Have you ever noticed that scientific “facts” reverse or flip-flop from time to time?
Not that long ago, “science” said that smoking was healthy for us. Indeed, physicians used to regularly prescribe smoking for weight loss and digestive ailments; during such time, medical journals were replete with cigarette ads declaring: More doctors smoke Camels® than any other cigarette.
Other scientific “facts” that have come and gone include the artificially manufactured trans fat in margarine is healthier than the naturally occurring saturated fat in butter and the world is flat. Although we deem the Earth to be a sphere today, who knows?, one day science might determine that it’s actually a pyramid, a cube, or a 3D hexagon.
The point is scientific “facts” change for many reasons including better information, improved tools of measurement, and perhaps most importantly, who is funding the research. Isn’t it interesting that when the tobacco industry was one of the major advertisers in medical journals, the “science” of the day supported the health benefits of cigarette smoking? Is that a coincidence? A resounding no!
Science is often for sale to the highest bidder—and this is nothing new. An egregious example of this in recent times is the Coca-Cola®–sponsored “scientific research” that found that the consumption of sugary drinks does not contribute to weight gain or obesity. So blatantly biased was the premise of the study that even our corrupt mainstream media reported skeptically on it.
What do Vioxx, thalidomide, and Posicor have in common? They were all FDA-approved drugs, that supposedly went through extensive safety testing prior to release, only to be later recalled—but only after the pharmaceutical companies made billions from selling them and, more importantly, after thousands of people either died or suffered serious, life-threatening, or debilitating side effects. In the case of Vioxx, it was touted as a “breakthrough” drug for pain relief and supported by a particularly huge marketing budget.
Late-night TV is replete with ads recruiting victims for class-action lawsuits against drug companies for the adverse effects their drugs cause. And drug companies routinely pay fines in the hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, to settle such suits. Paying fines is simply a cost of doing business to this Goliath industry; it’s business as usual.
When Big Pharma releases a new drug, it spends millions of dollars marketing it, with tons of media coverage. However, when Big Pharma is forced to recall a drug or pays a large settlement, mainstream media coverage is slim to none. What’s even more egregious is, sometimes, drugs are recalled for safety reasons in one country, subsequently renamed, and then sold as is in other countries—usually developing ones, where oversight is limited. That is, drugs recalled in the developed world are often still sold in the developing world with no safety modifications. (An example of this will be the subject of a future discussion.)
Like the tobacco science of yesteryear, many of today’s scientific studies are nothing more than industry-backed propaganda posing as science. Today, the pharmaceutical companies fund the majority of “approved” medical journals with their advertising dollars. I witnessed firsthand how advertising dollars DIRECTLY AFFECT EDITORIAL CONTENT (when working as an editor in the publishing industry years ago). In short, a media outlet will almost never challenge the hand that feeds it. And that’s also why the mainstream media generally do not report negative stories on Big Pharma, its biggest source of advertising revenue. (What is an “approved” medical journal? will be the topic of a future post.)
Regarding the pervasiveness of academic and scientific fraud, Dr. Richard Horton, MD, editor-in-chief of (what’s often touted as the world’s most prestigious medical journal) The Lancet wrote:
The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness. As one participant put it, “poor methods get results”…. The apparent endemicity of bad research behaviour is alarming. In their quest for telling a compelling story, scientists too often sculpt data to fit their preferred theory of the world. Or they retrofit hypotheses to fit their data. Journal editors deserve their fair share of criticism too. We aid and abet the worst behaviours.” (Horton, 2014, p. 1380)
Physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals use “scientific findings” as evidence for clinical decisions every day. What are the implications if up to half of all published scientific literature is not true?
Pervasive, rampant, systemic academic and scientific fraud is discussed in detail in Science for Sale: How the US Government Uses Powerful Corporations and Leading Universities to Support Government Policies, Silence Top Scientists, Jeopardize Our Health, and Protect Corporate Profits by David L. Lewis, PhD. As Dr. Lewis, a former EPA scientist and whistleblower, has explained:
The government hires scientists to support its policies; industry hires them to support its business; and universities hire them to bring in grants that are handed out to support government policies and industry practices…. The science they create is often only an illusion, designed to deceive; and the scientists they destroy to protect that illusion are often our best.” (Lewis, 2014, back cover)
So, how does all this “marketing masquerading as science” pass peer review? Peer review, touted as the gold standard for scientific publication, is a complex process that can often serve more as an information gatekeeper and less as a purveyor of truth (and shall also be the topic of a future post).
Real science is always open to debate and scrutiny. There’s always more to learn. There is no such thing as settled science, whether the issue is vaccines, climate change (even climate change!), GMOs, chemotherapy, or any other agro-biomedical topic. Whenever a scientific “finding” is touted as settled—case closed, nothing more to see here folks, discussion not allowed or ridiculed, only so-called “science deniers” don’t believe it to be true—follow the money! The money trail invariably leads to an industry with billions or trillions of dollars of (potential) profits riding on the back of marketing, masterfully cloaked as science.
I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.
Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.
There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.
~Michael Crichton, MD
CalTech Lecture, 2003