Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Manufacturing uncertainty

Junk science is a political term meant to disparage, typically, sound science that conflicts with the ideology of the person who is making the claim. It is also often the case that industries have paid "experts" and funded researchers to cast doubt on science that might ultimately cut into the profits of their business. This article, DOUBT Is Their Product, from Scientific American explains:

Uncertainty is an inherent problem of science, but manufactured uncertainty is another matter entirely. Over the past three decades, industry groups have frequently become involved in the investigative process when their interests are threatened. If, for example, studies show that a company is exposing its workers to dangerous levels of a certain chemical, the business typically responds by hiring its' own researchers to cast doubt on the studies. Or if a pharmaceutical firm faces questions about the safety of one of its drugs, its executives trumpet company sponsored trials that show no significant health risks while ignoring or hiding other studies that are much less reassuring. The vilification of threatening research as "junk science" and the corresponding sanctification of industry-commissioned research as "sound science" has become nothing less than standard operating procedure in some parts of corporate America.
The article also notes that "this administration has tried to facilitate and institutionalize the corporate strategy of manufacturing uncertainty." (Which might explain why an oil industry lobbyst was editing climate reports.)

And over at the Internet Bunk section of the Skeptic's Dictionary website, Robert Carrol debunks one of the most prominent industry "experts," Steven Milloy of JunkScience.Com, who "
uses 'junk science' mainly as a political and polemical term." Carrol states what should be the bottom line point about "junk" science

There's nothing wrong with having a political agenda, and there is certainly nothing wrong with being concerned that the government is spending its resources on the wrong projects, and there is nothing wrong with being critical of the work of scientists, but there is something wrong with pretending to care about science and truth, while labeling scientists who produce work contrary to your agenda as doing junk science.
For more information on how industry manipulates science, check out Trust Us We're Experts (excerpts of which can be read here.)


John Lombard said...

I'm not sure "junk science" is used primarily to disparage sound science. I think it's mainly used to describe acupuncture, therapeutic touch holistic medicine, bio-ching etc -- the "genuine" pseudosciences.

The problem is when people like Steven Millroy (who I'd heard of before) use the term incorrectly as a polemical term against sound science they don't agree with.

Hume's Ghost said...

Well, I did say "typically." "Junk" science is a form of pseudoscience, but it doesn't refer to holistic medicine and what not - it is science that is politically (or finacially) motivated. In essence, genuine junk science IS the industry funded science. So once again, you have a case of ideologues accusing people of what they are themself guilty of.