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Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health [Hardcover]

David Michaels
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 May 2008 019530067X 978-0195300673 1
"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 behaviour 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.

Frequently Bought Together

Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health + Bending Science + Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming
Price For All Three: 57.60

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 388 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (1 May 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019530067X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195300673
  • Product Dimensions: 24.1 x 16.4 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 763,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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...a powerful, thorough endictment of the way big business has ignored, suppressed or distored vital scientific evidence to the detriment of the public's health. (Nature)

About the Author

David Michaels is a scientist and former government regulator. During the Clinton Administration, he served as Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environment, Safety and Health. He was the architect of the historic initiative to compensate nuclear weapons workers who developed cancer and lung disease. He is currently Research Professor and Associate Chairman of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services and Professor, Albert Einstein School of Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He lives in Bethesda, MD.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars criminal, lethal conspiracies (proven) 5 Aug 2011
Michaels presents another of the sadistic and murderous faces of BigPharma: the universal pattern for any environmental agent suspected of causing cancer or other serious illnesses is to turn negative findings into the grounds for generating public confusion. The script is always the same, only the subjects change over the decades, originating with tobacco, DDT and vaccines, now defending countless hugely profitable items like phones (cordless and mobile/cell), flame retardants and vaccines (still!). The basic plot for this "doubt exaggerating" strategy is to find legitimate and unresolved scientific questions, then pay respected experts handsomely to work on them, making sure that all experiments are twisted so that negative findings are impossible.

The text of this worthy book is extremely dense and somewhat repetitive, with extensive references cited in endnotes. Michaels does an admirable job of explaining how the efforts of industry to undermine sound science are made to sound credible, through trade supported "peer-reviewed" journals and think tanks.

The author writes that the whitewashers: "...profit by helping corporations minimise public health and environmental protection and fight claims of injury and illness. In field after field, year after year, this same handful of individuals and companies comes up again and again. They have on their payrolls (or can bring in on a moment's notice) toxicologists, epidemiologists, biostatisticians, risk assessors, and any other professionally trained, media-savvy experts deemed necessary. They ... salt the literature with their questionable reports and studies. Nevertheless, it is all a charade...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Exposé, with many detailed examples, of methods used by industry and industry front bodies in the US to resist tighter legislation and compensation claims by casting doubt on published scientific studies, suppressing data, spuriously reanalysing published results, setting up "vanity" scientific journals favourable to industry, stacking government committees, and sponsoring legislation to require one-sided disclosure of research data. The title comes from an internal memo of a tobacco company. The author has been a scientist and a safety regulator of the nuclear weapons industry under the Clinton administration. He concludes by proposing a set of principles by which governments could rectify the problems - these could be applied worldwide, not just in the US, with benefit to public health and safety. (Under President Obama, the author has been appointed Assistant Secretary for Labor in charge of the Occuaptional Safety and Health Administration.)
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82 of 89 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Industry gives us cargo-cult science 27 May 2008
By Stephen R. Laniel - Published on
If we believe David Michaels, industry charlatans all learned from the tobacco industry 50 years ago. The industries that rely on doubt have been blossoming ever since: beryllium (did you know that there was a beryllium industry? I did not), asbestos, and popcorn, among others.

Yes, popcorn. Were you aware that there is a condition called "popcorn lung" (officially bronchiolitis obliterans)? I was not. It's called that because one of the main ways to contract it is by working in a factory that manufactures one of the ingredients -- namely diacetyl -- for the butter flavoring in popcorn. Every time you open a steaming bag of butter-flavored microwave popcorn, you are inhaling a bit of this chemical. The more of it you eat, the more likely you are to contract a devastating lung ailment. (And this isn't the sort of disease that you'd only get by eating an implausibly large quantity of popcorn. Real popcorn consumers have actually acquired it.)

The agency responsible for protecting workers from this sort of hazard is OSHA. The one responsible for protecting food consumers is the FDA. This division of labor comes in for some well-deserved scorn in Doubt Is Their Product; it has left the government fairly impotent to respond to threats against the public health. This book could be read alongside Marion Nestle's Food Politics and What To Eat as a single thread about the assault on helpful government regulation.

In their nonstop fight against that sort of regulation, companies have pulled out all the stops to inject systematic doubt into the public discussion. The most pernicious of these, it seems to me, is the creation of sham peer-reviewed journals. Peer review is a negative process: if you can't pass peer review, your ideas are unlikely to have merit (though there are cases, says Michaels, where brilliant scientists -- future Nobelists -- have been denied peer approval). Passing peer review doesn't mean that your ideas are any good. Something similar applies to the references you give a potential employer: if you can't find anyone in the world to say something nice about you, that is a warning sign. If three people will say good things about you, that doesn't mean that you're going to be a good employee. The public doesn't understand this distinction, and doesn't know which journals have any respect within the field. So regulated industries have dutifully gone and created journals that will say whatever they're paid to say -- just as the creationists have done. The news reports then compile, say, a "list of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming" as though scientific consensus were decided by majority vote among equals.

If there's the slightest bit of doubt about, say, the cause of a disease, industry pounces and insists that more research is necessary. More research will always be necessary: science never attains the truth, only better and better approximations to the truth. The situation is complicated in public health by scientists' inability to conduct controlled experiments: it is immoral to subject patients to a potentially crippling disease. So scientists are forced to make educated guesses: this population -- of popcorn-factory workers, say -- has probably been subjected to thus-and-such a daily dosage of diacetyl for thus-and-so many years, whereas this other group of workers in the same factory has had less exposure. Meanwhile, people living near the factory but not working in it almost never experience popcorn lung. Hence we make the educated guess that the additional cases of bronchiolitis obliterans are due to diacetyl exposure within the factory.

Having reached a tentative conclusion about what's making people sick, we have some options. We can mandate that factories use a different chemical. Does industry have other, safer alternatives? Presumably it does, but those alternatives are more expensive; otherwise it would already be using them. If industry were forced to use safer alternatives, would economies of scale drive the price down to the point that consumers wouldn't notice?

That approach seems ethically sterile to me. It seems better to start with the assumption that no one should get sick at work. Being ethical about this means, in many cases, taking Paul Farmer's "preferential option for the poor" seriously. You'd probably find that most people getting sick at work are not wealthy; hedge-fund managers and computer scientists aren't coming into daily contact with beryllium; even if they are, wealthier folks can insist on workplace-safety measures in a way that the poor cannot. I'd wager that workplace safety is another front in the fight for distributive justice.

Michaels is a former Department of Energy official whose work centered on the safety of nuclear plants. As such, he has a somewhat reflexive faith in the power of regulation. To me it rang hollow: one regulation will limit diacetyl, another will limit beryllium, another will prevent factory workers from acquiring repetitive-strain disorders -- but will any real problems be solved? Companies' desire and ability to game the system is virtually limitless. When they lose the regulatory war, they invent a public-relations campaign to convince Americans that tort reform is necessary. They demonize "trial lawyers" (lawyers who write briefs and stay out of the courtroom are off the hook, as are lawyers who resolve cases before they reach the court). They challenge the very epistemology of the scientific revolution. If worse comes to worst, they move production of noxious chemicals to countries with lower environmental and health standards.

What I'm getting at is that we have a much more systemic problem on our hands. I applaud regulation where it helps, but I do wonder if it's tinkering at the edges of a massive problem that lies at the heart of our society. We need regulation; we also need education to explain to Americans what science is. We need Americans to believe that we owe much to the least fortunate among us. Until that message gets through, we'll have to content ourselves with putting out little brushfires while the forest burns.
37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How industry shanghaied science 9 May 2008
By O. Naidenko - Published on
Conflicts of interest among members of EPA review panels have weakened governmental safety standards on toxic chemicals in the environment and in everyday consumer products. Outrage over long-standing reliance on "science for hire" by the chemical industry has prompted Congress to investigate EPA's procedures for reviewing toxic chemicals, including PBDE flame retardants and bisphenol A. These examples are just a small window into how great the tampering and influence of the chemical industry has been over EPA regulation of toxic chemicals. A new book by David Michaels, an epidemiologist and the director of the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, documents a seemingly endless list of examples of mercenary scientists misleading the general public and the regulatory community about the true dangers of chemical exposures, starting from lead, asbestos, and tobacco, and continuing to chromium, berillium, perchlorate, benzene, plastics chemicals, and various other environmental and occupational health hazards.

The book is a must-read for anyone who cares about the best application of science in the interests of promoting public health. For a great review, readers can also go to the article by Newsweek's Sharon Begley, "Whitewashing Toxic Chemicals."

One stunning quote from the book describes the tricks of the trade that industry lobby and product defense firms use to derail the regulatory process: "They profit by helping corporations minimize public health and environmental protection and fight claims of injury and illness. In field after field, year after year, this same handful of individuals and companies comes up again and again... They have on their payrolls (or can bring in on a moment's notice) toxicologists, epidemiologists, biostatisticians, risk assessors, and any other professionally trained, media-savvy experts deemed necessary. They and the larger, wealthier industries for which they work go through the motions we expect of the scientific enterprise, salting the literature with their questionable reports and studies. Nevertheless, it is all a charade. The work has one overriding motivation: advocacy for the sponsor's position in civil court, the court of public opinion, and the regulatory arena [where these studies benefit their sponsors] not because they are good work that the regulatory agencies have to take seriously but because they clog the machinery and slow down the process. Public health interests are beside the point. Follow the science wherever it leads? Not quite. This is science for hire, period, and it is extremely lucrative."

Only by discovering the facts behind the scene and by bringing to light the true motivation of profit-driven public relations campaigns can we promote and defend the health of the environment and the safety of consumer products. For a veteran in the subject who may have participated in some of the struggles described in Defending Science, or for a new member of the environmental and occupational health community, this book is a great introduction to the state of the field - and the battles ahead that still need to be fought.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heavy Reading 1 Dec 2008
By Amazon Customer - Published on
This book is an examination of campaigns by industry to thwart attempts of government, especially the United States government, to protect the health of workers and citizens. Michaels has had a long history in public health working in both the public and academic sectors. In this book, he traces the history of numerous cases of industries that have escaped safety regulations and the dire consequences of their actions.

Michaels observes that industries trying to escape regulation commonly do so by raising the flag of uncertainty. That is, they take advantage of the fact that it is logically impossible to prove an effect conclusively, but rather, all science can do is provide evidence that strongly suggests connections between cause and effect. This has allowed the tobacco industry to fight and delay warnings about the health risks of tobacco smoking. It also has also slowed down response to the climate change crisis, as contributing industries claim we must wait for more evidence before we take any action. He notes that industry often manages to establish doubt concerning the findings of scientific research through media reports that cite conflicting opinions on the topic. However, these media reports do not look into the sources and funding of the conflicting opinions; they contrast volumes of evidence found by independent and publicly funded research with "research" funded by industry or created by industry think tanks.

The text of the book is extremely dense, with extensive references cited in endnotes. Michaels does an admirable job of explaining how the efforts of industry to undermine sound science are made to sound credible, through trade supported "peer-reviewed" journals and think tanks. He argues that because industries have been so successful at evading regulation, litigation is often the only recourse in the present system, and thus, the ability of citizens to seek damages in the courts for injuries must be protected against the industry-led campaign for "tort reform". The book provides valuable information for those seeking a deeper understanding of the extent of the control industry has managed to wrest from the government and other agencies that are supposed to be looking out for public health. On disinformation provided by industry and the conservative politicians owned by them, Michaels quotes Lily Tomlin "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Decades of Deception 7 May 2008
By Hardhat - Published on
Do we ever really know anything for certain? And if not, how can we move forward and protect the public health? This important book chronicles how the industry "manufactures uncertainty" about the dangers of their products, delaying or killing new regulations, and how the health of workers, the public and the environment suffer as a result. This "product defense industry" has grown very sophisticated and is well funded. Michaels offers numerous solutions in the final chapters to reset the Nation's regulatory apparatus and keep it from listing more and more towards protecting industry's profits rather then health. This book will make you angry, but it will also motivate you. The hope is that a new Administration will put us on a path towards a fairer and safer world.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Invaluable reference 26 Nov 2009
By John Mashey - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I agree with others that this is dense and long, but I think it is well worth reading, even if you skip parts of chapters.

I would especially suggest study of:
Chapter 13: Daubert: the Most Influential Supreme Court Ruling You've Never Heard Of
Chapter 14: The Institutionalization of Uncertainty
[The Data Access Act (Shelby) and the Data Quality Act]

a) The behaviors of some corporations, PR agencies, product defense organizations can get somewhat redundant. Hill & Knowlton created the tactics 50+ years ago and they've been widely employed.

b) But the legal issues in these two Chapters represent relatively recent changes in the law with profound effects. They (especially the Data Access Act) are now widely being used to harass climate scientists, for example.
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