How industry manipulates science
and gambles with your future


Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber

Reviewed by Mira de Vries

"Trust us, we're impartial!" would have been a more descriptive title for this book.

The authors document in meticulous detail how Public Relations Firms hired by wealthy parties, in particular big industries, manipulate political opinion, public debate and private behavior. There is no shortage of examples -- the book is crammed with them.

The PR firms pose as concerned citizen groups, grassroots activists, independent think tanks, or scientific researchers, masterminding campaigns that pretend to defend our interests but actually benefit their clients. "Raw money allows the PR industry to mobilize ... expensive, high-tech resources to outmaneuver, overpower, and outlast true citizen reformers." Spin doctors train industry directors to dot their speech abundantly with certain key words like natural and quality while avoiding words like chemical and profit.

Part of the propaganda free-for-all are scientists for hire: "A steady stream of stories touting new medical breakthroughs and previously unknown health benefits that researchers attribute to oat bran, garlic bread, walnuts, orange juice, or whatever product the sponsoring client happens to be selling."

Although not the main theme of the book, along the way we are told about the thousands of toxic chemicals dumped by industry in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. Some are still there though they were prohibited decades ago. These chemicals have been demonstrated to harm our bodies and behavior, yet one never hears your surgeon general or our minister of health refer to them as a possible cause of afflictions proliferating today and driving up the cost of health care.

The authors put their finger on the sore spot. Government regulatory agencies are supposed to provide an important check on otherwise unrestrained corporate power, but in fact collaborate. The same bigwig names pop up alternately in lucrative positions on the boards of industries and in the bodies that regulate them, like revolving doors. "Far from being antagonists, government agencies and the ... companies they regulate often appear to be a club of elite insiders."

The same government regulation also corrupts science.
Modern science considers itself 'scientific' because it adheres to a certain methodology. ... The myth of a universal scientific method glosses over many far-from-scientific pristine realities about the sway scientists work in the real world. There is no mention, for example, of the time that a modern researcher spends writing grant proposals; coddling department heads, corporate donors, and government bureaucrats; or engaging in any of the other activities that are necessary to obtain research funding. ... The idea that all scientific experiments are replicated to keep the process honest is also something of a myth. In reality, the number of findings from one scientist that get checked by others is quite small. ... [T]he practice and philosophy of science [has] changed under the pressures of government bureaucracy... Instead of a process for asking questions, it [has] become a dogma, a set of answers imposed by what [is] becoming de facto state religion.
If you're a CEO or managing director in a global industry like oil or pharmaceuticals, you won't like this book.

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