Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Who Else is in the Doubt Industry?

According to the film, The Merchants of Doubt are pundits-for-hire who say what their corporate masters wish.  These shill scientists cast doubt on genuine scientists who say the corporations’ products are dangerous. The film cites the tobacco industry, the flame retardant industry, and the fossil fuel industry’s climate change deniers.  By now, mainstream science has established that tobacco smoking is a major risk factor for lung cancer and that human emissions of carbon dioxide are a major factor in the current warming.  
I inferred from the film that corporations hired the scientists in the Doubt Industry to substantiate the conclusions already arrived at by the corporations. However, in at least two cases the scientists arrived at their conclusions first.  Dr W C Hueper published his findings before the tobacco industry hired him.  The same thing is true of eminent statistician Ronald A Fisher (1890-1962) who believed the statistical evidence damning smoking wasn’t strong.  
Fisher postulated there may have been a third factor linking cancer and smoking, the way ice cream eating and drowning are linked to each other, because they share a common cause – summer.  Or the data could even indicate that lung cancer causes smoking because an inflammation that would lead to cancer would make a person want to smoke, says Jordan Ellenberg in How not to be Wrong.   Fisher, as a eugenicist, believed that genes were a strong factor. Turns out he was right; there are genes that increase susceptibility to lung cancer and genes that protect against the disease. 
A pattern emerges.  Corporations deny the danger of their products, hire scientists to establish doubt about these products, but genuine hero scientists refute the corporate line.  
Two new issues have emerged: genetically modified foods and the vaccination-autism link.  If we stick to the same pattern, the 89%  of scientists who say GMOs are safe, would be part of the Doubt Industry for Monsanto and Syngenta, notwithstanding the two thousand global studies confirming the safety of GM foods.  Moreover, a couple of million children die every year because anti-GMO activists fight golden rice that could save them from blindness and death.
Of course, as the Precautionary Principle claims, nothing can be proved absolutely safe for all people and all species under every conceivable circumstance into the indefinite future.  But if we lived by the Precautionary Principle, we wouldn’t drive cars, use antibiotics, or eat anything. 
Big Pharma pushes vaccinations and denies they cause autism.  So are anti-vaccination activists hero scientists against Big Pharma’s Doubt Industry?  I don’t think so; anti-vaxxers advance disease and death. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Who's in the Doubt Industry?

Dr. Wilhelm C. Hueper, Chief of Environmental Cancer at the National Cancer Institute from 1938-64, believed cigarette smoking was not all that dangerous. Writing in 1955, he claimed, “The data . . . unmistakenly suggest that cigarette smoking is not a major factor in the causation of lung cancer.”
Dr. Hueper allowed the tobacco companies to use his work for their own ends.   According to Oreskes and Conway in Merchants of Doubt: “When the Tobacco Industry Research Committee learned about [Hueper’s talk questioning the tobacco-cancer link], they contacted Hueper who agreed to allow them to promote his work.”  It looks as though Hueper had joined the evil Doubt Industry.
Digging deeper into Hueper’s past we find that he was one of the first scientists to discover the links between pollution, occupational chemicals like asbestos and cancer.  Rachel Carson in her acknowledgments to Silent Spring, the book that launched the modern environmental movement in 1962 says, “I could not have completed the book without the generous help of these specialists: [including] . . . W. C. Hueper MD of the National Cancer Institute . . .”  Now it looks as though Hueper was on the side of the angels.
The discrepancy between Hueper’s support of tobacco and his struggle against the chemical industry is resolved when we learn that Hueper believed that pesticides and occupationally used chemicals, rather than tobacco, were causing the 20th century increase in lung cancer.
Sometimes people and issues are more complex than they appear at first glance.