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‘The Triumph of Doubt’ – corporations’ war on science

Inside corporations’ war on science . A new book explains how corporations create a climate of doubt around science and expertise. Vox, By Sean Illing@seanillingsean.illing@vox.com  May 26, 2020

Johnson & Johnson announced this week that it will stop putting talc, a mineral linked to asbestos, in its baby powder products. The move comes after years of lawsuits alleging that the powder causes various cancers.

It’s also a surprising turnaround. Johnson & Johnson has spent decades funding biased science and lobbying the government to avoid regulating its products or labeling them as cancer-causing. It’s a tactic deployed by many other industries that have a stake in stifling regulation and the science behind it.

The history of this practice is documented in a new book by David Michaels, the former assistant secretary of labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) under the Obama administration. It’s a close look at how powerful corporations fund junk science and misinformation campaigns in order to obscure evidence and undercut regulatory efforts.

Big Tobacco and the fossil fuels industry are obvious examples, but the problem goes well beyond that. From cancer-causing hair products and apparel to diabetes-linked food and sugary drinks, corporations have realized that you don’t have to convince the public or government officials of anything — all you have to do is create the illusion of doubt.

And they do that by piloting bogus studies, organizing partisan think tanks, supplying dubious congressional witnesses, and anything else they can think of to give regulators enough cover to plausibly look the other way. If you’ve ever heard a politician say “The science is still unclear” or “We need to keep researching the issue,” there’s a good chance that was made possible by industry-funded pseudo-science.

I spoke to Michaels about what this process looks like, why journalists and civic actors have been unable to stop it, and how the practice has become more pervasive in recent years. We also discussed the coronavirus pandemic and how the tactics he describes in this book helped lay the groundwork for the extreme skepticism of scientific expertise we’re seeing from conservatives.

“The Republican base,” Michaels told me, “has been acclimatized to be skeptical of mainstream science, and easily believe accusations that they are being manipulated by the deep state, the liberal media, and pointy-headed scientists.”

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Sean Illing

When you say that big corporations like DuPont or Exxon manufacture doubt around their products, what do you mean?

David Michaels

I mean that they hire scientists who appear to be reputable to produce or obscure evidence about the products they make. If there are studies or even suggestions that their product is dangerous, you can hire a scientist who will say, “The evidence is in question,” or, “The study is wrong.”

Corporations make sure those scientists get their opinions into what look like credible peer-reviewed journals, then they get picked up by newspapers, then they have the sound bites that commentators repeat, and that’s enough to convince people that there’s uncertainty. Not necessarily that the product is safe, but that the scientific evidence isn’t there.

That’s basically how it works.

Sean Illing

You used the phrase “appear to be reputable.” What does that mean?

David Michaels

They are credentialed people, but they typically work for consulting firms whose business model is to provide any result their client needs……..

One of the things the Trump administration has done is essentially take the same mercenary scientists who have been working for corporations trying to influence the agencies to do the wrong thing and then given them high-level positions in these same agencies – [EPA , the FDA  and other public institutions]…….

The example that I find most striking is a fellow named Tony Cox, who was appointed chairman of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who is himself a longtime lobbyist for the oil and coal industries……..

Sean Illing

So we’ve just made the process more efficient. Industry doesn’t even need middlemen to muddy the waters on their behalf now because they just have their own people appointed to run the agencies charged with regulating them…….

David Michaels

As the abject and enormously tragic failure of the Trump administration’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic becomes increasingly clear, the president and his supporters are taking the tobacco road, applying the same strategy used by cigarette manufacturers, fossil fuel corporations, and a host of other industries whose products and activities damage public health.

Not only is it the same strategy, it features the same cast of characters, and it is promoted in the same social media and cable TV venues, especially Fox News. Right-wing punditsTrump administration officials, and scientists with long histories of discredited studies first declared the epidemic a hoax and then asserted the numbers of cases and deaths are wildly inflated. They have been eventually shown to be wildly wrong, but it has no impact on their credibility or their willingness to offer outrageous claims.

This strategy is successful because the Republican base has been acclimatized to be skeptical of mainstream science and easily believe accusations heard on Fox News or read on Facebook that they are being manipulated by the deep state, the liberal media, and pointy-headed scientists……..

When the Trump administration is finally evicted from power, we will need to rebuild our system of public health protections, not simply by pouring more funding into federal agencies that were weak and flawed even before Trump, but by reimagining how they can be far more effective and inclusive, and are able to apply the best available science. And we must do this in a way that overcomes the anti-science culture fed by the current administration and the Republican party.

If we are unable to accomplish these goals, I fear that the nation’s disastrous response to Covid-19 is likely to be a preview of a very troubling future.  https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/21137717/johnson-and-johnson-triumph-of-doubt-david-michaels

May 30, 2020 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, resources - print, Resources -audiovicual, secrets,lies and civil liberties

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