Is a Little Pollution Good for You? Incorporating Societal Values in Environmental Research

By Kevin C. Elliott | Go to book overview

6
Lesson #3
Ethics for Experts

In at least one test, the dioxin compound 2,3,7,8-TCDD was found to be “the most potent carcinogen ever tested,” yet for many years the overall health effects of this chemical have been hotly debated.1 Unfortunately, these debates illustrate the power of interest groups to manipulate scientific information. Sharon Beder reports that “A handful of studies funded by Monsanto and BASF [a multinational chemical company based in Germany], which purported to show no health effects from dioxin exposure apart from chloracne [a skin condition], proved disproportionately influential, not withstanding their dubious methodology.”2 For example, Monsantoaffiliated scientists published results in major journals such as Scientific American, Science, and the Journal of the American Medical Association, allegedly clearing dioxin of most ill effects.3 Subsequent court proceedings revealed crucial falsifications in the studies, but Monsanto continued to exert significant control over the dissemination of information about dioxin.4 When environmentalists tried to publicize the allegations that these studies were problematic, scientists affiliated with Monsanto sued for libel. Beder claims that “Press coverage in the US and abroad dried up once the libel case was brought.”5 Moreover, congressional hearings and agency documents revealed that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the

1. Beder, Global Spin, 141.

2. Ibid., 142.

3. Ibid.

4. For another example of potentially misleading scientific data receiving tremendous publicity due to the efforts of industry groups, see Markowitz and Rosner, Deceit and Denial, 259ff. Markowitz and Rosner report that questionable reviews of tumor registry data by LSU researcher Vivien Chen enabled government and industry representatives to promote the notion that high cancer death rates in Louisiana were the result of poor medical care rather than environmental pollution.

5. Beder, Global Spin, 143. The strategy of using lawsuits to attack citizens and scientists who challenge questionable industry research has been documented extensively in McGarity and Wagner, Bending Science. See also Shrader-Frechette, Taking Action, Saving Lives.

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