Hezekiah, Rabshakeh, and Sennacherib
Getting Along in this Year of the Pig

Psst! Hey...Buddy! Wanna Buy a Scientific Endorsement?

Time was when any yahoo of a preacher could trump any debate by yelling “the Bible says….” It sufficed. Nobody dared say another word. Nor did it make any difference whether the Bible really did say it. Anyone with a clergy collar could say it did and that was enough.

Is that the case now with science? Several recent reports suggest that the  best way to get scientific endorsement for any pet product is to fund a study. That way you can get learned scientists to intone that your stuff is the way to go. The fact that you bought them is not noticed, or if it is, is not deemed relevant.

The online science journal PLoS Medicine published the results of, not just a study, but a study of studies [!] published between 1999 and 2003 on nutrition. Harvard researchers and analysts from the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that if the food industry sponsors the study, results are up to 8 times more likely to be favorable for them than if someone else sponsors the study. It is bias, they suggest, not deliberate lying. Just how do you ask the questions? Exactly which questions do you ask? How do you interpret the data? Such factors that will influence your conclusion and are built into the study by researchers who hope to arrive at a desired result.

“This is yet another attack on industry by activists who demonstrate their own biases in their review by looking only at the funding source and not judging the research on its merits,” fumes Susan Neely, president of the American Beverage Association, as if they'd shot her dog. “The science is what matters-nothing else!” But I suspect she is merely recalling who signs her paycheck.

Then there is mold. The Institute of Medicine is a federally funded (mostly) nonprofit organization. Reviewing 2004 research, it said “studies have demonstrated adverse effects - including immunologic, neurologic, respiratory and dermal responses - after exposure to specific toxins, bacteria, molds or their products.” In 2001 a Texas jury awarded $32 million [!] to a family whose home was mold-infested. But don’t try to pull such a stunt yourself. Colin and Pamela Fraser did, more recently, and their medical expert wasn’t allowed to testify. The judge blew away their concerns, declaring them “unsupported by the scientific literature.” She was swayed by what the American College on Occupational and Envirernmental Medicine wrote: “Scientific evidence does not support the proposition that human health has been adversely affected by inhaled mycotoxins [from mold] in the home, school, or office environment” Defendants in mold lawsuits now routinely and with considerable success rely on this paper.

What they don’t tell you is significant. The defense paper is authored by scientists who are paid experts for the defense in mold litigation. They don't work cheap either. Depending on which expert the defense summons, they'll pay $375 to $720 an hour!

Which organization has the truth: the Institute of Medicine or the American College on Occupational and Environmental Medicine? I have no idea. Likely the truth lies somewhere in between. The point, though, is that when we’re solemnly informed science says this or that, we’re likely being flimflammed. It may not be science at all. It might be politics, self-interest and business, with some science “toppings.”

When it comes to drug studies, we all know the pattern. The study that tells us Healthexa is wonderful stuff invariably is funded by Healthexa corporation. We hear it repeated....um....repeatedly..... through advertising: it's safe! it's safe! it's perfectly safe! Ask your doctor!

Then people drop of heart failure, cancer, or stroke.

Oh...........sorry...... Healthexa says, and gets their lawyers cracking to deny any blame.

And don’t get me started on that study that declared violent entertainment produces angels. Tom Fishandchips is still steamed over that one.

Better we should leave science out of it. Just say who paid how much to make what point.

"It's impossible to make a man understand something when his livelihood depends on him not understanding it." -Upton Sinclair

[Mold information from WSJ 1/9/07 article, written by David Armstrong]

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘I Don’t Know Why We Persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses—Searching for the Why’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Comments

Romulus Crowe

It's a long-standing problem. If a scientist is funded by a commercial company, his bosses in the university or college want that funding to continue. So does the scientist.

So there's enormous pressure to play down any result that looks bad for the company, and hype up any that look good. In fact, as funders, the company can veto publication of results they don't like. The scientist can be sued if he leaks that information.

Most scientists are honest. Most will insist on delivering the real results even if it means no more funding from that company. There are dodgy ones though, who will tell the company what they want to hear in order to cash in on the generosity of a happy company.

It stinks, but unless science is funded entirely independently of commercial concerns it's going to keep happening. He who pays the piper calls the tune, after all.

So while it's true that scientific endorsements can be - and have been - bought, it's not true that all science is like that.

It's not even true that science is completely incompatible with religion. I know a university professor who is also an elder of his church, for one example. There are many others. There are many scientists who don't accept evolution - although, naturally, none of them work on or study evolution. Why would they,if they don't believe in it?

A chemist has no conflict of interest between his work and a belief in creation. Neither does any scientist working on food, or psychology, or a hundred other disciplines. The only disciplines where this might be an issue are biology, palaeontology and astronomy, and not all branches of biology are affected. Only those that study evolution, and that's a very small part of a very big subject.

So, no, we're not all out to discredit religion. And we don't all sell out for company cash. It is true that there are those more interested in buying themselves a swimming pool than in producing reliable data, but there aren't that many.

Science has its Judases too.

tom sheepandgoats

I thought you might not be able to resist that post!

Thank you, Rom, for another excellent comment.

Many of my posts, especially when they touch on science are spoofs, caricatures, in which I intentionally play up certain features and play down others. I don't regard any of the folks in my post as bad eggs, only people who are swayed by self-interest, as are we all. It might even be argued that scientists resist their tendency more than most (I don't think I would argue it, but I would not laugh at someone who did) but they are not immune. So many things have to be taken with a grain of salt.

Your comments always provide a counterbalance for my silly musings. Thanks again.

Victor Allen Winters

I agree with Rom--I really do, because the problem isn't that crooked scientist outnumber honorable ones; it's that crooked ones have better PR.

Screech

The point has apparently been taken to a new level with the United States' current Presidential Administration. They have been caught a couple of times doctoring up reports or placing what are effectively "gag" orders on climate change research. Basicly, the gist is that anything that might negatively affect oil or the fossil fuel industry seems to be taboo. I'm doing more research into this and intend it to be my opening post when I open my blog here.

Thanks Tom Sheepandgoats for recommending this site to me, it looks much more professional and the software much easier to manage than other blogs I've tried...

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