By Colin Todhunter
20 August, 2012
When rich companies with well-positioned, politically-connected lobbyists fund their own research and distort outcomes for their own ends, like some giant pharmaceutical company tinkering with our food or using poisonous pesticide, we are in serious trouble. Due to the corporate takeover of science, our rights and freedoms are currently in the process of being destroyed.
In a genuine ‘age of reason,’ science would provide clear answers to issues and the public would be able to engage in open, honest debate over the rights and wrongs of policies. Instead, corporate interests have used their junk science and PR machines to muddy the waters and engage in fear-mongering so that public debate has too often become distorted and campaigns of deliberate misinformation have become commonplace.
‘Scientific’ debate is now often played out in full public glare and acrimony has become the norm, particularly when someone’s huge profits are threatened. Corporate greed leads to debate being stifled whereby scientists and various groups who do not support particular corporate stances are made to look like they are the ones who are pushing dogma based on self-interest and not the other war around.
No wonder, therefore, that the public is sometimes left feeling confused. Even when the weight of credible scientific evidence is overwhelming, powerful companies are highly skilled in creating ambiguity and controversy through their spin machines. Think back to how the tobacco companies set out to fool the public. Of course, having access to huge funds helps.
ExxonMobil gave $2.9m to US groups that were set up to misinform the public about climate change, and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) reportedly offered scientists money to publish articles critical of the International Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 climate change study. The AEI had received more than $1.6m from Exxon. A couple of years ago, Greenpeace revealed that the American Petroleum Institute, which includes oil giants ExxonMobil, Shell and BP, had encouraged its members to send employees to rallies against a climate change Bill that required large utilities to use greater renewable energy sources.
The aim of such campaigns is to deceive the public by giving the impression of serious scientific doubt coupled with popular dissent over proposed policies. Money talks. The public listens.
Another tactic used to sway public opinion involves big companies trying to whip up the belief there is some kind of conspiracy or unscrupulous group that is working against them and, by implication, the population in general — because, as we all know, these poor victimized rich corporations have our common interests at heart!
Those who say that global warming is taking place, for instance, or that GMOs pose a danger, are dismissed as having an ideological axe to grind against those corporations that want to keep on burning fossil fuels, controlling the world food supply and raking in massive profits — all for the benefit of humankind you understand.
Lazy journalism, corporate backed internet bloggers or those with an agenda in the media also contribute to the process. Stories can be twisted any which way and two newspapers can slant the same evidence to produce entirely different takes. Propaganda masquerades as ‘serious’ journalism, and ‘experts’ from well-funded corporate backed think-tanks are wheeled onto our screens to put forward points of view based on methodologically unsound junk science. Too often, science is a football to be kicked around and a victim of corporations that have scant regard for the public interest.
If corporate ideology fails, however, it’s always nice to know that there is good old fashioned bullying to rely on. For example, a WikiLeaks cable highlighted how Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) were being forced into European nations by the US ambassador to France who plotted with other US officials to create a ‘retaliatory target list’ of anyone who tried to regulate GMOs.
The corporate takeover of science has led to many terrible but highly profitable practices. The issue goes far beyond the advertising industry referring to dodgy science to con the public into buying an anti-aging cream, a fat reducing food supplement or a wonder-beauty product. Think of US-based agribusiness concerns and their aim to control the food supply and the 2,50,000 suicides by indebted Indian farmers who were duped or forced to buy seeds year after year from one centralised corporate entity.
Backed up by their selective scientific findings and spin machines, powerful corporations have placed at their mercy farmers who are no longer able to grow their own foods and harvest their own seeds. Think also of seasonal flu vaccines, pesticides and the collapse of the honeybee population and psychiatric pharmaceuticals. The corporate misuse and abuse of science has damaged the overall reputation science while swelling private coffers to bursting point.
Think too of the cancer industry. Despite massive public screening campaigns, decades of scientific research often funded by the very dug companies that profit from managing rather than eradicating cancer and talk of cures, cancer rates continue to soar.
In the 2009 documentary The Idiot Cycle, it is claimed that the world’s top cancer causing culprits include the companies Bayer, BASF, Dow, Dupont, Monsanto, Syngenta, Novartis, Pfizer, among others. The allegation is that chemical manufacturers are profiting from the production of cancer-causing products and then some of the same companies are investing in profitable cancer treatments.
On top of this, some of these companies are now developing genetically modified crops which have never been adequately tested for long-term health impacts like cancer. The onset of the disease is frequently 15 to 20 years down the road for victims.
Gilles-Eric Seralini, professor of molecular biology at the University of Caen in France, says it is absurd that only three months of testing allowed GM corn to be approved in over a dozen nations. Upon reviewing Monsanto’s raw ‘research’ data, he and his team found, among other problems, liver damage and physiological changes into a pre-diabetic condition among the rats which had eaten Monsanto’s GM corn. And that’s just from three months of eating such food.
In the US, animal and dairy products are highly contaminated with a wide range of hormones, pesticides and other industrial chemical carcinogens, some of which are very important risk factors for reproductive cancers – testicular cancers in men, breast cancers in women and leukemia in children. The use of the IGF1 growth hormone in milk has been associated with breast, prostate and colon cancer.
The usual tactic by officialdom is to individualise health issues by advising people to change their behaviour. While in certain cases individual behaviour may indeed minimise risks, there is not much the individual can do in terms of many of the major cancers that have increased in recent decades. By adopting a ‘blame the victim’ strategy, attention is diverted away from the practices of large corporations that cause cancer and ill health.
Credible science adheres to a certain methodological rigour, and its findings are at least subject to some form of established system of peer reviewed scrutiny, however imperfect that may be. The biggest challenge science faces is becoming more adept in getting its message out but most of all remaining independent from outside vested interests. A failure to do so is resulting in it being hijacked by corporate agendas and our rights and freedoms being eroded.
Colin Todhunter : Originally from the northwest of England, Colin Todhunter has spent many years in India. He has written extensively for the Deccan Herald (the Bangalore-based broadsheet), New Indian Express and Morning Star (Britain). His articles have also appeared in various other newspapers, journals and books. His East by Northwest website is at: http://colintodhunter.blogspot.com