165822 Doubt is their product

Tuesday, November 6, 2007: 10:30 AM

David Michaels, PhD, MPH , Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy, The George Washington University School of Public Health & Health Services, Washington, DC
This talk's title comes from a tobacco executive's memo: "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.” Although Big Tobacco manufactured more uncertainty over a longer period and more effectively than any other industry, the strategy of “manufacturing uncertainty” has been used with great success by numerous polluters and manufacturers of dangerous products to oppose public health and environmental regulation. It is central to the debate on global warming, and arises often in considering the safety of drugs and medical devices, and of consumer products. The approach is now so common that it is unusual for an industry not to challenge the science behind any regulation it faces.

Manufacturing uncertainty has become a business in itself; numerous technical consulting firms advertise “product defense” or “litigation support.” The firms, and the scientists who own and operate them, sell not just their scientific expertise, but their knowledge of and access to regulatory agencies. The financial success of these firms depends on their ability to help their clients avoid increased regulation. Not surprisingly, it is rare for these firms to produce a study whose results conflict with the needs of the study sponsor. It follows that these scientists' financial conflicts of interest are so severe that they should be barred from serving on federal science advisory panels that inform public health policy.

Learning Objectives:
To understand the strategy known as “manufactured uncertainty” and its implications for public health science and policy. To recognize the application of the “manufactured uncertainty” strategy. To understand and identify conflict of interests associated with employment by a product defense consulting firm.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Any relevant financial relationships? No
Any institutionally-contracted trials related to this submission?

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.