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How Corporations Use Deceptive “Mercenary Science” To Evade Regulation

“David Michaels, former Assistant Secretary of Labor, explains how corporations whitewash harmful products and drugs”

“One curious difference between humans and corporations is our capacity to harm others and emerge unscathed. If you or I were to poison someone on camera in broad daylight, we would be given a trial and sent to prison in a hurry. But if you or I were a corporation, we could hire consulting firms to produce research papers that claim that the poisoning didn't happen, and/or question the existence of the poison, or claim that said concoction actually does good rather than harm. If that failed, we could then gum up the legal and political system with lobbyists and lawyers for decades.

In public discourse about our supposed post-truth society, most op-eds fixate on the way that social media can create separate reality bubbles. Few focus on what David Michaels, Obama's Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), calls “mercenary science” — science-for-hire, contracted out by chemical and pharmaceutical companies to prove that their harmful products aren't harmful by giving them the quantitative imprimatur of STEM knowledge. The idea that science and truth could diverge is profoundly troubling for our entire civilization.

While the vast majority of scientists, both employed publicly and privately, are honest and do their work as part of a larger quest for truth, there are a few notable exceptions. Specifically, a few mercenary science consulting firms have been very effective at helping corporations continue selling harmful chemicals and drugs long after they should have stopped.

Michaels, who has a new book on the topic titled “The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception,” has been studying this problem for years, in part by virtue of his 8-year tenure at OSHA.  Now a public health professor at George Washington University, Michaels' book pulls back the curtain on the way that dark money and for-profit science is quite literally killing Americans.”

Keith A. Spencer reports for Salon February 2, 2020.