Tuesday, March 23, 2020
In an age of disinformation and fake news, science is considered an antidote. But when science damages a company’s profits, there are scientists-for-hire to shift the narrative. Author David Michaels is working to unveil the business of “manufacturing doubt.”
Dr. David Michaels is an epidemiologist and professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University. He spent seven years leading the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration under President Obama and previously served as President Clinton’s assistant secretary of energy for environment, safety and health.
At OSHA, his job was to protect American workers, which put him at odds with industries that prioritized profit over wellbeing. When science would suggest a company’s product, for example, was unsafe, instead of taking the product off the market, Michaels found the company would often poke holes in the science itself.
This concept has a long history. In 1969 a tobacco industry executive wrote a now-infamous memo:
“Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy. Within the business we recognize that a controversy exists. However, with the general public the consensus is that cigarettes are in some way harmful to the health. If we are successful in establishing a controversy at the public level, then there is an opportunity to put across the real facts about smoking and health.”
The tobacco industry’s disinformation campaign meant to muddy the connection between smoking and disease – the goal was to delay regulation and guard their profits.
Michaels tackles a variety of industries, from the “deflategate” scandal, the NFL battling concussion science, to drug companies downplaying and misconstruing facts pointing to the dangerously addictive — and ultimately deadly — nature of opioids.
“The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception” works to unveil the “product defense industry” and how, sometimes, even the truth can be bought.
Dr. David Michaels, epidemiologist and professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University, former United States Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health and author of “The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception”