Jocelyn Kaiser's article "Tobacco consultants find letters lucrative" (News of the Week, 14 Aug., p. 895) presents only one side of the funding story. The anti-tobacco industry pays its scientists, too.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) paid University of California (San Francisco) anti-tobacco activist Stanton Glantz $25,000 to testify at the 1994 OSHA hearings on indoor air quality and to summarize the hearings. All told, OSHA paid $150,000 for scientists to testify in favor of its proposal. The National Cancer Institute paid Glantz over $600,000 to research tobacco industry lobbying. Backup documentation is available on both counts.
Meanwhile, Glantz "fumes" because the tobacco industry paid scientists to write letters? The funding story cuts both ways. You can't cover one side without covering the other. The $150,000 spent by the tobacco industry pales in comparison to the hundreds of millions (billions?) of dollars that go into federal and state anti-tobacco programs. And while we are talking about funding, how about the $2 billion in federal money that goes to scientists supporting the Clinton Administration on global warming? That is a lot more than the global warming skeptics receive from industry.
We are better off focusing on the merits of scientific arguments, not who pays to broadcast them, lest we fall into the trap of shooting the messenger because we do not like the message.
Steve MilloyScience's news about tobacco "hired guns" is puzzling, as it implies that there is something wrong if scientists are compensated for writing critical pieces, and especially if they write in support of tobacco industry positions.
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The debate about disclosing potential conflicts has not been settled, because a strict requirement--as opposed to a voluntary option--is antithetical to science and cannot be fairly applied. Indeed, many editors refuse to request or print declarations of sponsorship, concluding that it would be a vote of no-confidence for editors, peer reviewers, and readers and in itself a bias in the presentation of facts.
Further, there is the question of how a disclosure requirement could be applied fairly and consistently. Should it be only for those sponsored by tobacco interests or by industry at large? Should stock holdings be declared? Should those beholden to granting agencies be deemed free of conflict? It is unlikely that such questions could be resolved equitably, which means that selective labeling would be at the whim of political perceptions.
The article discusses a 1992 report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claiming to have confirmed scientifically that environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) causes 3060 lung cancer deaths annually in the United States. A number of scientists and I have criticized this conclusion for a variety of reasons that are well summarized in last month's Federal Court decision concerning EPA's report on ETS (1); the decision notes how the agency disregarded the law, due process, its own guidelines, and internal dissent; used advisory committees populated by its own clients; selectively manipulated and ranked data; disregarded biases and confounders; improvised ad hoc methods of analysis; and flaunted statistical standards to reach the imaginary support of a preconceived position that the agency had publicized some years earlier. The transparent evidence of the Court's decision conveys a moral force that many find deeply uncomfortable, especially since EPA has a long record of weaving its own kind of science to fit favored policies (2).
If legitimate doubts about the Court's conclusions are harbored, it would be of value to open a debate about the facts.
Gio Batta GoriReferences
Health Policy Center,
Bethesda, MD 20816-1016, USA
- Flue-Cured Tobacco Cooperative Stabilization Co. vs. Carol Browner, U.S. District Court, Middle District of North Carolina, 17 July 1998.
- Safeguarding the Future: Credible Science, Credible Decisions: The Report of an Expert Panel on the Role of Science at EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, March 1992).
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