Today, we share part two of VICE News’ and the Center for Public Integrity’s four-part investigative ‘Science for Sale’ series that examines industry-backed research as well as the extensive work consulting firms have done to manipulate data and alter how the science is perceived by the public and, to a greater extent, the courts.
An argument often made against not accepting companies that largely produce and market unhealthy foods as Academy sponsors is that dietitians are smart enough to read the research and make their own minds up. Dietitians are a smart bunch and our academic background is thorough in science, but this article shows just how complicated this issue can get.
When companies have the power to hire brilliant researchers, put their people on boards and review committees, and conduct their own research they are often successful at their goal: creating doubt. That’s all it takes for even the most diligent reader and analytical mind: a few studies that contradict current thinking. The classic example will always be tobacco. How many years (decades?) was serious regulation delayed because of these tactics?
This article focuses on vinyl chloride and how data was manipulated to create doubt and limit lawsuits against a giant chemical company. No one — certainly not the families of a relative who battled cancer — has the extensive network and power to create and publish research that can be used in court the way Union Carbide/Dow Chemical and other companies can.
Science and research is never totally objective. There’s enough leeway to alter the data, or more commonly, alter the perception of data (remember: perception is reality). This approach of obfuscation and confusion to essentially lets companies that can afford research firms and PR companies off the hook.