About 'Science for Sale'

The danger of tainted science



“Science is the father of knowledge,” Hippocrates famously wrote, “but opinion breeds ignorance.”

Nearly 2 ½ millennia after the father of Western medicine offered that insight, science and opinion have become increasingly conflated, in large part because of corporate influence. As we explain in “Science for Sale,” an investigative series launched today by the Center for Public Integrity and co-published with Vice.com, industry-backed research has exploded “as government-funded science dwindles. Its effects are felt not only in courtrooms but also in regulatory agencies that issue rules to try to prevent disease.”

Substances like asbestos and arsenic, whose poisonous properties seem incontrovertible, have become subjects of ceaseless debate. With the aim of obscuring the truth, corporations are steering millions of dollars to scientific consulting firms. Some of these consultants, for example, maintain there are “safe” levels of asbestos despite statements to the contrary from the World Health Organization and many other august bodies. Air pollution, the hired guns say, really isn’t the killer the Environmental Protection Agency makes it out to be.

Tainted science affects us all. It is used to fend off, or lessen the sting of, lawsuits filed on behalf of sick people. It freezes the regulatory process, forcing the EPA to redo chemical reviews underlying rules designed to protect public health. It has swayed the Food and Drug Administration and made it harder for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to protect workers.

It creates doubt where little or none existed.

Stay with us over the next two weeks as we show you, among other examples, a defense lawyer who “suggested” an outlandish scientific theory to paid researchers all too eager to bite, and an entire industry that slanted a nationwide study to get the results it wanted. As a former EPA scientist told us, “It just seems like you can just make up your own facts now.”

— Jim Morris, managing editor for environment and labor

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