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Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your…

by David Michaels

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1243170,840 (4.2)None
"Doubt is our product," a cigarette executive once observed, "since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy." In this eye-opening expose, David Michaels reveals how the tobacco industry's duplicitous tactics spawned a multimillion dollar industry that is dismantling public health safeguards. Product defense consultants, he argues, have increasingly skewed the scientific literature, manufactured and magnified scientific uncertainty, and influenced policy decisions to the advantage of polluters and the manufacturers of dangerous products. To keep the public confused about the hazards posed by global warming, second-hand smoke, asbestos, lead, plastics, and many other toxic materials, industry executives have hired unscrupulous scientists and lobbyists to dispute scientific evidence about health risks. In doing so, they have not only delayed action on specific hazards, but they have constructed barriers to make it harder for lawmakers, government agencies, and courts to respond to future threats. The Orwellian strategy of dismissing research conducted by the scientific community as "junk science" and elevating science conducted by product defense specialists to "sound science" status also creates confusion about the very nature of scientific inquiry and undermines the public's confidence in science's ability to address public health and environmental concerns Such reckless practices have long existed, but Michaels argues that the Bush administration deepened the dysfunction by virtually handing over regulatory agencies to the very corporate powers whose products and behavior they are charged with overseeing. In Doubt Is Their Product Michaels proves, beyond a doubt, that our regulatory system has been broken. He offers concrete, workable suggestions for how it can be restored by taking the politics out of science and ensuring that concern for public safety, rather than private profits, guides our regulatory policy. Named one of the best Sci-Tech books of 2008 by Library Journal!… (more)
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Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health
David Michaels, 2008

This heavily documented but readable book discusses the ways in which industry fights against health, safety, and environmental regulations. I would like to encourage more people to read this, especially those involved in public policy, critical thinking, science, health, education, and politics.

Even if you don’t read the whole thing, it might be worth reading one or two chapters (pick a topic that looks interesting to you!) and the last chapter (or last 2 chapters), which is full of suggestions for further action. The more people who are thinking and talking about this topic, the better.

Some of the techniques used by industries:

1. Manufacturing Doubt: Real science works on the preponderance of the evidence. In the interests of science it is considered most ethical to limit something that appears to have bad health effects, even if the exact mechanism is not yet understood. Safety and health first! Industry has been claiming the standard should be absolute certainty, which is not possible.

2. Playing with Statistics: Doing studies with the goal in mind is not scientifically ethical. A properly done study asks a question and then does the work to figure out the answer to the question. Picking and choosing data that will give a desired result, watering down the data, using methods that are not scientifically accepted – these are all improper techniques that are used.

3. Playing the Regulatory System:
*Many of the federal regulatory associations are required to evaluate any new information that has been submitted to them. Industry scientists are good at making lots of studies (see #2) that bog down the system. In addition, industries now have the right to re-analyze federal data, but they are allowed to hide their own data.
* People from industries are frequently brought into the committees and regulatory agencies meant to regulate those industries. Regardless of claims otherwise, if you want impartial people it is possible to find good scientists and train them up/make it their job to understand what they need to.
* The rules of the regulatory system have been changed/hampered.
* Judges can now be asked to evaluate in advance if scientific evidence will be allowed in a trial, despite the fact that judges are not scientists.
After a disaster (like our recent mining and oil disasters), citizens ask why someone wasn’t watching; why someone wasn’t protecting us. And polls have shown that Americans want their government to be taking care of these things. But the EPA and OSHA are weakened by rules that industry (and some administrations) have set up in the background, so they don’t work as well.

4. Delay: Delaying regulation is a priority, even if it means more people get sick, because it means more seasons of sales and production. I was surprised and disturbed by both the length of some of the cases (sometimes taking decades to get resolved, with many people suffering the consequences) and the recentness of other cases (because I like to think we are better than that.)

5. Manufacturing “Independent” Views: Industries create dummy associations to promote their view, and fund them in the background. They develop “captured” journals that are willing to publish the long and misleading articles that the industry wants to publish. (Scientists usually are pressured to keep their articles short, but long articles are more impressive to people – like juries – who may not understand the science). This last is especially disturbing to me when I think of science students using these articles for reference. How can you recognize what is good, peer-reviewed work, and what is supported by groups that have been designed to support each other?

10. I don’t want to be one of those people who comes across as crazy, disaffected, anti-establishment, paranoid, etc. But I do want our government to act in such a way that I can believe that what I eat, breathe, and purchase will most likely NOT be harming me or the people who make it or dispose of it. The good news is that many of the stories in here ended up being successes for public health. But we need people who are working as hard as industries, with all their money and advertising and “scientists” and lawyers behind them, are working, because they are going to keep at it, and we the people should be the ones calling the shots. ( )
  JanesList | Jul 24, 2010 |
I am with Michaels in his fight to regulate toxic and hazardous substances, and I am angry (but not surprised) at the cynical, reckless industrial behaviour that he documents so thoroughly in his book.

But "Doubt is Their Product" has two large problems, as a book: first, it often gets lost in the details and the acronyms, failing to abstract to a larger picture of the issues with industry-backed science until the last chapters. The issue of open science, in particular, is quite hairy and Michaels doesn't explore it as much as it deserves. Second, the book is almost exclusively concerned with United States policy, which might be fine for an American reader but frustratingly foreign to the rest of the world.

However, all things considered, if you believe that privately-funded science is superior in any way to publicly-funded science, this is a most-read. ( )
  jorgearanda | Nov 15, 2009 |
This book tells the life stories of various toxic substances and harmful products, from tobacco to beryllium, and how industry tried to divert the science that said the substance was harmful. It's a story not only of corporate guilt and greed, but also of the weakness of our governmental institutions charged with the job of keeping us safe.

From our governmental agencies, to the courts handcuffed by the "Daubert" case, to prestigious scientific journals fooled by phoney corporate studies, to politicized scientific panels and boards, it's plainly a long sad story. Some of these companies using these toxics (or dangerous products) knew for years that they were harming their workers or the public but covered it up, tried to "undo" the science by "manufacturing uncertainty," and denied any wrongdoing. In the end you now have some of these companies calling for tort reform to insulate themselves even further from the possibility of being made responsible, a situation the author calls, "profoundly cynical and profoundly dangerous."

At the end of the book are seventy pages of notes, carefully documenting the details in the book.

Together with, How Much Risk?: a Guide to Understanding Environmental Health Hazards, by Inge and Martin Goldstein, the reader will be armed with a much greater understanding of the toxics issue and the scientific challenges underlying it.

Another good feature of Doubt Is Their Product is that it contains a list of four reforms for the court system and a list of twelve suggestions for the regulatory system. What's truly tragic is to realize how unlikely it is, in the present climate, that any of these suggestions will be enacted into law.

David Michaels worked in the Clinton administration as Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environment, Safety, and Health and is an epidemiologist with the George Washington School of Public Health and Health Services. ( )
1 vote geoffreymeadows | Jul 31, 2009 |
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"Doubt is our product," a cigarette executive once observed, "since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy." In this eye-opening expose, David Michaels reveals how the tobacco industry's duplicitous tactics spawned a multimillion dollar industry that is dismantling public health safeguards. Product defense consultants, he argues, have increasingly skewed the scientific literature, manufactured and magnified scientific uncertainty, and influenced policy decisions to the advantage of polluters and the manufacturers of dangerous products. To keep the public confused about the hazards posed by global warming, second-hand smoke, asbestos, lead, plastics, and many other toxic materials, industry executives have hired unscrupulous scientists and lobbyists to dispute scientific evidence about health risks. In doing so, they have not only delayed action on specific hazards, but they have constructed barriers to make it harder for lawmakers, government agencies, and courts to respond to future threats. The Orwellian strategy of dismissing research conducted by the scientific community as "junk science" and elevating science conducted by product defense specialists to "sound science" status also creates confusion about the very nature of scientific inquiry and undermines the public's confidence in science's ability to address public health and environmental concerns Such reckless practices have long existed, but Michaels argues that the Bush administration deepened the dysfunction by virtually handing over regulatory agencies to the very corporate powers whose products and behavior they are charged with overseeing. In Doubt Is Their Product Michaels proves, beyond a doubt, that our regulatory system has been broken. He offers concrete, workable suggestions for how it can be restored by taking the politics out of science and ensuring that concern for public safety, rather than private profits, guides our regulatory policy. Named one of the best Sci-Tech books of 2008 by Library Journal!

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