Science for Sale

David Michaels in the Boston Review:

Decision makers atop today’s corporate structures are responsible for delivering short- and long-term financial returns, and in the pursuit of these goals they place profits and growth above all else. Avoidance of financial loss, to many corporate executives, is an alibi for just about any ugly decision. This is not to say that decisions at the highest level are black-and-white or simple; they are dictated by factors such as the cost of possible government regulation and potential loss of market share to less hazardous products. And, of course, companies are afraid of being sued by people sickened by their products, which costs money and can result in serious damage to the brand. All of this is part of the corporate calculus.

Unfortunately, though, this story is old news: most people, especially Americans, have come to expect corporations to put profit above all else. Still, we mostly don’t expect there to be mercenary scientists. Science is supposed to be constant, apolitical, and above the fray. This commonsense view misses the rise of science-for-sale specialists over the last several decades and a “product defense industry” that sustains them—a cabal of apparent experts, PR flaks, and political lobbyists who use bad science to produce whatever results their sponsors want.

There are a handful of go-to firms in this booming field.

More here.