Corporate perversion of science to defend against inconvenient facts

Photo from 3M: Company headquarters in Maplewood Minnesota
Contributed by Joe Montero

The exposure of Professor John Giesy, alleged to have been bribed by multinational 3M to falsify the science over the harmful effects of some of the chemicals that the company has been using, is a sad fall, for a man who chose to feather his own nest over honesty. When big money becomes too entangled with scientific research, objective investigation is going to be sacrificed for something much less noble than the pursuit of knowledge.

Professor Giesy had been credited for discovering toxic per- and poly-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) in the environment, and with helping to persuade chemical giant 3M Company to abandon their manufacture. Now he stands accused of doing the company’s bidding.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. Scientists have been used over the years by of tobacco, oil and pharmaceutical companies,  because they wanted to bury information that might harm their operations.

Giesy’s case came out into the open, after the release of documents in the United States connected to a court case launched by the State of Minnesota and a $A1.15 billion legal settlement. they suggest, he was used to what 3M called its actions to “command the science,” and the scientific community was misled about the presence of chemicals in people’s blood.

Among other effects, it  studies into their link with cancer were undermined, and funds were helped into avenues more suitable to 3M.

For example, PFAS, which is a component of Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS), has been known to be harmful, as far back as 1997, according to one of the company’s own data safety sheets. studies indicate that it compromises the immune  and metabolic regulation systems and is implicated in the development of bowel cancer.

PFOS is also widely used by 3M in Australia and can be found in Scotchgard and fire-fighting foams, paints, stain removers, pesticides, shampoo sand food packaging. They have not been banned and are still in use, even though some studies have kinked it.

In his testimony to the Minnesota case, Professor Philippe Grandjean of Harvard, observed that “despite spending most of his career as a professor at public universities, Professor Giesy has a net worth of approximately $20 million. This massive wealth results at least in part from his long-term involvement with 3M for the purpose of suppressing independent scientific research…”

Professor Giesy has a consulting company that received payments from 3M between at least 1998 and 2009, at $US275 an hour.

Professor Philippe Grandjean testified that 3M had documented adverse effects in animals, as early as the 1970s. If this is true, the findings have been hidden for a long time.

In an email to a 3M laboratory manager, Professor Giesy described his role as trying to keep “bad papers out of the literature”, because in “litigation situations they can be a large obstacle to refute.”

With his scientific credentials and being the editor of several scientific journals, he was well placed to do this.

“Some journals … for conflict-of-interest issues will not allow an industry to review a paper about one of their products. That is where I came in,” he wrote in another email.

“In time sheets, I always listed these reviews as literature searches so that there was no paper trail to 3M.”

The documents show that 3M also funded friendly research, on condition that it could edit the draft of scientific papers; used what it called “independent third party experts,” who were carefully vetted and paid for services; and destroyed incriminating documents and electronic data.

How extensive these practices are in the wider corporate world, whether in the United States or Australia, is unknown at this point.

Professor Lisa Bero, of the University of Sydney, internationally renowned for her investigations into the influence of industry on scientific research, draws a similarity between this and other cases.

“It’s directly parallel, I would have to say – the strategies that were used in the PFAS case are really all the same as we’ve seen used across the other industries,” she says.

“Even the wording was identical.”

3M has used a California based company, once known as Failure Analysis Associates and now called Exponent, to carry out its denial strategy over the chemicals. This is the same company used by the tobacco industry, to argue that second hand smoking does not risk cancer. It doesn’t stop here. Among its clients are names like BP, ExxonMobil, General Motors, Toyota and Dow Chemicals.  All have engaged Exponent to deny inconvenient facts.

A study by scientific consultant with the company, Ellen Chang, was used by Australia’s Department of Defence and the Department of Health’s expert panel, which found in May this year that there are no significant risks associated with PFAS.

Ellen Chang also happened to be the principal witness for 3M in the Minnesota case.

Exponent routinely hired “experts” to bend conclusions to meet client needs. Among other cases, the method has been used in connection to Agent Orange, asbestos, pesticides, and excess sugar consumption.

It is involvement with the climate warming denial industry, which is ultimately the most serious part of Exponent’s misconduct, for it has contributed to getting in the way of acting on an ecological crisis that risks a devastating effect on the planet and human survival.

Not only is the denial of scientific truth unjustifiable under any pretense, the methods used, contribute to the corruption in society. It is reprehensible conduct, which deserves to be exposed on all fronts.

Although Exponent does not directly operate in Australia, many of its big name clients do. And it is not the only cororation involved in this sort of scam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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