How’s this for any irony? David Michaels, President Obama’s nominee to head the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), has written a book, published by Oxford University press, documenting how industry manufactures doubts that chemicals harm people by accusing regulators and plaintiff lawyers of relying of “junk science” instead of “sound science.” Now, after Michaels has exposed this effort as a public relations campaign that mischaracterizes how science actually works, he is being attacked on the grounds, you guessed it, of favoring junk science. And, because he favors “junk science,” he must be, you guessed it, a “radical.”
Michaels, an epidemiologist and research professor at the School of Public Health and Health Services at George Washington University, notes that the “sound science” campaign originated with the tobacco industry’s efforts to stave off regulation and tort suits by attacking the science indicating that smoking kills you. It has since been taken up by anyone with a financial interest in avoiding regulation or being sued for exposing people to toxic substances.
The sound science campaign depends on three ideas that appear reasonable enough on their face, but constitute sophisticated sabotage in their operation.
First, the campaign equates uncertainty about just exactly how dangerous a chemical might be with unreliability of scientific evidence. A scientific assessment of the risk posed by a chemical may be professionally competent even if it does not provide conclusive evidence that the chemical is dangerous. Regulation on the basis ...