Austin (Tex.) Statesman
June 26, 2005


Industries growing adept at manipulating science to suit their needs

By Jeff Nesmith

WASHINGTON -- In the 1970s, facing the loss of millions of dollars in
sales because of fears that chemicals it produced were shredding the
Earth's protective ozone layer, DuPont Corp. fought for time.

It got what it wanted.

A carefully designed campaign by the Hill and Knowlton public
relations firm attacked the science behind the ozone depletion fears
and delayed government action for two years, enough time for DuPont to
bring new, ozone-friendly chemicals to market.

The campaign employed a tactic that is now being used by more and more
industries to ward off costly government action, says George
Washington University epidemiologist David Michaels.

He calls it "manufactured doubt."

By generating and publicizing uncertainty about the scientific
underpinnings of proposed action on air pollution, global warming, the
health effects of tobacco and other subjects, industries have been
able to ward off regulation and buy valuable time, Michaels said.

Now, with the Bush administration's skepticism about regulation, the
"manufactured doubt" tactic is more effective than ever before,
Michaels wrote in the current edition of Scientific American.

"Industry groups have tried to manipulate science no matter which
party is in power," he wrote, "but the efforts have grown more brazen
since George W. Bush became president. I believe it is fair to say
that never in our history have corporate interests been as successful
as they are today in shaping science policies to their desires."

Michaels' article was published shortly before The New York Times
reported that a White House official -- a former American Petroleum
Industry lobbyist with no scientific training -- had edited government
reports on climate change research, inserting numerous expressions of

The official, Philip Cooney, resigned his position at the White House
Council on Environmental Quality this month after the White House
confirmed that he repeatedly inserted phrases that played down links
between greenhouse gases and global warming. He has gone to work for
ExxonMobil, according to industry reports. The White House says the
resignation was planned before the story appeared.

Bob Hopkins, a spokesman for the White House Office of Science and
Technology Policy, said Michaels' article was a "pretty one-sided

"Advocates on all sides try to use data to support their policy
goals," Hopkins said. "This administration strongly believes that
decisions should be made using the best science available."

In the case of DuPont, a former Hill and Knowlton executive said the
firm did seek to delay government action, but did not bend or hide any
facts in doing so.

After the first scientific paper warned in 1974 that
chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals widely used as coolants, solvents and
aerosol propellants, were responsible for a huge "hole" in the ozone
layer protecting the Earth against dangerous ultraviolet radiation,
Hill and Knowlton set up a "quick response" campaign to react to the
findings and to temper critical press accounts.

According to a memorandum on the campaign written in 1989 by Howard
Marder, then a Hill and Knowlton senior vice president, DuPont wanted
the firm "to help calm fears, get better reporting of the issues and
gain up to two or three years before the government took action to
ban" the chemicals.

When the evidence against CFCs mounted, DuPont dropped its opposition
to a ban. The chemicals were barred from aerosol sprays in 1978.

By that time, Marder wrote, "DuPont gained much-needed time to find
scientific answers to the allegations and to develop alternatives" to

Marder, now a spokesman for the New York City Housing Authority, said
that he did not remember details of the memorandum but that his
purpose at Hill and Knowlton was to get the truth out.

"I would never obfuscate an issue, and I would never spin an issue,"
he said. "My intention when I worked for Hill and Knowlton was to have
the truth be told."

Michaels, a former assistant secretary of energy in the Clinton
administration, acknowledged in an interview that an element of doubt
was inevitable in government regulatory decisions because they must be
based on the best available science, which by definition can never be

However, "corporations and others who manufacture dangerous products
and pollutants have realized that by adding manufactured uncertainty
to the equation, they can essentially stop the regulatory process from
moving forward," he said.

He said consulting firms hired by industries review critical
scientific findings "and pull these studies apart."

"Industry is able to pick a key point that can destroy a regulation,
and they take that one on," he said. "The government scientists are
just outgunned. They use basic research, and when their research is
attacked, they don't go back and do more research. There's no funding
for that."

"The vilification of threatening research as 'junk science' and the
corresponding sanctification of industry-commissioned research as
'sound science' has become nothing less than standard operating
procedure in some parts of corporate America," he wrote in the
magazine article.

Although the practice "goes back a long time," it was perfected by the
tobacco industry, Michaels said.

He said one tobacco company executive wrote in a memorandum, which
later came to light in tobacco litigation, that "doubt is our product,
since it is the best means of competing with as 'body of fact' that
exists in the mind of the general public" that smoking is linked to
serious health problems.

William O'Keefe, CEO of the George C. Marshall Institute, a nonprofit
organization that has repeatedly promoted the views of scientists who
question the prevailing opinion that use of fossil fuels are raising
the globe's temperature, said he felt Michaels "had an agenda (in
writing the article), and he picked examples to promote it."

A former executive of the American Petroleum Institute, O'Keefe said
Michaels "takes the position that the government is always right and
the private sector is always wrong, and I don't believe that."

"My experience in 25 years in the petroleum industry is that companies
are not in business to harm their clients," he said.

If industry insists that regulations "meet the highest possible
standards, I don't know what's wrong with that," O'Keefe said.