29
Jun
2005

Industries growing adept at manipulating science to suit their needs

New product for U.S. industry: 'manufactured doubt'

Industries growing adept at manipulating science to suit their needs

By Jeff Nesmith
jeffn@coxnews.com
WASHINGTON BUREAU
//www.statesman.com/search/content/insight/stories/06/26doubt.html

Sunday, June 26, 2005

WASHINGTON -- In the 1970s, facing the loss of millions of dollars in sales because of fears that chemicals it produced were shredding the Earth's protective ozone layer, DuPont Corp. fought for time.

It got what it wanted.

A carefully designed campaign by the Hill and Knowlton public relations firm attacked the science behind the ozone depletion fears and delayed government action for two years, enough time for DuPont to bring new, ozone-friendly chemicals to market.

The campaign employed a tactic that is now being used by more and more industries to ward off costly government action, says George Washington University epidemiologist David Michaels.

He calls it "manufactured doubt."

By generating and publicizing uncertainty about the scientific underpinnings of proposed action on air pollution, global warming, the health effects of tobacco and other subjects, industries have been able to ward off regulation and buy valuable time, Michaels said.

Now, with the Bush administration's skepticism about regulation, the "manufactured doubt" tactic is more effective than ever before, Michaels wrote in the current edition of Scientific American.

"Industry groups have tried to manipulate science no matter which party is in power," he wrote, "but the efforts have grown more brazen since George W. Bush became president. I believe it is fair to say that never in our history have corporate interests been as successful as they are today in shaping science policies to their desires."

Michaels' article was published shortly before The New York Times reported that a White House official -- a former American Petroleum Industry lobbyist with no scientific training -- had edited government reports on climate change research, inserting numerous expressions of doubt.

The official, Philip Cooney, resigned his position at the White House Council on Environmental Quality this month after the White House confirmed that he repeatedly inserted phrases that played down links between greenhouse gases and global warming. He has gone to work for ExxonMobil, according to industry reports. The White House says the resignation was planned before the story appeared.

Bob Hopkins, a spokesman for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said Michaels' article was a "pretty one-sided presentation."

"Advocates on all sides try to use data to support their policy goals," Hopkins said. "This administration strongly believes that decisions should be made using the best science available."

In the case of DuPont, a former Hill and Knowlton executive said the firm did seek to delay government action, but did not bend or hide any facts in doing so.

After the first scientific paper warned in 1974 that chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals widely used as coolants, solvents and aerosol propellants, were responsible for a huge "hole" in the ozone layer protecting the Earth against dangerous ultraviolet radiation, Hill and Knowlton set up a "quick response" campaign to react to the findings and to temper critical press accounts.

According to a memorandum on the campaign written in 1989 by Howard Marder, then a Hill and Knowlton senior vice president, DuPont wanted the firm "to help calm fears, get better reporting of the issues and gain up to two or three years before the government took action to ban" the chemicals.

When the evidence against CFCs mounted, DuPont dropped its opposition to a ban. The chemicals were barred from aerosol sprays in 1978. By that time, Marder wrote, "DuPont gained much-needed time to find scientific answers to the allegations and to develop alternatives" to CFCs.

Marder, now a spokesman for the New York City Housing Authority, said that he did not remember details of the memorandum but that his purpose at Hill and Knowlton was to get the truth out.

"I would never obfuscate an issue, and I would never spin an issue," he said. "My intention when I worked for Hill and Knowlton was to have the truth be told."

Michaels, a former assistant secretary of energy in the Clinton administration, acknowledged in an interview that an element of doubt was inevitable in government regulatory decisions because they must be based on the best available science, which by definition can never be absolute.

However, "corporations and others who manufacture dangerous products and pollutants have realized that by adding manufactured uncertainty to the equation, they can essentially stop the regulatory process from moving forward," he said.

He said consulting firms hired by industries review critical scientific findings "and pull these studies apart."

"Industry is able to pick a key point that can destroy a regulation, and they take that one on," he said. "The government scientists are just outgunned. They use basic research, and when their research is attacked, they don't go back and do more research. There's no funding for that."

"The vilification of threatening research as 'junk science' and the corresponding sanctification of industry-commissioned research as 'sound science' has become nothing less than standard operating procedure in some parts of corporate America," he wrote in the magazine article.

Although the practice "goes back a long time," it was perfected by the tobacco industry, Michaels said.

He said one tobacco company executive wrote in a memorandum, which later came to light in tobacco litigation, that "doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with as 'body of fact' that exists in the mind of the general public" that smoking is linked to serious health problems.

William O'Keefe, CEO of the George C. Marshall Institute, a nonprofit organization that has repeatedly promoted the views of scientists who question the prevailing opinion that use of fossil fuels are raising the globe's temperature, said he felt Michaels "had an agenda (in writing the article), and he picked examples to promote it."

A former executive of the American Petroleum Institute, O'Keefe said Michaels "takes the position that the government is always right and the private sector is always wrong, and I don't believe that."

"My experience in 25 years in the petroleum industry is that companies are not in business to harm their clients," he said.

If industry insists that regulations "meet the highest possible standards, I don't know what's wrong with that," O'Keefe said.


Informant: Teresa Binstock



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