Thursday at NewScientist, Richard Littlemore makes the case that companies with dangerous products use a very specific strategy: "manufacture doubt." Cigarette companies, oil companies, electricity companies all do it, he assures. It's a "corporate strategy."

COMPANIES THAT HAVE ACTUALLY ADMITTED TO THIS STRATEGY

In 1972, Tobacco Institute vice-president Fred Panzer outlined his industry's "brilliantly executed" defence strategy. A key tactic was "creating doubt about the health charge without actually denying it" while "encouraging objective scientific research." ... A coalition of US coal and electricity companies set the tone in the 1990s with the creation of the Information Council on the Environment (ICE). It's purpose: to "reposition climate change as a theory not a fact".

HOW COMPANIES 'MANUFACTURE DOUBT'

ICE hired a PR firm to create advertising messages. These ranged from the ridiculous - "Who told you the Earth was getting warmer... Chicken Little?" - to the blatantly false - "If the Earth is getting warmer, why is Minneapolis getting colder?" But the focus groups found them effective, and that is all that mattered

HOW JOURNALISTS ARE--UNWITTINGLY--HELPING

ICE also hired scientists to sign querulous opinion-page articles and PR agencies to harass journalists. Today, journalists - embattled, overwhelmed and committed to "balance", no matter how spurious - are useful conduits for spreading doubt.

THE DOUBT LANDSCAPE TODAY

There are now scores of think tanks pushing dubious and confusing policy positions, and dozens of phoney grass-roots organisations created to make those positions appear to have legitimate following.

It's a hardball world. Never doubt it.