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Creating Doubts

The tobacco industry has been creating doubts for decades: questioning the scientific evidence of the harmful effects of smoking to manipulate the public opinion in its favor.

Public Relations Strategists and spin doctors know this well: You don’t have to refute a conclusion to deprive it of its power. It is enough to doubt it vehemently to make it lose its credibility. Doubts are impossible to refute. Because any evidence suggesting that these doubts are unjustified can be challenged again.

The strategy of creating doubt has therefore always been used for decades when it comes to preventing or mitigating the consequences of scientific knowledge or uncomfortable facts. Bolsonaro and his supporters are doing it in Brazil when they question the veracity of the satellite photos showing the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

The oil industry has delayed effective action on climate change for decades by paying scientists who weren’t even climate experts to publicly question the real climate scientists’ findings. The public is often unable to distinguish genuine experts from self-appointed ones. That is why this strategy works very well.

While 5G and Covid-19 vaccine opponents spread conspiracy theories and other myths to raise doubts about the seriousness of scientists who represent the state of scientific knowledge. Undoubtedly we all heard this myth stating that mobile phone radiation must be assumed to be harmless as long as it does not exceed the limit values. Because despite three decades of research, no harmful effects have yet been found. The same applies to vaccinations.

Because scientists know they don’t know what they don’t know, no scientist would ever claim proven safety. In principle, such proof can never be provided, because one can never know what one does not know. Opponents of 5G and vaccination use this to spread doubts as to whether the statement might still be harmful. Sometimes they even go so far as to misleadingly claim that the statement is an admission of harm. However, this is wrong.

Creating doubts is also part of the arsenal of Russian hybrid warfare – also known as public diplomacy – as we pointed out in October 2020 . It is certainly in Russia’s interest to hinder the development of mobile infrastructure in the West in order to gain an advantage for itself. This fact is not proof that Russia is fueling resistance to 5G in the West. But the fact that opponents of pandemic measures, deniers of man-made climate change, 5G opponents, and those who defend Putin are often identical in terms of audience and use the same sources to obtain information, raises certain questions.

Doubt, everything, is the best remedy against the public opinion manipulation techniques. Doubt everything you read and especially check if this information arouses strong emotions or is presented spectacularly. With this mindset, we also like to spread doubts. However, we do this to help truth triumph over manipulation.

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