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Doubt is Their Product: Public Health and Manufactured Uncertainty

Michaels, D

doi: 10.1097/
Abstracts: ISEE 20th Annual Conference, Pasadena, California, October 12–16, 2008: Symposium Abstracts

George Washington University School Public Health, Washington, DC, USA.

Abstracts published in Epidemiology have been reviewed by the organizations of Epidemiology. Affliate Societies at whose meetings the abstracts have been accepted for presentation. These abstracts have not undergone review by the Editorial Board of Epidemiology.


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The title of this talk comes from a tobacco executive's memo: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.” Although, Big Tobacco manufactured more uncertainty over a longer period and more effectively than any other industry, the strategy of “manufacturing uncertainty” has been used with great success by numerous polluters and manufacturers of dangerous products to oppose public health and environmental regulation. It is central to the debate on global warming, and arises often in considering the safety of drugs and medical devices, and of consumer products. The approach is now so common that it is unusual for the science not to be challenged by an industry facing increased regulation. Manufacturing uncertainty has become a business in itself; numerous technical consulting firms advertise “product defense” or “litigation support.” The firms, and the scientists who own and operate them, sell not just their scientific expertise, but their knowledge of and access to regulatory agencies. The financial success of these firms depends on their ability to assist their clients avoid increased regulation. Not surprisingly, it is rare for these firms to produce a study whose results conflict with the needs of the study sponsor. It follows that these scientists’ financial conflicts of interest are so severe that they should be barred from serving on federal science advisory panels that inform public health policy.

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.