October 20, 2017

The Disinformation Playbook: New Website Exposes Tactics of Attacks on Science

From Asbestos to Sugar, Industry Efforts to Sideline Science Follow a Familiar Pattern

Washington (October 24, 2017)—Funding fake studies. Intimidating and silencing scientists. Manufacturing doubt. Buying credibility. Manipulating federal policy processes. It’s a pattern we’ve seen repeatedly, from the tobacco industry and fossil fuel producers to soda manufacturers and the National Football League. With a new website, the Disinformation Playbook, the Union of Concerned Scientists is offering the tools to fight back.

“We’ve seen this playbook deployed again and again,” said Genna Reed, science and policy analyst at UCS. “When science is pushed to the sidelines, it poses a real threat to our health and safety. We need to recognize and expose these tactics to make sure everyone can benefit from independent science.”

The launch of the Disinformation Playbook will be accompanied by a new public service announcement featuring former NFL player Chris Borland. Borland left the San Francisco 49ers after his rookie season because of the League’s dishonesty about the risks of repeated head injuries, which have left many former players suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition.

“The NFL has made a lot of money while passing costs on to the players, their families, and their communities,” said Borland. “We need to stop this from continuing—in football and in other industries—by standing up for science.”

On the new website, UCS experts identify and name five key tactics of disinformation and interference with science, examining case studies when major industries have deployed these tactics to avoid accountability. While most companies don’t use these unethical tactics, they have been pervasive and powerful, with real consequences for our health and safety.

In the Trump administration, the playbook for corporate disinformation is particularly potent, because many administration appointees come from the very industries, think tanks and trade groups that have deployed these tactics in the past. Since the inauguration, these appointees have ignored science to push forward the wish lists of industry lobbyists and trade groups.

“Science-based policies we all rely on are under threat,” said Reed. “We’re now seeing federal agencies run by the very people who have tried to undermine science to protect their own interests. We need to understand these tactics and watch these agencies closely to make sure they’re doing their job—and call them out when they’re putting industry ahead of us.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.