Why They Create Doubt and Confusion -- It
An ill wind is gusting through the halls of science these days: faked
research, suppression of unwelcome results, corruption of science advisory
panels, university research falling under the influence of corporate
sponsors, and many other conflicts of interest.
It's as if science were under siege.
For at least the last thirty years science has strongly supported the
positions taken by environmental and public health advocates. The proponents
of "business as usual" have claimed that chemical and nuclear technologies
have created only minor problems or no problems whatsoever -- but time after
time science has shown otherwise. They said global warming was a "chicken
little" fantasy. They said the Earth's ozone shield couldn't possibly be
harmed. They argued that asbestos was benign. They said lead in paint and
gasoline was entirely safe. They said harm from hormone-disrupting chemicals
was imaginary. They said a little radioactivity might actually improve your
health. They said human health was constantly and consistently improving --
until scientific study revealed increases in birth defects, asthma,
diabetes, attention deficits, nervous system disorders, diseases of the
reproductive system, immune system disorders, cancer in children, and on and
on. In each of these cases science showed that the advocates of "business as
usual" were simply wrong.
Science cannot solve all our problems or tell us everything we need to know,
but it remains a powerful tool for reaching agreement about the nature of
reality (at least for those parts of reality amenable to scientific
inquiry). For the past 30 years, science has shown us unmistakably that we
are destroying the natural systems (and bodily defenses) that we ourselves
depend upon, so "business as usual" is a dead end.
Perhaps this is why science itself is now under systematic attack by
corporate interests. Whatever the underlying reasons, it seems clear that
industry has lined up to discredit science, control the research agenda,
take over the apparatus for scholarly publication and otherwise undermine
the scientific and democratic pursuit of knowledge in the public interest.
Perhaps they see it as their only hope of defending themselves against the
overwhelming scientific evidence that – if accepted by the public -- would
end "business as usual" and set us on a new precautionary path.
The Los Angeles Times reported July 11 that allegations of faked scientific
findings increased 50% between 2003 and 2004. But the Times also noted
that the federal Office of Research Integrity cannot keep up with the rising
tide of scientific fakery because it's budget is far too small. The office
received 274 allegations of scientific fakery in 2004, but was able to
complete only 23 investigations.
Corporate suppression of data is now so routine that no one raises an
eyebrow. In the wake of an EPA advisory panel classifying the Teflon
chemical C8 (ammonium perfluorooctanoate, or PFOA) as a "likely carcinogen",
reporter Ken Ward, Jr. of the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette
learned that in 1981 DuPont initiated a study to learn whether exposure to
C8 caused birth defects in the children of Teflon factory workers. When the
study found an excess of birth defects in the children, the study was
abandoned and the results filed away without notifying the federal
government. Under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) companies
must tell the EPA when they find information "that reasonably supports the
conclusion that [a chemical] presents a substantial risk of injury to
Generating Doubt -- OSHA Gives Up
It is common practice for industry to wage scientific and public relations
war against the regulatory agencies whose job is to protect public health.
The Wall Street Journal reports that PR firm executives openly admit to
hiring university professors to put their names on ghost-written letters to
the editor. The letters are written by hacks paid to put a corporate
"spin" on the science, and the experts sign their names to lend credence to
the spin (and to earn a fat fee).
Another common practice these days is "seeding the scientific literature"
with bogus results, to create doubt and confusion. In recent years,
corporations have seeded the literature with false findings related to
tobacco, lead, mercury, asbestos, vinyl chloride, chromium, nickel, benzene,
beryllium and others. They cook the numbers, publish misleading
articles in obscure journals, and then cite their own work to create
confusion and doubt.
This strategy has brought the federal government to its knees. The case of
beryllium is illuminating. Beryllium is a strong, light metal used in
nuclear weapons and nuclear reactors. Beryllium dust is a potent lung
toxicant and carcinogen.
In 1999 the Department of Energy (DOE) set beryllium exposure levels for
federal workers that are ten times as strict as the general industrial
exposure standard set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The OSHA standard was set based on data available in 1949.
When OSHA proposed to tighten its safety standard for beryllium exposure, to
bring it into line with the new standard set for federal workers, industry
was able to create enough doubt and confusion that OSHA backed off and
concluded that "more research was needed" before a tighter standard could be
A writer in Scientific American concludes that "OSHA administrators have
simply recognized that establishing new standards is so time and
labor-intensive, and will inevitably call forth such orchestrated opposition
from industry, that it is not worth expending the agency's limited resources
on the effort." Creating confusion and doubt pays off.
Science in the Private Interest
Chester Douglass -- chairman of the Department of Oral Health Policy and
Epidemiology at Harvard -- is being investigated for concluding that there
is no relationship between fluoride in drinking water and bone cancer in
children. He himself cites research -- described as the most
rigorous to date -- concluding the opposite. The National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), which funded the research with a $1.3
million dollar grant, and Harvard are investigating. Why would a
public health expert skew his results? Does it matter that Dr.
Douglass is the editor of The Colgate Oral Health Report, a quarterly
newsletter published by Colgate-Palmolive, which makes fluoridated
toothpaste? Professor Sheldon Krimsky, author of Science in the
Private Interest, warns that science in the public interest will
increasingly lose out as the entire system favors a tight collaboration
between industry, government and academia.
Academic scientists are under increasing pressure to find commercial
applications for their research so that their institution can patent,
license and profit from the work. Corporate partnerships and lucrative
consulting deals inject big money into the equation. In 1996, Sheldon
Krimsky analyzed the biomedical literature and found in 34% of the articles,
at least one of the chief authors had a financial interest in the research.
None of these financial interests was disclosed in the journals. Krimsky
said the 34% figure was probably an underestimate because he couldn't check
stock ownership or corporate consulting fees paid to researchers. No
wonder allegations of misconduct by U.S. scientists are at an all time high.
 A recent survey of several thousand scientists found that 33% had
committed at least one of ten serious misbehaviors -- like falsifying data
or changing conclusions in response to pressure from a funding source. Six
percent admitted to failing to present data that contradicted their own
FDA, NIH Broken
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) are now so thoroughly beholden to industry that they
are broken, unable to perform their duties to protect the public. The New
York Times reports "the White House and Congress forced a marriage between
the agency [FDA] and industry years ago for the rich dowry that industry
offered." Dr. Janet Woodcock, deputy commissioner of operations at the FDA
said that the drug approval process is "pretty much broken down... and has
been for some time." The FDA has become so focused on approving new drugs
at the expense of monitoring the ones already on the market that thousands
of people have been put in harm's way by drugs like Vioxx. One FDA
analyst estimated that Vioxx caused between 88,000 and 139,000 heart attacks
-- killing somewhere between 26,400 and 55,600 people (assuming 30 to 40
percent of heart attacks were fatal).[4, 10]
An investigation into drug company ties with NIH scientists found that more
than half of those investigated had violated existing policies meant to
limit conflict of interest. Director of the NIH Elias Zerhouni said,
"We discovered cases of employees who consulted with research entities
without seeking required approval, consulted in areas that appeared to
conflict with their official duties, or consulted in situations where the
main benefit was the ability of the employer to invoke the name of NIH as an
affiliation." To his credit, Zerhouni ushered in reforms banning NIH
employees from accepting drug company consulting fees or stock. But
Congress is now pressuring him to relent because NIH employees have objected
to the restrictions.
To their credit, many courageous government scientists are now speaking out
about the corruption of science and there have been a number of high profile
firings and resignations ranging from the Fish and Wildlife Service to NASA
where scientists are blowing the whistle on government abuses of solid
Some 6,000 scientists including 48 Nobel laureates, 62 National Medal of
Science recipients, and 135 members of the National Academy of Sciences have
signed the Union of Concerned Scientists' (UCS) statement "Restoring
Scientific Integrity in Policy Making." The Bush government is
certainly not the first to abuse science, but they have raised the stakes
and injected ideology like no previous administration. The result is
scientific advisory panels stacked with industry hacks, agencies ignoring
credible panel recommendations, and concerted efforts to undermine basic
environmental and conservation biology science.
In the words of the UCS, "The actions by the Bush administration threaten to
undermine the morale and compromise the integrity of scientists working for
and advising America's world-class governmental research institutions and
agencies... To do so carries serious implications for the health, safety,
and environment of all Americans."
We have merely scratched the surface here. The corruption of the scientific
enterprise has proceeded very far. In some areas of scientific endeavor,
there are almost no independent researchers left because nearly every
scientist in the field is funded by corporations with an axe to grind.
Agricultural biotechnology (genetically engineered food) is one such field
of inquiry. The flip side of that coin is that certain avenues of research
have been nearly eliminated by the funding sources – for example,
researchers say funds to study the health effects of biotech foods are now
almost non- existent. 
What does this all mean for science and society? The public's trust in
science will most certainly continue to erode. When this happens, even
honest science is tarnished and loses its power to protect nature and public
health because the public doesn't believe it. Honest science in the
public interest is becoming an endangered species. And America slides
further away from democracy by and for the people.
 Martha Mendoza, "Allegations of Fake Research Hit New High," THE LOS
ANGELES TIMES, July 11, 2005.
 Ken Ward Jr., "DuPont Proposed, Dropped '81 Study of C8, Birth Defects,"
THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE, July 10, 2005.
 Michael Schroeder, "Some Professors Take Payments To Express Views," THE
WALL STREET JOURNAL, December 10, 2004, pg. B1.
 David Michaels, "Doubt Is Their Product, Industry groups are fighting
government regulation by fomenting scientific uncertainty," SCIENTIFIC
AMERICAN (June 2005) Vol. 29 No. 6, pg. 96, 6p.
 Juliet Eilperin, "Fluoride-Cancer Link May Have Been Hidden," THE
WASHINGTON POST, July 14, 2005.
 Sheldon Krimsky, SCIENCE IN THE PRIVATE INTEREST; HAS THE LURE OF
PROFITS CORRUPTED BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH? (New York, Rowman & Littlefield
(2003). ISBN 074251479X.
 Sheldon Krimsky and L.S. Rothenberg, "Conflict of Interest Policies in
Science and Medical Journals: Editorial Practices and Author Disclosures,"
SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING ETHICS (2001) Vol. 7, pgs. 205-218.
 Meredith Wadman, "One in Three Scientists Confesses to Having
Sinned,"NATURE (June 9, 2005) Vol. 435, pgs.718-719.
 Gardiner Harris, "Drug Safety System Is Broken, a Top F.D.A. Official
Says," THE NEW YORK TIMES, June 9, 2005.
 The World Health Organization estimates that 39% of all heart attacks
globally are fatal. INTEGRATED MANAGEMENT OF CARDIOVASCULAR RISK: report of
a WHO meeting, (World Health Organization, Geneva, 9-12 July 2002).
 David Willman, "NIH Inquiry Shows Widespread Ethical Lapses, Lawmaker
Says," THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, July 14, 2005.
 SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY IN POLICYMAKING; INVESTIGATION INTO THE
BUSHADMINISTRATION'S MISUSE OF SCIENCE (Cambridge, Mass.: Union of
ConcernedScientists, February 2004). And SEE SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY IN
POLICYMAKING; FURTHER INVESTIGATION (Cambridge, Mass.: Union of Concerned
 "Monsanto research causes concern about biotech corn," Canadian Press
June 23, 2005. RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH NEWS #822, July 21, 2005.
Source: SCIENCE UNDER SEIGE by Tim Montague, July 21, 2005