Corporations are manufacturing uncertainty about scientific findings
Now scientists are fighting back
From The Raw Story 19 May 2013 -
Corporations are manufacturing uncertainty about scientific findings. Science is under attack. With corporations manufacturing uncertainty to undermine studies that hurt their bottom lines and the sequester cutting billions in funding for scientific research, you’d think the American science community would be hunkered down in their labs avoiding outside interference at all costs.
A new project of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the Center for Science and Democracy, is encouraging scientists to do just the opposite. The center encourages scientists to speak out and help others to better understand scientific information and to distinguish evidence from political positioning. We spoke with the Center’s director Dr. Andrew Rosenberg by phone this week. This is an edited version of our conversation.
Theresa Riley: In Bill’s conversation with public health historians David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, they talk about a “war on science” that is being waged by industries to prevent and weaken regulations. In Heads They Win, Tails We Lose, a report released last year, UCS investigators showed how widespread the practice is. What tactics do they use?
Andrew Rosenberg: In the political arena, there are lots of avenues where corporate influence comes in. Sometimes it’s directly lobbying elected officials. For example, on fracking, Common Cause found that the industry has spent almost $750 million over the last decade lobbying to try to ensure that regulation isn’t increased, that the federal government stays out of fracking — even, to some extent, in the monitoring and evaluation of impacts of fracking. And that’s unfortunately a pretty common picture. On medical devices it’s a similar sum, $700 million, to lobby on behalf of medical devices and pharmaceuticals to try to keep the rules as business friendly as possible. People understand that there’s lobbying. I’m not sure they understand the magnitude.
A second way is creating a false and parallel science. Of course, that’s quite dramatic on climate change, where there’s been very extensive funding, particularly from the energy industry, of so-called climate change skeptics. I think it’s less well known that that occurs in many other fields, particularly the testing of chemicals, such as toxic contaminants, formaldehyde and silica, where the industry is creating a body of science, ostensibly of science that says, “Well, really this isn’t such a problem.”
One of their tactics is to create groups that are labeled things like Safer Chemicals for a Healthy World — I’m making that one up, but there are actual groups like this. You find out they’re funded by The American Chemistry Council (and they’re funded by the chemical industry). They cast doubt and continually challenge scientific results. Formaldehyde is a good example. The formaldehyde industry is continually challenging evidence that shows that formaldehyde is a carcinogen in the crafting of EPA regulations and product safety regulations.
Riley: In some cases, they go as far as suing scientists. For instance, Markowitz and Rosner tell Bill that in the 1970s and ’80s, the lead industry went after researchers like Herbert Needleman who had uncovered the fact that even low levels of lead were damaging children. They accused him of scientific misconduct and filed charges against him. It took several years for him to prevail.