Just a Regulator, Just a Scientific Report

By April 28, 2008Briefly Legal, Media Relations

(Adapted from a post at PointofLaw.com. See also this entry.)

Nearly every time a conservative think tank expert is quoted on a subject — think global warming — journalists are quick to identify the funding of the group: “Which has oil company support…” That kind of thing. But what about when the group has other leanings?

The Washington Post front-paged a story on Sunday sympathetic to activists’ claims the FDA relied too closely on studies funded by the chemical industry to determine that an ingredient in some consumer plastics, bisphenol A, or BPA, is more dangerous to the health than regulators would have you believe. It was more of the “politicization of science” thesis that Post editors and reporters consider a valid, IMPORTANT story. (See this post on another Page One story about Vioxx.)

Left out of the Post’s reporting was the dominant role that the trial lawyers have played in publicizing the claims about BPA’s supposed health threats and the related lawsuits being filed in another round of “jackpot justice.” (Such as this one, filed last week in California.)

And the identification of one of the chief sources in the story was woefully inadequate.

“Tobacco figured this out, and essentially it’s the same model,” said David Michaels, who was a federal regulator in the Clinton administration. “If you fight the science, you’re able to postpone regulation and victim compensation, as well. As in this case, eventually the science becomes overwhelming. But if you can get five or 10 years of avoiding pollution control or production of chemicals, you’ve greatly increased your product.”

A federal regulator, so he must have a valid insight, right? Except as his bio notes, Michaels was a Department of Energy official, responsible for the health and safety of those who come in contact with the nation’s nuclear weapons labs. Not quite as relevant, we think.

We learn further down in the story that Michaels “runs the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy at George Washington University and wrote the book ‘Doubt is Their Product,’ which details how various industries have used science to stave off regulation.”

The Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy’s homepage is www.defendingscience.org. There’s a recent paper on the studies of BPA by Sarah Vogel, entitled, “Battles Over Bisphenol A,” which makes the basic argument accepted as the thesis in the Post story.

For decades, industry trade associations and their lawyers staved off the regulation of unsafe products like tobacco, lead and asbestos by arguing that scientific uncertainty precluded government action. [41] Similarly, the plastics and chemical industries seek to deny, delay, and dismiss the low dose research on bisphenol A.

The story does not make clear who is financing the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy, aka SKAPP. To its credit, the group explains:

Funding: Major support for SKAPP is provided by the Open Society Institute and the Common Benefit Trust, a fund established pursuant to a court order in the Silicone Gel Breast Implant Products Liability litigation. The opinions expressed on the DefendingScience website are ours alone. We do not provide our funders advance notice or the opportunity to review or approve the content of this site or any documents produced by the project.

So that’s who’s paying for this anti-industry “science”: George Soros’ Open Society Institute (www.soros.org) and some of the cash thrown off in class-action lawsuits against silicone breast implants — i.e., the largess of the trial bar.

A major point raised in the Post’s story is that the chemical industry finances studies, a notable if not objectionable conflict of interest. And when a left-wing billionaire and trial lawyers finance counterstudies, that doesn’t warrant a mention?

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