Understanding Manufactroversies

Glenn Branch

Creating Scientific Controversies: Uncertainty and Bias in Science and Society. By David Harker. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 2015. ISBN 978-1-107-69236-7. 260 pp. Softcover, $28.99.

Do you remember the term manufactroversy? A portmanteau of manufactured and controversy, it appeared in 2008 as the intentional product of a marketing and advertising agency to characterize the supposed controversy over evolution that Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed—the execrable creationist propaganda film fronted by Ben Stein—sought to promote. As part of the agency’s campaign, Leah Ceccarelli of the University of Washington, a specialist in scientific and antiscientific rhetoric, defined manufactroversy as “a manufactured controversy that is motivated by profit or extreme ideology to intentionally create public confusion about an issue that is not in dispute,” and offered as examples “global warming skepticism, AIDS dissent in South Africa, and the intelligent design movement’s ‘teach the controversy’ campaign.”

Although the cumbersome word never attained currency and remains absent from the Oxford English Dictionary, manufactured controversies are, lamentably, still common. In Creating Scientific Controversies, David Harker, a philosopher of science at EastTennessee State University, aims to equip the reader with the conceptual wherewithal to understand, evaluate, and respond to manufactured controversies in science. The book is intended as a textbook: each chapter is furnished with a list of discussion questions and suggested reading, and each of the three sections of the book concludes with a helpful list of “points to remember.” But the cogency of Harker’s discussion, as well as his lucid if not always lively style, ensures that any reader, student or not, will benefit from reading Creating Scientific Controversies.

This article is available to subscribers only.
Subscribe now or log in to read this article.