Monday, November 28, 2011

How Do We Protect Ourselves from the Corporate Corruption of Science?

I've been reading David Michaels' book Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health. Truly a must read. As an insider, he chronicles the ways in which corporations are not only undermining the public's understanding of science by infusing misinformation and illegitimate doubt and having Republican cronies insert unreasonable and carefully crafted rules into the regulatory process that keep the government from acting in the public's best interest when we have strong scientific consensus of dangers to our health, but corporations are also corrupting the scientific process itself.

Where corporate interests are quick to scream "junk science" whenever legitimate scientists show that the world works in a fashion that is not in line with maximizing profits, the fact is that they are intentionally junking up the scientific system. They do this in three ways. The first is to find hired guns, scientists willing to design flawed studies that are guaranteed to give the industry the result it wants. You can do this if it is a comparative study, say demonstrating the increased efficacy of a new drug over an alternative already on the market, by putting up a straw opponent. Study your drug at full dose against the competitor at half dose. Hey, what do you know, this one works better.

Another way is to cherry pick your data and your results. If we're looking at rare diseases caused by chemicals in industrial work sites, make sure you only record some but not all of them. Have several data sets demonstrating the results of exposure to something used in your manufacturing process or a chemical you want to put on the market, only analyze the ones that give you what you want to show. Did you have the foresight to have several different groups run experiments under one of your hired scientists? Only let the ones that support you see the light of day.

A third is to not do the science yourself, but to reanalyze all the results that show the problems you are causing. A little adjustment in some of the assumptions of the model over here and a tweak of the statistical methods over there and, poof, the evidence that you are the one killing the parents of those cute little orphans has disappeared. Must have been lifestyle choices. thanks to Richard Shelby, the Senator from Alabama, it is the law that industries have access to the raw data of all of the scientists working in the public interest so that they can monkey with it and create false doubt in the public mind while corporations and the front organizations they finance to do their junk science can hide from the public and regulators everything they don't want us to know.

They work very hard disguising the junk they put out, trying their hardest to slip it into peer-reviewed journals so that they then have studies they can point to in court. With no moral values and tons of cash, they are succeeding in undermining the system.

Merck just pleaded guilty in the Vioxx case. They hid data from regulators so that they could generate profits on a drug that they knew would unnecessarily cause heart attacks. Somewhere between 88,000 and 139,000 people had heart attacks they otherwise would not have had because of Merck's actions and 30-40% of those were fatal. that means that somewhere between 26,000 and 55,000 families lost loved ones for no reason other than corporate profits. 3,000 people died on 9/11 and we call it terrorism and go to war. Ten times that many die from corporate malfeasance and we make sure they get tax breaks and legal protection to keep misleading and killing our family members.

So, given that they have the means to influence both the process of science and the reporting of it, do non-specialists in a field have good reason to form any belief about scientific consensus? Look at what they are doing with global warming. The misinformation campaign is massive. Where can we, the non-technicians, get information that is not filtered through the corporate spin and doubt machine so that we can get some sense of what the actual consensus among legitimate scientists is on issues that concern our health and well-being?