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Paper 120: Counterfeit Scientific Contoversies in Science Policy Contexts

Martin Weinel

Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.

Tobacco Industry Executive (quoted in Michaels 2008: 11)


Experts disagree for many reasons and it is generally accepted that there is no `rational’ way to make them agree. As Michaels (2008) has demonstrated with regard to the activities of the tobacco industry, however, expert disagreement can be ‘manufactured’. This suggests a distinction between ‘genuine’ and ‘counterfeit scientific controversies.’ I argue that it is necessary and possible to distinguish between these two forms of expert disagreement. It is important for policy-making to know which disagreements to take seriously. ‘Counterfeit scientific controversies’ can delay or impede policy-decisions that depend on scientific knowledge. One way for Science & Technology Studies to contribute to science policy-making is to develop a consistent and reliable way to demarcate ‘genuine’ from ‘counterfeit scientific controversies’. This paper proposes four sociologically derived demarcation criteria.

Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Numbers Paper 120, Series Working Paper Series, November(2008)

Additional Information

Cardiff School of Social Sciences Working Paper Series.  Paper 120 - Counterfeit Scientific Controversies in Science Policy Contexts