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Confronting Pseudoscience and Threats from a Corporate Front Group: The American Council on Science and Health. Martin Donohoe. Outline. Corporate Front Groups American Council on Science and Health Corporate PR Tactics Conclusions. Corporate Front Groups. Promote corporate agendas

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Confronting Pseudoscience and Threats from a Corporate Front Group:The American Council on Science and Health

Martin Donohoe

  • Corporate Front Groups
  • American Council on Science and Health
  • Corporate PR Tactics
  • Conclusions
corporate front groups
Corporate Front Groups

Promote corporate agendas

Strong financial and advisory links with corporations

Disseminate misinformation/lies under guise of “science”

Non-peer reviewed, cherry-picked/out of context

Promote pro-business, conservative ideology

  • Essay describing health and environmental consequences of global warming for Medscape
  • Described ACSH as a corporate front group and criticized its selection of author Michael Crichton as recipient of its 2005 Sound Science Medal
    • Crichton’s State of Fear questions existence of human-caused global warming
acsh and global warming
ACSH and Global Warming
  • Leader referred to “belief” that burning fossil fuels has caused global warming as pseudoscience
  • Criticized environmental scientists as “doomsayers” and “fearmongers”
acsh response
ACSH Response
  • Threatened litigation against Medscape
  • Article pulled, then republished with additional material
  • ?Loss of potential readership?
dr elizabeth whelan
Dr Elizabeth Whelan
  • Co-founder of ACSH
  • Early writing career:
    • Freelance writing assignment for Pfizer criticizing the FDA
    • Articles for Harper’s Bazaar and Glamour (fashion magazines)
    • Books: Panic in the Pantry and Toxic Terror
acsh dr gilbert ross medical executive director
ACSH:Dr Gilbert Ross - Medical /Executive Director
  • Spent 1996 in federal prison after being sentenced to 46 months for
    • Medicaid fraud
    • Perjury
    • Obstruction of justice
  • Barred by the DHHS for 10 years from participating in either Medicare or Medicaid
  • Not mentioned on his bio on ACSH website
acsh dr gilbert ross career
ACSH:Dr Gilbert Ross’ Career
  • Defended Wood Preservative Science Council against health claims regarding arsenic in pressure-treated wood
  • Wrote on behalf of the farmed salmon industry that PCBs in fish do not cause any health problems
  • Annual turnover of under $2 million
  • Initial funding from right wing foundations, corporations
  • Accepted money to write and disseminate pro-industry “studies
  • Now: ?1/3 of funds from private foundations, 1/3 from individuals, 1/3 from corporations?
    • Finances secret since early 1990s
acsh sound science
ACSHSound Science
  • Has spoken out re dangers of tobacco smoking
  • Supported IOM recommendation re coverage of contraception as a preventive health service
  • Criticized Oprah for pseudoscientific claims (“The Secret,” anti-vaccination promulgations, nutritional supplement promotions, etc.)
acsh pseudoscience and misinformation
ACSH:Pseudoscience and Misinformation
  • Attacked the precautionary principle
    • “anti-science and anti-technology phobia”
    • “fundamentally reactionary and elitist”
    • “more on the order of theology [than science]”
acsh pseudoscience and misinformation1
ACSH:Pseudoscience and Misinformation
  • Minimized the effects of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) on human health
    • 38,000 deaths/yr in U.S.
  • Opposed FDA regulation of e-cigarettes
acsh pseudoscience and misinformation2
ACSH:Pseudoscience and Misinformation
  • Promoted smokeless tobacco, snus, and e-cigarettes as smoking cessation aids
  • Opposed graphic tobacco package warnings
acsh pseudoscience and misinformation3
ACSH:Pseudoscience and Misinformation
  • Denied many of the adverse neurological effects of lead exposure
  • Denied endocrine-disrupting effects of PCBs
  • Claimed court ordered-cleanup of Hudson River by GE based on false claims of PCBs causing cancer
acsh pseudoscience and misinformation4
ACSH:Pseudoscience and Misinformation
  • Minimized health concerns of 9-11 responders
  • Opposed EPA attempts to strengthen clean air standards
  • Opposed TSCA reforms
  • Denied health risks of certain cosmetics
acsh pseudoscience and misinformation5
ACSH:Pseudoscience and Misinformation
  • Claimed uncertainty regarding effects of agricultural antibiotics
  • Denied health and environmental risks of GM crops
  • Turned Alar concerns into manufactured “cautionary tale” of overzealous regulators run amok
acsh pseudoscience and misinformation6
ACSH:Pseudoscience and Misinformation
  • Criticized health concerns re trans fatty acids
    • “There is no such thing as junk food”
    • “There is insufficient evidence of a relationship between diet and any disease.”
  • Rejected AAP recommendation for fast food television advertising ban
  • Opposed ban on sales of energy drinks to minors
acsh pseudoscience and misinformation7
ACSH:Pseudoscience and Misinformation
  • Claimed “irradiated food is safe, wholesome and nutritious” and “no radioactive isotopes are involved”
  • Promoted nuclear power and benefits of low dose radiation hormesis
acsh pseudoscience and misinformation8
ACSH:Pseudoscience and Misinformation
  • Denied link between dioxins and pesticides and adverse health effects
    • “Pesticides are not toxic to humans of any age”
  • Supported use of human volunteers in pesticide toxicity studies
  • Denied health consequences of PBDEs (fire retardants) and PFOA (Teflon)
phony health scares
“Phony Health Scares”
  • Mercury in tuna and other fish
    • “Enjoy it without worry”
  • Diesel exhaust fumes from school busses
  • Arsenic in drinking water
  • Phthalates in medical devices and children’s toys
acsh attacks on scientists and the scientific enterprise
ACSH: Attacks on Scientists and the Scientific Enterprise
  • Threat of litigation against Medscape antithetical to the rules of science
    • require the free exchange of information and opinion in pursuit of the truth
acsh attacks on scientists and the scientific enterprise1
ACSH: Attacks on Scientists and the Scientific Enterprise
  • ad hominem attacks
    • environmentalists = “toxic terrorists”
    • Whelan criticized Dr. Barry Levy and citizen-activist Erin Brockovich as “individuals who…pursued self-serving financial opportunities through litigation”
    • Called HSPH a “hotbed of pseudoscience and political agitation”
implications of attacks on science and scientists
Implications of Attacks on Science and Scientists
  • ACSH has broad media presence
    • Most major networks, newspapers
  • Web site popular
implications of attacks on science and scientists1
Implications of Attacks on Science and Scientists
  • Mislead public / may cause alterations in lifestyle and/or purchasing habits
    • adverse consequences to health
  • Threats of litigation and SLAPP suits distract, intimidate, and deplete the scientific, legal, and financial resources of individuals and groups committed to public health
implications of attacks on science and scientists2
Implications of Attacks on Science and Scientists
  • Faulty pronouncements influence elected officials
  • Threats of litigation divert the valuable time of health care providers, editors, and legal departments away from their more productive missions of research, teaching, writing, and patient care
implications of attacks on science and scientists3
Implications of Attacks on Science and Scientists
  • Scientists and health care advocates may decide it is wiser to avoid conflict than publish content to which ACSH and other such groups might object
educational deficits impede public s understanding of science
Educational Deficits Impede Public’s Understanding of Science
  • Inadequate funding of science and health education means individuals may lack background necessary to recognize sound science vs. ideological bunk
corporate influence
Corporate Influence
  • Greenwash: Public relations/ad campaigns
  • Astroturf: artificially-created grassroots coalitions
corporate pr tactics
Corporate PR tactics
  • Invoke poor people as beneficiaries
  • Characterize opposition as “technophobic,” anti-science,” “anti-business,” and “against progress”
  • Portray their products as environmentally beneficial in the absence of (or despite the) evidence
sponsored environmental educational materials
Sponsored Environmental Educational Materials
  • Corporate-sponsored and supported by a loose coalition of antiregulatory zealots, corporate polluters, lapdog scientists and misguided parents
sponsored environmental educational materials examples
Sponsored Environmental Educational Materials - Examples
  • Exxon’s “Energy Cube”

-“Gasoline is simply solar power hidden in decayed matter”

-“Offshore drilling creates reefs for fish”

  • Pacific Lumber Company

-“The Great American Forest is. . . renewable forever”

sponsored environmental educational materials examples1
Sponsored Environmental Educational Materials - Examples
  • American Nuclear Society’s “Activities with the Atoms Family”
  • Dow’s “Chemipalooza”
  • Professional and lay publications should expose the workings of groups like ACSH
  • Scientists should fight back against harassment
  • Improve quality of public education; get corporations out of the classroom
Martin T Donohoehttp://www.publichealthandsocialjustice.org