Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pushing Back Against Corporate "Counterfeit Science"

Got Science? July 2013 | Union of Concerned Scientists

They funneled money through front groups, planted third-party articles and op-eds. They even hired a detective agency to investigate scientists on a federal advisory panel to try to stave off potential EPA regulation.
The documents also show that Syngenta targeted at least one scientist directly. Dr. Tyrone Hayes, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley demonstrated a decade ago that atrazine could turn male frogs female, publishing his results in prestigious journals such as  Nature and the  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Hayes has remained a prominent, vocal critic of atrazine ever since.
In an effort to try to undermine Hayes’s research, Syngenta hired an investigator to dig up dirt on both Hayes and his wife, commissioned a psychological profile of him, and even planted trained critics in the audience at his speaking events.
We’ve seen this movie before—most recently in  disinformation campaigns by oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil that try to undermine climate science and, before that, by Big Tobacco to disseminate disinformation about the health effects of smoking. Syngenta’s disinformation campaign about the safety of atrazine didn’t just draw directly from the playbook used by Big Carbon and Big Tobacco, however. They even used some of the same personnel. For instance, Syngenta hired  Steven J. Milloy, a Fox News columnist and blogger, to spout misinformation about atrazine. In the past, Milloy has made similar arrangements with oil and gas companies to misinform about climate science; he previously worked for Phillip Morris, distorting the scientific evidence about the hazards of cigarettes and second-hand smoke.

Perhaps these latest revelations will build enough momentum to revisit this pernicious scourge and prosecute deliberate counterfeit science as fraud. Dr. Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, is helping to  put the issue of counterfeit science on the map. The  Center for Science and Democracy is actively working to strengthen safeguards to ensure that solid, independent evidence informs our policymaking.

As Rosenberg rightly puts it, “Actions like those revealed in the Georgia Pacific and Syngenta cases go against all my teaching and experience as a scientist. They not only undermine the scientific enterprise, they pose an enormous potential threat to the public. That’s why we need all parties involved to develop and enforce safeguards to prevent counterfeit science.”

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