Senators Afraid Of 'Chilling Effects' On Those Poor, Poor Lobbyists If Scientists Disclose Which Large Company Funded Research
from the but-think-of-the-lobbyists dept
David Michaels, the head of OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration), also wrote the book Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health. You can guess what it’s about based on the subtitle. The title itself comes from a 1969 memo from the tobacco giant Brown and Williamson discussing a plan to try to obscure the scientific evidence that smoking is dangerous with a flood of competing, sponsored “scientific” research in an effort to sow doubt. The memo announced “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.” Once put in charge of OSHA, he added a basic request (not a requirement) that anyone submitting scientific comments with the agency should also disclose any possible financial conflict of interest. He did not say that such submissions would be ignored, just in the interest of transparency, financial conflicts of interest should be disclosed.
However, as Larry Lessig explains, a bunch of Senators have gone absolutely apeshit over this idea that scientists be asked to disclose financial conflicts, claiming that it could create a “chilling effect.”
Led by Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, these senators objected (PDF) to the agency’s request that financial conflicts of interest be disclosed. The Senators were “very concerned about OSHA’s attempt to have commenters disclose their financial backers.” As Liz Wolgemuth, a staffer working for Alexander’s committee explained, “the chilling effect the financial disclosure could have seems counter to the idea of robust inclusion of a diverse set of ideas and views to inform the rule-making.
As Lessig points out, what exactly is the “chilling” effect here?
The “chilling effect?” Seriously? What’s the chill? That the shrinking violets of the cement industry will be too afraid to hire lobbyists to present their views about the (non-) dangers in inhaling silica?
Again, no one is saying that any such evidence would be ignored. But more information and transparency concerning information presented to the government seems to only create a chilling effect if the financial backers of that information don’t want their names associated with it. Furthermore, such disclosures are common (even more strongly required) in many other places, from academic journals to court filings to political donations. It’s difficult to see the complaint of these Senators as anything more than a cynical attempt to protect lobbyists and the practice of paying for bogus scientific studies.