FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Corporate Assault on Science

Photo by Molly Adams | CC BY 2.0

The fact that science is the foundation for civilization and democracy should be self-evident. Regrettably that connection seems often to escape our collective consciousness. We tend to think of science narrowly as restricted to hi-tech, laboratories and the development of electric cars or travel to Mars. But everything we do collectively from Medicare to fighting climate change to designing social programs, building infrastructure and tax policy we take for granted is rooted in evidence, that is, science.

The advent of right-wing populist hostility towards evidence and now extended by so-called alternate facts, threatens to take us down the dystopian road of the irrational. The spread of this trend in the US – highlighted by the election of Trump as president and the inability of US culture to cope with gun violence – is as much a threat to the future of the human race as is climate change.

The trend started in earnest in the 1990’s and it took a long time for scientists themselves to step up and defend their ground. An unprecedented and overt attack on public science by Stephen Harper forced the traditionally a-political science community to take a public stand for evidence-based policy. In the summer of 2012 hundreds of demonstrators marched from an Ottawa science conference to Parliament Hill under the banner the ‘Death of Evidence’.   Many were working scientists wearing their lab coats. Last April there was the world-wide Global March for Science in 600 cities coinciding with Earth Day.

The fight back for science and by scientists is one of the bright spots in the resistance against the rise of irrationalism. But there is another dark corner that has not had as much light shone on it and that is the pernicious corruption of science and scientists.

A recent book gives us a major resource for understanding and exposing the sinister trade in lies and obfuscation that results in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of deaths every year. Corporate Ties that Bind: An Examination of Corporate Manipulation and Vested Interests in Public Health is a 450 page, 24 chapter compendium by an   international group of scientists about how corporations routinely set out to undermine public interest science – and how they have found hundreds of scientists eager to do their bidding.

Those who consider themselves informed citizens know of course that science is often corrupted with the tobacco industry being the poster child for deadly science fraud. But even the most disillusioned will have their breath taken away by the accounts in this book. One of the most compelling chapters is authored by Canadian Kathleen Ruff (a friend) who led the successful fight against asbestos in Canada.

Ruff documents how the strategy of the tobacco industry was adopted by virtually every other dirty industry eager to hide their toxic products. The advice received by the industry from the infamous Hill and Knowlton was “…not to challenge scientific evidence but instead to seize and control it. …declare the value of scientific skepticism…creating an appearance of scientific controversy.” It was a brilliant strategy and is still being used today.

Perhaps the most chilling aspect of the book are the accounts of how world renowned scientists working in the public sector (and genuinely in the public interest) casually switched sides giving cover to some of the deadliest industries on the planet. Ruff highlights the example of Paolo Boffetta who for twenty years until 2009 worked for the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer IARC) where he eventually became  chief of Environmental Cancer Epidemiology.

While still with IARC, Boffetta in 2008 accepted a contract with the consulting company Exponent, a firm dedicated to countering critical independent and government research into toxic products. He prepared a paper for the styrene industry claiming there was no increased risk of cancer “…among workers exposed to styrene.” The industry used the study effectively, citing Boffetta’s prestigious record with IARC. While Boffetta was at IARC in 1994 the agency had upgraded the styrene threat to “…probably carcinogenic to humans.”

When research by the Harvard School of Public Health revealed that sugary-drink consumption was responsible for roughly 180,000 deaths worldwide, Boffetta’s own mercenary research firm, the International Prevention Research Institute (IPRI) , published a review article, funded by Coca-Cola claiming there was “no link” between sugary drinks and cancer.

Ruff writes that Boffetta, still touting his IARC credentials, continues to take on projects defending products that have been judged to be carcinogenic or harmful by agencies like the WHO’s IARC: “…whether it’s the issue of dioxin, acrylimides, beryllium, atrazine, formaldehyde, diesel fumes, vinyl chloride, endocrine disruptors, PCBs, continued exposure to asbestos or air pollution caused by heavy metals, Boffetta has come up with the findings desired by the industry…”

The book focuses almost exclusively on the role of corporations in the assault on public interest science.  It details the efforts of the pharmaceutical industry to cover up deadly drugs; false science supporting the asbestos industry and the thens of thousandsof deaths that resulted; the failure of many scientific journals to demand of contributors that they reveal corporate funding and their refusal to withdraw articles revealed to be fraudulent; the systematic and sustained efforts to destroy the careers of scientists who have dared to simply tell the truth. It has a chapter on “Epidemiological War Crimes” detailing how a mass of German data on the toxicity of many drugs and chemicals was quietly handed over to US corporations after WW II, never to be seen again.

There is also a chapter on that now almost quaint concept of the precautionary principle, the foundation of public health protection for decades that was disposed of under the Paul Martin government by then deputy minister of health David Dodge. The precautionary principle, said Dodge was not geared to decision-making. “Risk management is about maximizing benefits and minimizing risks.”

It is encouraging to see scientists becoming “political” because in a capitalist society science can’t be anything but. Yet fighting the overtly irrational is just one step. Scientists have to show similar courage in confronting the corruption in their own ranks. They should all read this book.

More articles by:

MURRAY DOBBIN, now living in Powell River, BC has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over forty years.  He can be reached at murraydobbin@shaw.ca

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
February 24, 2020
Stephen Corry
New Deal for Nature: Paying the Emperor to Fence the Wind
M. K. Bhadrakumar
How India’s Modi is Playing on Trump’s Ego to His Advantage
Jennifer Matsui
Tycoon Battle-Bots Battle Bernie
Robert Fisk
There’s Little Chance for Change in Lebanon, Except for More Suffering
Rob Wallace
Connecting the Coronavirus to Agriculture
Bill Spence
Burning the Future: the Growing Anger of Young Australians
Eleanor Eagan
As the Primary Race Heats Up, Candidates Forget Principled Campaign Finance Stands
Binoy Kampmark
The Priorities of General Motors: Ditching Holden
George Wuerthner
Trojan Horse Timber Sales on the Bitterroot
Rick Meis
Public Lands “Collaboration” is Lousy Management
David Swanson
Bloomberg Has Spent Enough to Give a Nickel to Every Person Whose Life He’s Ever Damaged
Peter Cohen
What Tomorrow May Bring: Politics of the People
Peter Harrison
Is It as Impossible to Build Jerusalem as It is to Escape Babylon?
Weekend Edition
February 21, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Election Con 2020: Exposing Trump’s Deception on the Opioid Epidemic
Joshua Frank
Bloomberg is a Climate Change Con Man
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Billion Dollar Babies
Paul Street
More Real-Time Reflections from Your Friendly South Loop Marxist
Jonathan Latham
Extensive Chemical Safety Fraud Uncovered at German Testing Laboratory
Ramzy Baroud
‘The Donald Trump I know’: Abbas’ UN Speech and the Breakdown of Palestinian Politics
Martha Rosenberg
A Trump Sentence Commutation Attorneys Generals Liked
Ted Rall
Bernie Should Own the Socialist Label
Louis Proyect
Encountering Malcolm X
Kathleen Wallace
The Debate Question That Really Mattered
Jonathan Cook
UN List of Firms Aiding Israel’s Settlements was Dead on Arrival
George Wuerthner
‘Extremists,’ Not Collaborators, Have Kept Wilderness Whole
Colin Todhunter
Apocalypse Now! Insects, Pesticide and a Public Health Crisis  
Stephen Reyna
A Paradoxical Colonel: He Doesn’t Know What He is Talking About, Because He Knows What He is Talking About.
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A New Solar Power Deal From California
Richard Moser
One Winning Way to Build the Peace Movement and One Losing Way
Laiken Jordahl
Trump’s Wall is Destroying the Environment We Worked to Protect
Walden Bello
Duterte Does the Right Thing for a Change
Jefferson Morley
On JFK, Tulsi Gabbard Keeps Very Respectable Company
Vijay Prashad
Standing Up for Left Literature: In India, It Can Cost You Your Life
Gary Leupp
Bloomberg Versus Bernie: The Upcoming Battle?
Ron Jacobs
The Young Lords: Luchadores Para La Gente
Richard Klin
Loss Leaders
Gaither Stewart
Roma: How Romans Differ From Europeans
Kerron Ó Luain
The Soviet Century
Mike Garrity
We Can Fireproof Homes But Not Forests
Fred Baumgarten
Gaslighting Bernie and His Supporters
Joseph Essertier
Our First Amendment or Our Empire, But Not Both
Peter Linebaugh
A Story for the Anthropocene
Danny Sjursen
Where Have You Gone Smedley Butler?
Jill Richardson
A Broken Promise to Teachers and Nonprofit Workers
Binoy Kampmark
“Leave Our Bloke Alone”: A Little Mission for Julian Assange
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail