The Playbook by Jennifer Jacquet review – how big business takes on science and wins

A ‘guide’ for companies looking to counter unwelcome research exposes the corporate world’s dark arts

“Playbook” is a term that feels overused at the moment – mostly because of Vladimir Putin’s military adventures. We now know all too well that his playbook, deployed in Chechnya, then Syria, and now Ukraine, involves heavy bombardment of civilian areas with the aim of demoralising and grinding down a population towards eventual defeat. The end goal is the demonstration of Putin’s ruthlessness – one of his key tools for retaining power. Jennifer Jacquet’s The Playbook is about something else entirely – the methods corporations use to “deny science, sell lies, and make a killing”. The specifics couldn’t be more different. And yet, in some fundamental and peculiar ways, the strategies are similar.

Jacquet chooses a slightly unusual means of getting her ideas across, writing in the style of a helpful guide for corporations faced with scientific evidence that could “pose a risk to business operations”. Readers might assume the odd business may have used some of these dubious methods to push back against unwelcome research every so often, but they probably wouldn’t think it was a systemic issue. It doesn’t take long, however, to realise that Jacquet has a point – that the use of these tactics really does amount to a playbook to which almost every sector has had recourse at some point. The sheer weight of evidence that she piles up, chapter by chapter, is unarguable.

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