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How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public's Expense
March 11, 2012 11:17 AM   Subscribe

How Corporations Corrupt Science at the Public's Expense: Report looks at methods of corporate abuse, suggests steps toward reform [Full Report (PDF)] [Executive Summary (PDF)]

The report includes telling examples of

Suppressing Research,
    -"After pork producers contacted his supervisors, a USDA microbiologist was prevented from publishing research showing that emissions from industrial hog farms contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria."
    -"Dr. Ingacio Chapela of the University of California–Berkeley and graduate student David Quist published an article in Nature showing that DNA from genetically modified corn was contaminating native Mexican corn. The research spurred immediate backlash. Nature received a number of letters to the editor, including several comments on the Internet from "Mary Murphy" and "Andura Smetacek" accusing the scientists of bias. The backlash prompted Nature to publish an editorial agreeing that the report should not have been published. However, investigators eventually discovered that the comments from Murphy and Smetacek originated with The Bivings Group, a public relations firm that specializes in online communications and had worked for Monstanto. Mary Murphy and Andura Smetacek were found to be fictional names."
    -"Boots commissioned Dr. Betty Dong, a scientist at the University of California–San Francisco, to test the effects of Synthroid, a replacement for thyroid hormone. Boots hoped to reveal that despite its high price, Synthroid was more effective than similar drugs. The company closely monitored the research, and when Dong found that the drug was no more effective than its competitors, instructed her not to publish the results. When she refused to comply, Boots threatened to sue. The company relented only after several years, during which consumers continued to pay for the costly product."

Corrupting Advisory Panels:
    -"A few weeks before a CDC advisory panel met to discuss revising federal lead standards, two scientists with ties to the lead industry were added to the panel. The committee voted against tightening the standards."
    -"ReGen Biologics attempted to gain FDA approval for clinical trials of Menaflex, a device it developed to replace knee cartilage. After an FDA panel rejected the device, the company enlisted four members of Congress from its home state of New Jersey to influence the evaluation process. In December 2007, Senator Frank Lautenberg, Senator Robert Menendez, and Representative Steve Rothman wrote to FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach asking him to personally look into Menaflex. Soon thereafter, the commissioner met with ReGen executives and heeded the company's advice to have Dr. Daniel Shultz, head of the FDA's medical devices division, oversee a new review. The FDA fast-tracked and approved the product despite serious concerns from the scientific community."
Ghostwriting Articles:
    -"A 2011 analysis found evidence of corporate authorship in research articles on a variety of drugs, including Avandia, Paxil, Tylenol, and Vioxx."
    -"From 1998 to 2007, Pfizer discreetly facilitated the publication of 15 case studies, six case reports, and nine letters to the editor to boost off-label use of Neurontin, a drug prescribed to treat seizures in people who have epilepsy and nerve pain. The number of patients taking the drug rose from 430,000 to 6 million, making it one of Pfizer's most profitable products. An investigation found that Pfizer had failed to publish negative results, selectively reported outcomes, and excluded specific patients from analysis. [Most importantly] Pfizer failed to note that the drug increased the risk of suicide.'

Purchasing Rigged Research
    -'To counter a study that found that formaldehyde caused cancer in rats, a formaldehyde company commissioned its own study. That study-which found no association between the chemical and cancer-exposed only one-third the number of rats to formaldehyde for half as long as the original study. A formaldehyde association quickly publicized the results and argued before the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) that they indicated "no chronic health effects from exposure to the level of formaldehyde normally encountered in the home""
Creating Front Organizations
    -"The Center for Consumer Freedom is a nonprofit that targets dietary guidelines recommended by the FDA, other government agencies, medical associations, and consumer advocacy organizations. The center has run ads and owns a website that accuses government agencies of overregulation, and has published articles claiming to refute evidence that high salt intake and other dietary guidelines are based on inadequate science. The center was founded with a $600,000 grant from Philip Morris, but has also received funding from Cargill, National Steak and Poultry, Monsanto, Coca-Cola, and Sutter Home Winery."
Purchasing Support from Existing Organizations
    -"In 2003, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry accepted a $1 million donation from Coca-Cola. That year, the group claimed that "scientific evidence is certainly not clear on the exact role that soft drinks play in terms of children's oral disease." The statement directly contradicted the group's previous stance that "consumption of sugars in any beverage can be a significant factor…that contributes to the initiation and progression of dental caries.""
posted by Blasdelb (27 comments total) 90 users marked this as a favorite

 
More Ignorital please!
posted by lalochezia at 11:33 AM on March 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Turns out corporations are not just people, they're Bad People.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:44 AM on March 11, 2012 [18 favorites]


Preventing Publication of Factual Research

-"Immediately after FDA approval of rBGH, attorneys for Monsanto sued or threatened to sue stores and dairy companies that sold milk and dairy products advertised as being free of rBGH, to make sure that any dissenters within the well-organized food industry would be frightened into towing the industry line.

Extensive media monitoring and aggressive intervention and punishment of offending journalists has been critical to the media management campaign. As early as 1989 the PR firm of Carma International was hired to conduct a computer analysis of every story filed on rBGH, ranking reporters as friends or enemies. This information was used to reward friendly reporters while complaining to editors about those who filed reports that were deemed unfriendly."

posted by Pope Guilty at 11:44 AM on March 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


The full report is 45 pages but they are really thinly typeset making it not long at all. I highly recommend reading it.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:50 AM on March 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The motivations of corporations are at least few and transparent. It's always about money. Follow the money and you get your answer. When public institutions do the same thing, the reasons are far more opaque and usually much more nefarious. In either case, it's always at the expense of the public.
posted by three blind mice at 12:13 PM on March 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are however countries with considerably more separation between scientists and powerful people's interests, usually because the state funds science trough some bureaucracy that's controlled by scientists. There are advantages to nations being smaller as well, mostly that politicians often love foreign company getting into trouble that might create openings for domestic companies, but this breaks down once you get a nation as ridiculously bloated as the U.S.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:34 PM on March 11, 2012


Most of the nefariousness of western governments can be attributed to the machinations of corporations, of course, but that is one of the many truths you run blindly away from, 3bm.
posted by jamjam at 12:43 PM on March 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


Nice tags.
posted by pracowity at 12:50 PM on March 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm still reading, but yes--the tags are awesome and useful.
posted by rumposinc at 1:16 PM on March 11, 2012


three blind mice: The motivations of corporations are at least few and transparent. It's always about money. Follow the money and you get your answer. When public institutions do the same thing, the reasons are far more opaque and usually much more nefarious.

Phooey. Back up your assertion.
posted by JHarris at 1:21 PM on March 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


That business of 'corrupting advisory panels' depends on the existence of science whores. There is much that's useful about this report but its title omits a root cause of the problem and thereby undermines its own credibility to a certain extent. What's really worrisome is appeals to "science" in advertising and legislation have become so general that the value of the "science" is dropping and is seen to be dropping. Skepticism about science is more and more justified, the more slanted the reported findings become, because the general run of the citizenry comes into contact with it mostly in press releases that fit one or more of the issues noted yet they lack the ability to assess its worth.
posted by jet_silver at 1:24 PM on March 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lyin' liars gotta lie. And cheat. And steal.

There's your captialism, right there, folks. Hope you don't die from it.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:38 PM on March 11, 2012


Trust Us, We're the Experts.
posted by infini at 1:47 PM on March 11, 2012


A worthy post on an important topic. It is because of the venality and corruption of Big Biz when it comes to twisting science towards its own ends that the significance of (and the importance of protecting) whistle-blowers is increasingly meaningful.

There are many instances of corporate/political corruption of science: Apt for today, Tepco and the Fukushima catastrophe, the tobacco and the asbestos industries.

Once went to a government funded asbestos inspector and air sampling class here in NYC to get a certificate, as an additional source of income. Learned in class about the corrupt practices of corporations in the asbestos business, in every aspect of the business, in particular buying expert witnesses, doctors, to use in court to trivialize or undermine the medical science of the impact of asbestos on those who breathed it and were severely harmed.

Ethics and the Expert Witness: Statistics on Trial. A corrupt use of forensic psychology seems particularly ugly. Another example, forcing an NYPD whistleblower into a psychiatric hospital.

Con Ed workers attending that asbestos class said there was the suppression of the information to the general straphanger public about the asbestos lining of the NYC subway, because every subway that comes into a station through a subway tunnel is blowing in friable (breathably crumbled, floating in the air) asbestos fibers. (There used to be asbestos in the subways cars themselves, now used as reef material.) And that the steam that comes up from the manhole covers is also packed with asbestos fibers, as it is transported via asbestos insulated pipes (which sometimes burst and spew asbestos for many blocks or all over subway cars). There is asbestos used in many parts of the subway system in NYC and even its removal can be dangerous.

It was going to that class that prevented me from going to Ground Zero on the day and months after 9/11. I knew the EPA was lying about the air being safe to breathe there and that tens of thousands of people going to that area were endangering their health and deluding themselves by wearing - or just holding, as Guiliani did - a flimsy dust mask.

From PubMed: Although occupational and environmental diseases are often viewed as isolated and unique failures of science, the government, or industry to protect the best interest of the public, they are in fact an outcome of a pervasive system of corporate priority setting, decision making, and influence. This system produces disease because political, economic, regulatory and ideological norms prioritize values of wealth and profit over human health and environmental well-being. Science is a key part of this system; there is a substantial tradition of manipulation of evidence, data, and analysis, ultimately designed to maintain favorable conditions for industry at both material and ideological levels. This issue offers examples of how corporations influence science, shows the effects that influence has on environmental and occupational health, and provides evidence of a systemic problem.
posted by nickyskye at 1:47 PM on March 11, 2012 [15 favorites]


Note that ALL of the above are mostly made possible because of the seemingly ever-present and corrupting influence of private and non-transparent contributions of money to policy makers at ALL levels of government.

Imagine what an election system that was publicly financed, with no private money permitted, would result in - compared to what we have today.

Imagine how we could strip lobbyists from places like the NRA, HMO's, private insurance companies if they could no longer walk into a legislator's or policy maker's office and threaten them with defeat in the next election by threatening to drown them in negative advertising supported by private corporate money.

Imagine that broadcasting and media companies who use licensed, public airwaves were required to provide free media exposure to qualifying candidates (with a reasonable bar set for qualifying).

All of the abuses listed above have as their root cause the corrupting influence of money in politics, so no matter how many reports like this come forward - disturbing as they are - these abuses will continue with only minor interruption (or outrage), only to come back again.

Note that neither major party has ever created a serious effort to *permanently* stamp out private donations and private financing of political elections. There have been small attempts, but they are always defeated, because private money has managed to find a way to legislate that the most influential providers of private money - i.e. corporations - have the same rights as individuals.

America has been infiltrated, and corrupted at the root - directly to the level of our Constitutional DNA.

Until this abuse is completely and utterly stamped out, with no exceptions permitted, or legislated - by Constitutional Amendment, if necessary - America will continue to accelerate down the path of non-transparency in legislation - leading to less justice, opportunity, fairness, equality, and American democracy as intended by the Founders.

America, where for art thou!
posted by Vibrissae at 2:19 PM on March 11, 2012 [10 favorites]


Loved your comment Vibrissae, except the last sentence, "America, where for art thou!", because "wherefore art thou" means in Romeo and Juliet, why not where. America is here but why is it America the way it is now, in a corrupt and financially crumbling shambles? Because we-the-people got complacent in the 70's, 80's and 90's under the smoke and mirrors money boom of that time. The geeks saved the day by creating the intense communication on the web in the 90's that went kaboom in the last 11 years.

At the moment (until corporate sponsored web censorship kicks in) or the US government bullies people into silence, the information superhighway has been a marvelous vehicle for whistleblowing corporate and political corruption, inspiring the Occupy Movement and much more, political passion which, in the younger generations, was dead for decades.
posted by nickyskye at 2:44 PM on March 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Imagine what an election system that was publicly financed, with no private money permitted, would result in - compared to what we have today. [...] Imagine that broadcasting and media companies who use licensed, public airwaves were required to provide free media exposure to qualifying candidates (with a reasonable bar set for qualifying).

I come from such a country, and corruption is still an issue.

Until this abuse is completely and utterly stamped out, with no exceptions permitted, or legislated - by Constitutional Amendment, if necessary - America will continue to accelerate down the path of non-transparency in legislation - leading to less justice, opportunity, fairness, equality, and American democracy as intended by the Founders.

Bwahahahahha.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:01 PM on March 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


This kind of blood-boilingly infuriating bullshit is why my career plan involves avoiding working in industry (scientists' shorthand for working for a coporation, rather than in academia or for the government) like it's the plague. Many of the choices that I am making about how to plan out the direction of my career, in terms of my specialization and my choices of coursework and labwork are tailored toward putting myself in a place where I will have options to do research that is in line with my personal ethics. Many corporations do good things, at least ostensibly anyway, but the overarching need for more and more profit drives them to corrupt the scientific process in ways that pollute the quest for knowledge and harm both the ecosystem and the humans that live in it. It's disgusting and shameful and fighting this kind of vile shit is one of my top priorities for the latter part of my career.

Thank you for pointing some attention at this, Blasdelb. When I get home and have the time, I intend to try and read through this article -- if I can manage to do so without flying into a bloody rage every other paragraph.
posted by Scientist at 3:09 PM on March 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


Until this abuse is completely and utterly stamped out

Not going to happen and I think wishing things were perfect, totally positive, ends up creating totalitarian, despotic power templates. Adam Curtis discusses the issue and paradox of positive vs negative liberty in his documentary, The Trap.
posted by nickyskye at 3:14 PM on March 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


At first I read that as "Rupert looks at methods of corporate abuse," and my thought was, "well, he'd know better than anyone, I guess."
posted by Navelgazer at 3:31 PM on March 11, 2012


Scientist, I'm actually thinking of guiding my career towards industry for, partly, the exact same reasons. There are plenty of amazing established companies and start-ups that are focused on filling a need and doing a good job of it, they tend to also be fantastically profitable.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:46 PM on March 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


anigbrowl: "I come from such a country, and corruption is still an issue"
Bwahahahahha.


Really? On the same scale as the US, with the same concomitant influence that it creates around the world, as an enabler of further corruption at financial market levels that tip the scale *everywhere*, on a level that is unprecedented in modern financial history? btw, I like it when people laugh at things they don't quite fully understand; it automatically gives me the last, silent, laugh. Breeding, you know.

nickyskye: "Not going to happen and I think wishing things were perfect, totally positive, ends up creating totalitarian, despotic power templates. Adam Curtis discusses the issue and paradox of positive vs negative liberty in his documentary, The Trap yt ."

I just looked at the section of the video you linked to. The author of that piece doesn't declare a middle ground.

There is no revolution called for, simply a determined, transparent effort to make Democratic process more transparent. For instance, giving corporations the status of persons created an ability to obfuscate the pure intention of the law. It's OK that corporations are persons to protect certain kinds of personal liability - that creates capital efficiencies necessary for confident investment.

One cannot eliminate corruption, 100%, but one can put measures in place that severely limit the opportunities for corruption. We're not talking about a totalitarian state, nor an anarchical or libertarian state. We're talking about the "elephant in the room" - i.e. what everyone knows to be true, on a large scale, with nothing being done about it. And, when some effort is made to change things, that effort gets cynically buried or run around by the same chambers that it it supposed to impact. We are stuck in a negative feedback loop.

I'm hopeful that measured changes can be made to eliminate the problem of private financing of political elections in America. Of course, other kinds of graft and bribery will pop up, but we need to force transparency to the point where those abuses can be stamped out before they corrupt the system further.

Otherwise, we're in for more of the same, with "Occupy" etc. screaming into an echo chamber, and being co-opted by the very forces that frustrate Democratic transparency.

the goal is an open society. Currently, private money is doing everything it can to make an open society for the privileged few. That's not what the Founders intended; it's not what Americans - and those America influences in so many ways - should have to endure.

Maybe this is idealistic; surely this is not the first time ideas like this have been put forward. If we fail at this, we might as well go laughing into the cave, like anigbrowl
posted by Vibrissae at 3:46 PM on March 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


The author of that piece doesn't declare a middle ground

You're right.

We're talking about the "elephant in the room" - i.e. what everyone knows to be true, on a large scale, with nothing being done about it.

The Arab Spring, the Occupy protests, globally, and the transparency defenders are an expressions of the process of something being done about it.

Currently, private money is doing everything it can to make an open a closed society for the privileged few.

Perhaps anigbrowl is being not cynical but dark-humorously realistic? I do not think corruption can ever be completely stamped out but I do think transparency and open discussion are essential tools for human social evolution, particularly in the area of corporate/political corruption of science.
posted by nickyskye at 4:19 PM on March 11, 2012


Perhaps anigbrowl is being not cynical but dark-humorously realistic? I do not think corruption can ever be completely stamped out but I do think transparency and open discussion are essential tools for human social evolution, particularly in the area of corporate/political corruption of science

Apropos:

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." -- Wendell Phillips

and I especially like this one:
"Free government is founded in jealousy, not confidence. It is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions, to bind those we are obliged to trust with power.... In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in men, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution." -- Thomas Jefferson, 1799 "

Those in privileged places who want to play the American people for patsies need to be held to account. the drive for status is wired; we're not going to stop people from trying to take advantage, but we'd better be clear about getting this right, and getting it right, soon, because transparency and open discussion are more and more threatened by policy and legislation that is itself bought by those who can afford to be heard by policy makers.

About Occupy and the Arab protests (briefly, so as not to derail). I see neither as very effective in impacting the increase in transparency. Instead, these movements get their highlights co-opted by media, with nothing more than higher ad rates based on increased page views and Neilsen ratings (in the case of Occupy), and a slight shuffling of power structure that favors more stability for corporate interests (in the case of the Arab Spring).

This is much like the ballyhoo that surrounds the various "movements" to restrict private money in politics - it makes for a week's worth of sound bites, then it goes away.

the barometer I have been using, here, in the US, for the last two decades, is the steadily decreasing power of people in the electoral process, as well as the continued loss of middle-class hegemony.

Corporate lies about Science is a subset of the above; it's another nail in our collective coffin - meaning the coffin of the "have-nots", and those a class or two above them.
posted by Vibrissae at 5:05 PM on March 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Great post, Blasdelb. An international problem that shows how easy it is not just to erode our democracies with money, but the very idea of truth itself.


This kind of blood-boilingly infuriating bullshit is why my career plan involves avoiding working in industry


That might be tougher than you think, especially if you're in microbiology. I don't have a great awareness of what it's like in the States, but given that you guys are typically a few rungs further down the capitalist ladder than Australia, I can only assume. Over here, public/private partnerships with universities are becoming ever-more popular, especially with sciences, especially with anything related to health or medicinal fields.

As a result, it's becoming increasingly hard to get funded research that doesn't have some kind of commercial angle to it - either because the uni is hoping to profit from it, or because they already are because Roche is paying for half or more of the costs, with dibs on the outcomes. As a result, unless you're gonna produce something very cheaply, or get some kind of shit-hot research bonanza that will result in a swarm of papers, then commercial considerations are very much part of the funding process here.
posted by smoke at 3:20 AM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Speaking of Monsanto: Why Monsanto didn't expect Roundup-resistant weeds
posted by homunculus at 7:41 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Vibrissae: "Imagine what an election system that was publicly financed, with no private money permitted, would result in - compared to what we have today."

While I agree that we can get close to having no private money in elections, and that would be great in a lot of ways, it can never be complete.

It comes down to who gets the public money and who gets the free media coverage for candidates that "meet a reasonable bar". How is that bar set? Signatures? Won't many candidates need financial help to canvass their state or district? If you can't offer public money to everybody looking to get on the ballot and you don't want all of your candidates comprised of the ultra-wealthy then you're looking at private money being involved.
posted by Defenestrator at 2:11 AM on March 18, 2012


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