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One of our favorite bloggers, BrooklynDodger, has returned to blogging after an extended break. Dodger is a scientific paper hawk, finding and commenting on important papers in journals we wish we had time to read.

We always learn something in Dodger’s posts.  Recently, for example, he had this (and more) to say about a new toxicology study on titanium dioxide nanoparticles:

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When I’m teaching a class or speaking to a group about the “funding effect” – the close correlation between the results desired by a study’s funders and those reported by the researchers – people often ask how researchers do it. How is it that researchers paid by a sponsor usually get results favorable to the study’s sponsor?

I’ve try to help answer that question in an article that appears in today’s Washington Post, entitled It’s Not the Answers That Are Biased, It’s the Questions. (A longer discussion of the funding effect is in my book Doubt is Their Product).

Having a financial stake in the outcome changes the way even the most respected scientists approach their research. Scientists make many decisions about the doses, exposure methods and disease definitions they use in their experiments, and each decision affects the result.

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Did Brush Wellman, the world’s largest producer of beryllium products, hire Hill and Knowlton, the public relations giant behind Big Tobacco’s campaign to fool the public about the hazards of smoking, to help Brush refute reports of beryllium’s toxicity? Brush says no, but we have the smoking guns — memos and invoices — that say otherwise. Keep reading for the details.

Beryllium is a remarkable metal. It is stiffer than steel, lighter than aluminum, and causes lung disease at incredibly low levels of exposure. And it causes cancer in humans. This lightweight metal is has long been employed in nuclear and defense operations, and is now being used is bicycle frames and other consumer products. There is no evidence of a safe exposure level. The question that needs to be asked is whether beryllium should be banned in non-defense applications.

There is a national discussion underway right now on the hazards of beryllium. The National Academy of Sciences will soon issue a report, requested by the Air Force, on protecting Defense Department personnel exposed to beryllium. The EPA has announced that it is revising its beryllium risk assessment document and is holding a meeting in July for public input into the process. And OSHA is moving at a glacial pace to replace the current outdated workplace exposure standard (it is sixty years old and even the beryllium industry acknowledges it is inadequate), although no one pretends anymore that this administration will actually issue a new standard.

To help advance the national discussion on beryllium, we’ve posted a case study of the beryllium industry’s thirty-year campaign to stop stronger beryllium standards on, the website of the George Washington University School of Public Health’s Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy.

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On Saturday June 21st, I’ll be the guest on the Firedoglake Book Salon, talking about my new book “Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health.” Please join me from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM Eastern time, for what promises to be an interesting conversation.

Doubt continues to get rave reviews. Here’s Lord Dick Taverne, writing in Nature:

“David Michaels has written a powerful, thorough indictment of the way big business has ignored, suppressed or distorted vital scientific evidence to the detriment of the public’s health. Doubt Is Their Product catalogues numerous corporate misdemeanours, especially in the United States, from the criminal neglect of the dangerous nature of asbestos and the lies told by the tobacco industry, to the suppression of adverse findings of deaths caused by the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx and the increased risk of suicide among teenagers taking selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors for depression. The book concludes with a list of prescriptions for securing better regulation and greater protection for the public, mainly through increased public disclosure of vested interests.”

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The Weinberg Group is one of the product defense firms I write about in my new book “Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health.” These firms help polluters and manufacturers of dangerous products avoid regulation – only now the Weinberg Group is not a product defense firm, it’s transformed itself into a “product support” firm.

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My book Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health (Oxford University Press, 2008 ) will be officially released May 1st (though it’s available now through Amazon and Powell’s), and I’ll be writing and speaking more about it over the next several weeks. The book reports on the way scientists working for “product defense” consulting firms manufacture uncertainty in order to help polluters and producers of dangerous products avoid or delay public health and environmental regulation.

I’m fortunate that Doubt is Their Product has already been reviewed by two journalists who do an excellent job describing the problems that decades of manufactured uncertainty have created for today’s health and environmental advocates. The reviews by Chris Mooney at The American Prospect and Arthur Allen at The Washington Independent are both worth reading, whether or not you’re seeking book-purchasing guidance.

In Doubt, I recount how the strategy of manufacturing uncertainty was pioneered by the tobacco industry. Clearly successful, it has been adopted by the asbestos, beryllium, chromium, and pesticide industries, among others, and it is the strategy used by global warming deniers. There are few industries that haven’t tried it – Andrew Dressler at Grist has a new piece on how the Indoor Tanning Association is trying to convince the public that “there is actually no evidence linking sun exposure with cancer.” (I talk about that in my book, too.)

Challenging the science behind any proposed environmental regulations has become standard operating procedure. Doubt is Their Product describes how polluters have not only delayed action on specific hazards, but, with the help of the Bush Administration, they have constructed barriers to make it harder for lawmakers, government agencies, and courts to respond to future threats.

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Diacetyl – the butter-flavoring chemical linked to severe lung disease in food and flavoring workers – hasn’t been in the news much recently. It got a lot of attention in September, when we drew attention to the case of a Colorado man who appeared to have developed bronciolitis obliterans from eating microwave popcorn twice a day for several years. (More details here.) Major popcorn manufacturers announced that they would be removing diacetyl from their microwave popcorn lines, and OSHA put out a press release saying it was initiating rulemaking on the chemical.

I haven’t written about diacetyl in a while but there are some new developments worth reporting.

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On Monday February 4th, I’ll be doing the Public Health Reports’ monthly webcast, discussing the recent article Celeste Monforton and I wrote entitled Beryllium’s “Public Relations Problem”: Protecting Workers When There is No Safe Exposure Level. Here’s some background:

In a 1947 report, entitled Public Relations Problems in Connection with Occupational Diseases in the Beryllium Industry, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) asserted that the ability of the US government to produce nuclear weapons was threatened by the high incidence of severe health effects associated with exposure to beryllium, a metal vital to weapons production. In response, the AEC established a workplace exposure limit that dramatically reduced beryllium disease incidence. This limit is known as the “taxicab standard” since it was determined by two AEC scientists working in the back seat of a taxi on their way to a meeting.
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Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC), a coal industry “astroturf” organization, is sponsoring the Republican presidential debate tonight and Democratic debate tomorrow night, both in California and hosted by CNN. Think Progress has noticed that ABEC has sponsored three previous debates on CNN, and, in each one, there have been no questions about global warming. That’s gotta be some kind of coincidence, right?

Catch Devra Davis on BookTV this weekend, talking about her terrific book The Secret History of the War on Cancer. More details, including broadcast times, are here.


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