Academic journal article Stanford Law & Policy Review

Corporate Manipulation of Research: Strategies Are Similar across Five Industries

Academic journal article Stanford Law & Policy Review

Corporate Manipulation of Research: Strategies Are Similar across Five Industries

Article excerpt


The release of over forty-three million pages of internal industry documents as part of a number of legal settlements in the 1990s, most notably the Master Settlement Agreement with forty-six state attorneys general in 1998, (1) has revealed the inner workings of the tobacco industry. Recently several other industries have been required to release to the public many of their internal documents as a result of litigation, and in some cases congressional inquiry. In an era when thousands of newly engineered products are being developed and marketed and novel production processes implemented with insufficient regulatory oversight and little understanding of the long-term risks, industries worldwide are greatly expanding their sponsorship of risk research. The release of these documents provides an opportunity to systematically examine the strategies each industry used to manipulate research in ways that would promote their products, or create doubt about the deleterious health effects of their products and manufacturing processes--thereby enhancing their credibility and profits, and shielding them against unwanted regulation or legal liability. Corporate manipulation of research has been described through case studies of individual industries or products. (2) The objective of this study is to systematically categorize these practices across a specific set of industries, using a consistent data source of internal corporate documents.

Using a previously developed framework, (3) we compare the strategies used by the tobacco, pharmaceutical, lead, vinyl chloride, and silicosis-generating industries (mining, foundries, sandblasting, and others) to manipulate research. Strategies included manipulation of the research question to obtain predetermined results; funding and publishing research that supports industry interests; suppressing unfavorable research; distorting the public discourse about research; changing or setting scientific standards to serve corporate interests; and disseminating favorable research directly to decision makers and the public, bypassing the normal channels of scientific discourse. We hypothesize that the five industries used similar strategies to manipulate research.

A. Methods

The tobacco documents were made available through settlement of major lawsuits against the industry in the 1990s, culminating in the Master Settlement Agreement. The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) has over eleven million of these documents on its website. (4) The pharmaceutical industry documents were also obtained through litigation and drawn from UCSF's Drug Industry Document Archive (DIDA). (5) Hard copies of the lead, vinyl chloride, and silica industry documents were provided by Dr. David Rosner, author of Deadly Dust, on the silicosis crisis, and Deceit and Denial, on the lead and vinyl chloride industries. The lead and vinyl chloride documents were originally obtained through discovery proceedings in lawsuits against these industries.

The first author undertook the initial review of the document archives. She reviewed over a thousand documents in the DIDA, searching on "research" and terms such as "product defense" and "publication strategy," then extending the search using document numbers, individual names, and other terms found in the documents. She reviewed all 103 documents provided by Rosner for the lead and silicosis-related industries. For vinyl chloride, the second author reviewed extensive notes prepared by Rosner and Markowitz for their book Deceit and Denial on a thousand available documents, and selected thirty-nine of these that were relevant to research practices. The original documents were then obtained at the Chemical Industry Archives website. (6) These examples were supplemented with additional searching on keywords ("publish," "OSHA," names of researchers, etc.) in the archives. As numerous articles have already been published on tobacco industry manipulation of science, the authors relied on documents that have been cited in previous peer-reviewed publications. …

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