; Confronting Pseudoscience and Threats from Corporate Front Group
Learning Center
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out
Your Federal Quarterly Tax Payments are due April 15th Get Help Now >>

Confronting Pseudoscience and Threats from Corporate Front Group


  • pg 1
									 Confronting Pseudoscience and
 Threats from a Corporate Front
The American Council on Science
           and Health

        Martin Donohoe
• Previous regular column for Medscape
   – Small payment per article
   – While much of Medscape’s content is
     supported by the pharmaceutical
     industry, my columns have been free of
     industry support
• No other funding sources or conflicts of
• Background: Global Warming
• Definition of Corporate Front Group
• American Council on Science and
  Health (ACSH) – history, staff, and
• ACSH – Pseudoscience and
• ACSH – Attacks on Scientists and the
  Scientific Enterprise
• Implications for Science and Public
• Other examples of obfuscation of
  science by corporate interests
• Conclusions
• Corporate Front Groups

• American Council on Science and Health

• Corporate PR Tactics

• Conclusions
      Corporate Front Groups
• Promote corporate agendas
• Strong financial and advisory links with
• Disseminate misinformation/lies under
  guise of “science”
  – Non-peer reviewed, cherry-picked/out of
• Promote pro-business, conservative
• Essay describing health and environmental
  consequences of global warming for Medscape
• Described ACSH as a corporate front group and
  criticized its selection of author Michael Crichton
  as recipient of its 2005 Sound Science Medal
   – Crichton’s State of Fear questions existence of
     human-caused global warming
   – Crichton also received the American Association of
     Petroleum Geologists’ journalism award
   ACSH and Global Warming
• Leader referred to “belief” that
  burning fossil fuels has caused global
  warming as pseudoscience

• Criticized environmental scientists as
  “doomsayers” and “fearmongers”
         ACSH Response
• Threatened litigation against
• Article pulled, then republished with
  additional material
• ?Loss of potential readership?
         Dr Elizabeth Whelan
• Founded in 1978 by Drs. Elizabeth
  Whelan and Frederick Stare
• Whelan’s early writing career included:
  – Freelance writing assignment for Pfizer
    criticizing the FDA
  – “Consumer magazine” pieces for Harper’s
    Bazaar and Glamour (fashion magazines)
  – Books: Panic in the Pantry and Toxic Terror
• Whelan’s 2003 salary = $326,612
       Dr Gilbert Ross - Medical /Executive
• In charge of all scientific projects, publications,
  and personnel issues involving scientific staff at
• Spent 1996 in federal prison after being
  sentenced to 46 months for
   –   Medicaid fraud
   –   Perjury
   –   Obstruction of justice
   –   Not mentioned on his bio on ACSH website
• Barred by the DHHS for 10 years from
  participating in either Medicare or Medicaid
       Dr Gilbert Ross’ Career
• Defended Wood Preservative Science
  Council against health claims regarding
  arsenic in pressure-treated wood
• Wrote on behalf of the farmed salmon
  industry that PCBs in fish do not cause
  any health problems
• ACSH Board of Directors includes anti-
  regulatory Individuals

• Prominent figures on board of advisors
  – George Lundberg (Editor, Medscape),
    William Foege (former head of CDC),
• Annual turnover of under $2 million
• Initial funding from right wing foundations,
• Accepted money to write and disseminate
  pro-industry “studies
• Now: ?1/3 of funds from private
  foundations, 1/3 from individuals, 1/3 from
  – Finances secret since early 1990s
            Sound Science
• Has spoken out re dangers of tobacco
• Supported IOM recommendation re
  coverage of contraception as a preventive
  health service
• Criticized Oprah for pseudoscientific
  claims (“The Secret,” anti-vaccination
  promulgations, nutritional supplement
  promotions, etc.)
Pseudoscience and Misinformation
• Attacked the precautionary principle
  –“anti-science and anti-technology
  –“fundamentally reactionary and
  –“more on the order of theology [than
Pseudoscience and Misinformation
• Minimized the effects of
  environmental tobacco smoke (ETS)
  on human health
   –38,000 deaths/yr in U.S.
• Opposed FDA regulation of e-
Pseudoscience and Misinformation
• Promoted smokeless tobacco, snus,
  and e-cigarettes as smoking
  cessation aids
• Opposed graphic tobacco package
Pseudoscience and Misinformation
• Denied many of the adverse neurological
  effects of lead exposure
• Denied endocrine-disrupting effects of
• Claimed court ordered-cleanup of Hudson
  River by GE based on false claims of
  PCBs causing cancer
Pseudoscience and Misinformation
• Minimized health concerns of 9-11
• Opposed EPA attempts to strengthen
  clean air standards
• Opposed TSCA reforms
• Denied health risks of certain cosmetics
  – See Environmental Working Group’s “Skin
    Deep” list of safe cosmetics
Pseudoscience and Misinformation
• Claimed uncertainty regarding effects of
  agricultural antibiotics
• Denied health and environmental risks of GM
• Called warnings regarding tuna consumption by
  pregnant women “unfounded health scare”
• Turned Alar concerns into manufactured
  “cautionary tale” of overzealous regulators run
Pseudoscience and Misinformation
• Critiqued health concerns re trans fatty
   – “There is no such thing as junk food”
   – “There is insufficient evidence of a
     relationship between diet and any disease.”
• Rejected AAP recommendation for fast food
  television advertising ban
• Opposed ban on sales of energy drinks to
Pseudoscience and Misinformation
• Claimed “irradiated food is safe,
  wholesome and nutritious” and “no
  radioactive isotopes are involved”
• Promoted nuclear power and benefits of
  low dose radiation hormesis
Pseudoscience and Misinformation
• Denied link between dioxins and
  pesticides and adverse health effects
  – “Pesticides are not toxic to humans of any
• Supported use of human volunteers in
  pesticide toxicity studies
• Denied health consequences of PBDEs
  (fire retardents) and PFOA (Teflon)
• EPA: U.S. farm workers suffer up to
  300,000 pesticide-related acute illnesses
  and injuries per year
• NAS: Pesticides in food could cause up
  to 1 million cancers in the current
  generation of Americans
• WHO: 1,000,000 people killed by
  pesticides over the last 6 years
       “Phony Health Scares”
• Mercury in tuna and other fish
  – “Enjoy it without worry”
• Flame retardant traces found in blood and
  breast milk
• PCBs in the Hudson River
• Diesel exhaust fumes from school busses
• Arsenic in drinking water
• Phthalates in medical devices and children’s
 ACSH: Attacks on Scientists and
    the Scientific Enterprise
• Threat of litigation against Medscape
  antithetical to the rules of science
  –require the free exchange of
    information and opinion in pursuit of
    the truth
  ACSH: Attacks on Scientists and
     the Scientific Enterprise
• ad hominem attacks
   – environmentalists = “toxic terrorists”
   – Whelan criticized Dr. Barry Levy and
     citizen-activist Erin Brockovich as
     “individuals who…pursued self-serving
     financial opportunities through litigation”
   – Called HSPH a “hotbed of
     pseudoscience and political agitation”
              Barry Levy
• Expert in asbestos-related litigation
• Past president of APHA and winner of
  Sedgwick Medal
• Career has included work with CDC and
  USAID and the presidency of International
  Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear
           Erin Brokovich
• Received Harvard School of Public
  Health’s highest honor, the Julius
  Richmond Award
• Exposed Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG
  and E’s) pollution of California
  groundwater with chromium-6 (linked to
  stomach cancer)
  ACSH: Attacks on Scientists and
     the Scientific Enterprise
• Charles Duhigg - NY Times writer
• Winner of 2010 NY branch of the Society for
  Professional Journalists Daniel Pearl Award for
  series, “Toxic Waters”
• Accused of “echo[ing] the campaign of radical
  environmental groups seeking to scare people
  about the safe use of pesticides” and of
  “allow[ing] himself to be used as a pawn in a
  campaign against…atrazine”
 Implications of Attacks on Science
           and Scientists
• ACSH has broad media presence
• Web site attracts large numbers of individuals
   – 100,000 hits per month for 2005
• Dr. Whelan has been featured on NBC’s Today Show,
  CNN Live, BBC, and CNBC’s Business Insiders
• Editorials by Whelan and Ross have appeared in the NY
  Times, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, USA Today, NY
  Post, Forbes, National Review, Washington Times,
  Weekly Standard, Medscape, and other publications
Implications of Attacks on Science
          and Scientists
• Mislead public / may cause alterations in
  lifestyle and/or purchasing habits
  – adverse consequences to health
• Threats of litigation and SLAPP suits
  distract, intimidate, and deplete the
  scientific, legal, and financial resources of
  individuals and groups committed to public
Implications of Attacks on Science
          and Scientists
• Faulty pronouncements influence elected
• Threats of litigation divert the valuable
  time of health care providers, editors, and
  legal departments away from their more
  productive missions of research, teaching,
  writing, and patient care
Implications of Attacks on Science
          and Scientists
• Scientists and health care advocates
  may decide it is wiser to avoid conflict
  than publish content to which ACSH
  and other such groups might object
  Educational Deficits Impede
Public’s Understanding of Science
• Inadequate funding of science and
  health education means individuals
  may lack background necessary to
  recognize sound science vs.
  ideological bunk
• Corporate-sponsored “educational
  materials” replacing scientific syllabi
Would You Sign a Petition to
Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide?
1. It can cause excessive sweating and vomiting
2. It is a major component in acid rain
3. It can cause severe burns in its gaseous state
4. It can kill you if accidentally inhaled
5. It contributes to erosion
6. It decreases effectiveness of automobile brakes
7. It has been found in tumors of terminal cancer
      Geographic Ignorance
• Percent of US teens unable to locate the
  following on a map:
  – United States – 11%
  – Pacific Ocean – 29%
  – Japan – 58%
  – United Kingdom – 68%
       Pseudoscientific Beliefs

    Percentage of Americans who believe “at
    least to some degree” in these “phenomena”

                       1976            1997
•   Astrology          17%             37%
•   UFOs               24%             30%
•   Reincarnation       9%             25%
•   Fortune-Telling     4%             14%
• Half of US citizens do not believe in
  evolution and do believe that humans
  and dinosaurs coexisted (2007)
  –40% think scientists still generally
    disagree about evolution
      Pseudoscientific Beliefs
• 37% believe places can be haunted (2007)
• 25% believe in UFOs (2007)
• 24% believe in astrology (2009)
• 16% believe that people with the “evil eye”
  can cast curses or harmful spells
• 14% have consulted a psychic or fortune
  teller (2009)
• 22% of Americans don’t know whether an
  atomic bomb has ever been dropped
• 20% of Americans don’t know the earth
  revolves around the sun (1999)
• 18% believe in Bigfoot and the Loch Ness
  Monster (2007)
• 8% of men / 18% of women believe in
  astrology and fortune tellers (2007)
        Corporate Influence

• Greenwash: Public relations/ad
  – Chevron’s “People Do” Campaign,
  – British Petroleum (BP) invests $100 million
    annually in clean energy = amt. it spends
    annually to market its new name and
    environmentally-friendly image of moving
    “Beyond Petroleum”
        Corporate Influence
• Astroturf: artificially-created grassroots
• Other corporate front groups
   – The Alliance for Responsible CFC
   – National Wilderness Institute
   – The Foundation for Clean Air Progress
       Corporate PR tactics
• Invoke poor people as beneficiaries
• Characterize opposition as
  “technophobic,” anti-science,” “anti-
  business,” and “against progress”
• Portray their products as
  environmentally beneficial in the
  absence of (or despite the) evidence
 Sponsored Environmental
   Educational Materials
• Corporate-sponsored and
  supported by a loose
  coalition of antiregulatory
  zealots, corporate polluters,
  lapdog scientists and
  misguided parents
   Sponsored Environmental
Educational Materials - Examples

• Exxon’s “Energy Cube”
  -“Gasoline is simply solar power hidden in
  decayed matter”
  -“Offshore drilling creates reefs for fish”
• Pacific Lumber Company
  -“The Great American Forest is. . .
  renewable forever”
   Sponsored Environmental
Educational Materials - Examples

• American Nuclear Society’s
  “Activities with the Atoms Family”

• Dow’s “Chemipalooza”
        Environment of Anti-
• Erosion of science under the Bush
  – Appointments to key scientific bodies based
    on corporate connections and political or
    religious ideology, rather than scientific
  – Excessive corporate influence over legislation
  – The rewriting and even suppression of
    scientific policy statements
• A little improvement under Obama
• Professional and lay publications should
  expose the workings of groups like ACSH
• Scientists should fight back against
• Improve quality of public education; get
  corporations out of the classroom
          Contact Info

       Martin T Donohoe

To top