May 20 2013

The Corruption of Science Must Be Taken More Seriously

Julie Gunlock

 

Over on Ricochet, Clark Judge has a timely piece about the corruption of science.  He writes that upon leaving his high office, President Eisenhower warned that “The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded” and remembers the most notorious example of this corruption: the 2009 University of East Anglia global warning scandal.  

Judge understands that this corruptions goes way beyond climate change, saying: “In recent years we have seen reports of scientists linking with activists in other areas, attacking new technologies based on studies -- the data and methodologies they would not share -- but reaping grant support as a result.”

This is precisely what we hope to highlight through IWF’s new Culture of Alarmism Project, the primary goal of which is to address the prolific corruption that now exists in many scientific fields. Today, for many scientists, the goal isn’t truth and discovery; its cold hard cash—more specifically, pleasing the source of continued funding. The increasingly incestuous relationship between scientists, universities, research organizations and the government entities that provide funding is ultimately influencing scientific outcomes.  In other words, if you’re a smart scientist, you’ll do what your patron asks; you’ll give them the results they seek.

Of course, scientists don’t have to compromise the scientific method in order to please those writing the checks. Take the case of University of California-San Diego professor of medicine Michael E. Baker, Ph.D., who is far too upstanding and reputable a scientist to alter the rather inconvenient finding of his research. He just allowed the university’s PR department to do it. 

Several months ago, I wrote about this largely unnoticed story (except by Forbes columnist and AEI scholar John Entine who wrote an excellent piece on the scandal) on how Baker allowed the results of his BPA research to be hyped in a press release – a press release that Baker himself now renounces (incidentally, the release remains on the University’s website without a correction).

Baker actually admitted his error to Entine, saying “I have no evidence, none at all, that BPA causes any problems in humans. This was a theoretical exercise, and it would be trumped by what actually happens in the real world. Based on what I know now, neither BPA nor its metabolites are harmful. I am upset that my structural study is misused by some.”

Oopsie.

Just a tiny little mistake that causes moms like me to gnaw off their fingernails at the thought that we might be poisoning our children with chemicals. But that’s okay; regular moms and dads (already struggling with high food and fuel costs) can just run out and support the cottage industry that has sprouted up in the wake of these terrifying headlines — the BPA-free industry. Parents won’t mind that these products are much more expensive. After all, isn’t your baby’s health worth it? Surely parents aren’t already cash-strapped with the truck-load of diapers they purchase on a monthly basis along with the toys, books, and other baby items one simply must supply a child with these days.

Of course, what parents won’t hear about is Baker’s mea culpa because if there’s one thing parents can count on from today’s science writers it is an absolute dearth of Entine-esque journalism when it comes to BPA. Baker’s study might not have generated such dramatic headlines if these journalists had revealed, as Entine does, that Baker has zero prior expertise in studying BPA or that his study didn’t include humans or even animals but rather was a computer simulation. Even more stunning, Entine discovered that Baker was unaware of the quite impressive body of research that shows BPA is safe.

Clarke Judge says that the corruption of science -- as so perfectly illustrated by Baker’s research -- is nothing new but Judge warns that “…Eisenhower's warning about corruption of science and the danger of a scientific-technological elite capturing public policy needs to be taken much more seriously.”

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