Jennifer Jacquet’s Playbook Review – A Machiavellian Guide to Corporate Deception | Business and financial books

Ohen evidence emerged that smoking was linked to lung cancer, tobacco companies formulated a clear strategy. By investing in doubt and even denial, as Jennifer Jacquet puts it, they delivered late. So they suggested that the case was not yet watertight, that factors other than smoking were involved, or that we needed more research. And it delayed the day when governments insisted on warning labels, consumers changed their buying habits and companies faced legal challenges. In the same way, extremely costly efforts to deny – or cast serious doubt on – the clear conclusions of climate science have brought enormous “gains” to interested parties such as oil companies, including what the book described as “effectively zero legally binding”. international politics”.

The basic story may be widely familiar, but Jacquet has found a brilliantly effective way to reveal just how extensive and systematic these corporate strategies are – by creating a secret Machiavellian guide for executives worried about what the science the most recent could mean for their business. The game book claims to “contain sensitive information” and “not intended for distribution”. Countless examples of corporate underhandedness are held up as examples of success. Whenever research “implies a product in a problem,” we read, companies and other interested parties should rely on a proven four-step “arsenal” of answers.

Jennifer Jacquet: “blithely amoral, devil’s advocate approach”.

The most basic is to “challenge the problem” itself: refer to cancer as “biological activity” and emphasize the term “biosolids” instead of “toxic sludge”. The next step is to challenge the claims of causation. Acid rain strength be the result of volcanic activity and not sulfur dioxide pollution. Varroa, rather than pesticides, could explain a decrease in the number of bees. Any vague “credible alternative hypothesis” creates doubt and therefore saves time.

If none of these tactics work, companies need to play worse and “challenge the messenger.” When confronted with “scientists, activists and journalists whose work will end up endangering business operations”, advises Jacquet (or his evil alter ego), “call them apocalyptic, biased, pessimistic, hysterical, Intimidating or coercing them These tactics have the added effect of discouraging young professionals from asking similar questions.

The game book offers many examples of how companies try to keep reviews online. When Berkeley biologist Tyrone Hayes published findings on the dangers of a particular pesticide, the skillful use of search engine optimization resulted in an advertisement stating “Tyrone Hayes is not credible” emerged in response to online searches for him. He also claimed that a major agrochemical company was the source of “derogatory remarks about his appearance, his speaking style and even his sexual inclinations”.

Something similar happened to Jane Mayer, author of the 2016 expose. Dark Money: The Hidden Billionaire Story Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, who alleged, “I was a journalist for a long time, covering wars, the CIA, presidencies and a lot of very powerful organizations. But the Kochs [Charles and his late brother, David, who together headed Koch Industries, the second largest privately owned company in the US] are the only people I’ve ever covered who hired a private investigator to try and dig up dirt and tell false stories about me in order to damage my reputation.

But what if, despite all these efforts, it becomes widely accepted that a product or industry Is have adverse effects? The last string in the corporate bow is to challenge any proposed solutions as arbitrary, ineffective, a waste of taxpayers’ money, a case of “government overreaching,” or a poor substitute for a technological solution that is always around the corner. When in doubt, suggests Jacquet, make an emotional appeal: “A soft drink tax is regressive and therefore has a disproportionate impact on the poor…Global warming policy will ‘kill the African dream’ and condemn poorer countries. poorest to “perpetual poverty”.

Although the satirical mask sometimes slips, The game bookDevil’s Advocate’s cheerfully amoral approach makes it far more entertaining, but also far more disturbing, than a more sober historical account or polemic would be. What’s less clear is what we can do about the corporate obfuscation it presents. “A fundamental tenet of scientific knowledge,” the book points out, “is that it is always open to revision. This revisionist quality is what makes science reliable over long periods of time, but also creates opportunities to challenge science in the short term. For any research, legitimate questions can be raised about “how data are interpreted, assumptions built into models, alternative hypotheses, uncertainty, confidence, strengths and weaknesses of randomized controlled trials, standards of significance statistics, possible confounding factors”. Animal medical research can be embraced if the results serve corporate purposes or strenuously rejected if they don’t.

Yet its “revisionist quality” is presumably a feature, not a bug, of the scientific method. Doesn’t that mean it’s okay still be open to abuse from companies and others? I don’t know if Jacquet wants us to come away with such a pessimistic conclusion.

The Playbook: How to deny science, sell lies and kill in the corporate world by Jennifer Jacquet is published by Allen Lane (£16.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at Delivery charges may apply

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