today.

Over a period of 2 decades industry funded scientists all physicists by training namely Frederick Seitz, Siegfried Fred Singer, Robert Jastrow, Edward Teller and William Nierenberg associated with think tanks and private corporations challenged scientific evidence on a host of contemporary issues. They used their scientific credentials to present themselves as authorities to try and discredit any scientific findings they did not like.

They claimed the link between smoking and cancer remained unproven. They charged that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had rigged the science surrounding secondhand smoke. They argued that Acid Rain and the Ozone Hole was caused by volcanoes. Most recently against mounting evidence they dismiss the reality of global warming.

The press quoted these men as experts and politicians listened to them, using their claims for inaction.

The fact is that these men were never really experts on the diverse issues confronting our current reality. They were physicists, not epidemiologists, ecologists, atmospheric chemists or climate modelers. Modern science is far too specialized for anyone individual having an expertise in all these areas. 

Given this history the responsibility falls on us the citizens of America to stop these repetitive attacks on our scientific community by confronting the perpetrators and insisting that evidence based data provided by scientists be used for our public polices.

Doubting Science

Logos of anti-science front groups

II. Think Tanks & Front Groups:

  1. Top 5 Think Tanks:The Heritage Foundation has labelled the environmental movement as “the greatest single threat to the American economy”.  The Foundations’s members and funding groups include, defense contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin, finance and insurance companies such as Allstate Insurance, Mortgage Insurance Companies of America, and American International Group (AIG), auto company Honda, tobacco company Altria Group (Philip Morris), drug and medical companies Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, and Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, oil companies ChevronTexaco and Exxon Mobil, software giant Microsoft, and Alticor (Amway), Pfizer, PhRMA, and United Parcel Service (UPS).
  2. The Heartland Institute became a leading promoter of climate change denial. Our American market, far from being free or operating efficiently to allocate resources in the interests of society, is dominated by a small group of large multinational corporations which aim to maximize their private profit by exploiting nature and human resources.
  3. Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP), financed by private contributions based in Arlington, Virginia in the United States. It was founded in 1990 by atmospheric physicist S. Fred Singer. SEPP disputes the prevailing scientific views of climate change and ozone depletion.
  4. Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE) , emphasizes reliance on market mechanisms and private property rights, rather than on environmental regulation, for protection of the environment.
  5. Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), is a Washington, D.C.-based 501 nonprofit organization founded in 1985 that advocates for free-market solutions to environmental issues.
  6. Top Front Group: Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), opposes science-based climate policies. It is one of the most powerful corporate lobbying organizations in California, whose members include global oil giants, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell and Occidental.

Global Education

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III. Ranking U.S Education:

2020 National Science Board Science & Engineering Indicators Report provides information on the state of the U.S. science and engineering (S&E) enterprise over time and within a global context. Indicators is a factual and policy-neutral source of high-quality U.S. and international data

U.S. eighth graders rank in the middle of advanced economies in international mathematics and science assessments, and U.S. national assessments of mathematics show little to no growth in scores over the past decade (Figure 1).

According to the most recent estimates, the United States awarded nearly 800,000 S&E first university degrees in 2016, broadly equivalent to a bachelor’s degree. The 28 European Union (EU) countries together produced nearly 1 million of these degrees, with the top 6 EU countries accounting for about 70% of the EU total (see Glossary for EU member countries). China produced 1.7 million S&E first university degrees. The number of such degrees in China has doubled over the past 10 years. 

The United States awarded about 40,000 S&E doctorates in 2016 (Figure 4). The combined EU countries awarded about 77,000. Starting from a low base, China has seen a rapid increase over time and in 2015 awarded about 34,000 S&E doctoral degrees, predominantly in the natural sciences and engineering. China surpassed the United States in 2007 as the world’s largest producer of doctoral degrees in natural sciences and engineering (excluding social and behavioral sciences) and has remained in the lead ever since. In 2015, China awarded 32,000 doctorates in these fields and the United States awarded 30,000.

Global R&D

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IV. Ranking U.S. R&D:

Among individual countries, the United States was the largest R&D performer in 2017, followed by China, whose R&D spending now exceeds that of the EU  (Figure 11). Together, the United States (25%) and China (23%) accounted for nearly half of the estimated global R&D total in 2017. Japan (8%)and Germany (6%) are next, followed by South Korea (4%). France, India, the United Kingdom, Russia, Brazil, Taiwan, Italy, Canada, Spain, Turkey, and Australia account for about 1%–3% each of the global total.

The United States spent more on R&D than did any other country in 2017. However, its global share since 2000 fell as R&D spending rose in many Asian countries, especially China. In R&D intensity (ratio of R&D to gross domestic product [GDP]), the United States ranked 10th in 2017. The R&D-intensity level has risen modestly in the United States since 2000, while China and South Korea have seen rapid increases.

A notable trend over the past decade has been the growth in R&D spending in the regions of East-Southeast and South Asia, compared to the other major R&D-performing areas. Asian countries, most notably China, have heavily contributed to the overall increase in worldwide R&D expenditures, with China accounting for almost one-third (32%) of the total global growth between 2000 and 2017 (Figure 13). The United States (20%) and the EU (17%) together accounted for over one-third (37%) of the global growth.

Global S&T

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V. Ranking U.S Science & Technology (S&T):

The 28 nations that make up the EU collectively have the highest output of S&E publications globally. China’s S&E publication output ranks next, followed by the United States. The citation impact of China’s publications is rising rapidly, although it is currently lower than that of the United States and the EU. With respect to industrial output between 2003 and 2018, the U.S. share of worldwide value-added output declined for R&D-intensive industries even though the U.S. level of output rose.

R&D produces new knowledge. The EU, China, United States, India, Japan, and South Korea together produce more than 70% of the worldwide refereed S&E publications (Figure 21). As with the worldwide trends for degrees awarded and R&D spending, the output of peer-reviewed S&E publications in recent years has grown more rapidly in middle-income countries, especially China, than in high-income countries, including the United States.

Using R&D intensity as a measure, between 2003 and 2018, U.S. output increased from about $570 billion to $1.04 trillion, while the U.S. global share declined from 38% to 32%. Over this period, the EU’s and Japan’s global shares declined, whereas China’s share rose rapidly (Figure 24).

Global Inventions

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VI. Ranking U.S.Inventions :

Inventors from China, Japan, and South Korea receive the majority of patents for unique inventions across all countries and regions, based on patent family statistics. Engineering-related inventions made up more than half of all these global patent families in 2018.

Scientific discovery and R&D increase the storehouse of knowledge, which then enables invention, innovation, and societal and economic benefits. Patents grant novel, useful, and non obvious inventions legal ownership rights for a specified period. Data on patent families provide a broad unduplicated measure of such global inventions. Based on these data, inventors in China accounted for about half (49%) of such patent families in 2018 (Figure 26).

Electrical and mechanical engineering-related patents made up more than half (56%) of these patent families in 2018, including those granted to inventors in the United States, the EU, South Korea, Japan, and China (Figure 27).


3D illustration of spiral steps

Best Practices

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VII. Benchmarking U.S vs Global Markets:


  1. Education Benchmarks
    Students in the U.S. fall behind those in China, Europe, and Canada in math and science. A global comparison of Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores from 2015 shows the average score for the U.S. was lower than that of many other countries for both math and science.The overall U.S. scores were well below those of top performers like Singapore, Japan, and China.
  2. High-Tech Sectors Benchmarks
    U.S. has surrendered its commanding lead in the world’s top supercomputers. On the Top 500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers, the U.S. in 2005 controlled almost half the world’s top supercomputers; it now controls less than a quarter, with China now controlling the largest number of the fastest supercomputers.

Engage to Change

Illustration of puzzle pieces forming a light bulb, which connects people
Layout of 5 circles stacked


VIII. “Our Status Quo”: 3 Critical Things to Change

  1. Trust the academic scientific experts on matters of science especially the specialists in their designated fields of study and demand that they be used as the sources of information for forming our public polices and not the think tank pundits appointed by corporations.
  2. Pay attention to who the experts actually are by asking questions about their credentials, their past and current research, are they peer reviewed and what are their sources of financial support. A climate scientist is no more qualified to comment on health care reform than a physicist is to judge the cause of bee colony collapse.
  3. Challenge the political appointees leading our agencies such as EPA , who have limited or no scientific credentials and significant conflicts of interest, including direct ties to the industries that agencies are supposed to regulate.