Science, but NOT as we know it!
It takes a certain kind of person to capitalize on a human catastrophe such as the attacks on the World Trade Centre. While the rest of us remained desperate for news, some were plotting how these events could be used to maximum advantage. On the 5th anniversary of the attacks, one observer wrote:
September 11, 2001 brought out the heroism and humanity of thousands of men and women, like the transit workers who worked on the pile. It also brought out the kind of political opportunism that fouls American politics.1
9/11 also brought out the so-called pundits eager to exploit media outlets hungry for content. One such was Steve Milloy of junkscience.com. Even before the dust had settled, Milloy was drafting remarks which would appear within days in articles such as Ban on Asbestos Cladding Cost Lives2 and Asbestos Could Have Saved WTC Lives.3 The former article was published in The (London) Times a week after the attacks and stated:
Hundreds more lives might have been saved in the World Trade Centre but for building regulations preventing the use of asbestos fireproofing, scientists said yesterday Steve Milloy, publisher of the science website Junk-science.com, said: 'Asbestos is the best insulator we know of, and not to use it because of hysterical public health reasons is absurd.'
The fact that Milloy chose to make this and other such statements as ground zero was still smouldering shows an insensitivity that is hard to fathom. What decent human being could do anything during those early days but watch and wait as the emergency services worked 24/7 to locate survivors?
Shortly after the 5th anniversary of 9/11, Milloy's motives were exposed in an article entitled The Denial Industry;4 author George Monbiot detailed Milloy's links with U.S. corporations using fake citizens' groups to challenge the scientific consensus in order to forestall state or federal regulation. This strategy was explained in a memo by the tobacco company Brown and Williamson:
Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the mind of the general public.
Funding was, Monbiot wrote, received by Milloy from spurious groups such as the Advancement of Sound Science (TASSC), set up by ACPO, a public relations company working for tobacco giant Philip Morris. A letter from ACPO highlighted the need:
'to ensure that TAASC has a diverse group of contributors'; to 'link the tobacco issue with other more politically correct products;' and to associate scientific studies that cast smoking in a bad light with 'broader questions such as global warming, nuclear waste disposal and biotechnology.'
Documents obtained by Monbiot show that Philip Morris paid Milloy $90,000 in 2001; Philip Morris's parent company (Altria) admits that Milloy was under contract till at least the end of 2005. In 2004, TASSC paid Milloy $126,000 for 15 hours work/week. Philip Morris, Altria and TAASC were not Milloy's only source of funds:
Two other organisations are registered at his address: the Free Enterprise Education Institute and the Free Enterprise Action Institute. They have received $10,000 and $50,000 respectively from Exxon.
While the main interest of Milloy's tobacco paymasters was casting aspersion on the risks from passive smoking, the goals of ExxonMobil, the world's most profitable corporation, included countering the accumulation of data on climate change. In prolific articles, letters and statements, Millioy did not acknowledge the corporate sponsorship nor any potential conflict of interest which might exist. Although asbestos did not fall neatly into any of the pre-assigned categories covered by Milloy, it seems likely that 9/11 was just too good an opportunity to pass up to promote the junkscience brand: all the junk that's fit to debunk.5
The manipulation of science and the secret employment of scientists has been practiced by the asbestos industry for decades. In a recent paper entitled: Saving the Asbestos Industry, Dr. Jock McCulloch detailed the lamentable relationship between a formerly revered scientist, Dr. Christopher Wagner, and Owens Illinois (O-I), a U.S. asbestos defendant:
beginning in 1986 O-I made regular payments to Wagner through its legal firm Nelson, Mullins, Riley and Scarborough the arrangement continued for more than 15 years and in total Wagner probably received in excess of $300,000. That income compares to the £30,000 per year salary typical for medical researchers in the UK at that time. Neither Wagner nor O-I ever acknowledged Wagner's employment at the numerous conferences Wagner attended during the period his association with the asbestos company remained secret. It was an association that he even denied under oath. It is equally significant that Wagner's stance on chrysotile (white asbestos) shifted at a time when the evidence linking all types of asbestos to mesothelioma had become overwhelming.6
The esteem with which Wagner was held for his early work on mesothelioma assured him a strategic position from which to mediate the reception of knowledge about asbestos disease. Industry lobbyists used Wagner's vacillation on chrysotile to create doubt and confusion; capitalizing on the uncertainty they created, asbestos stakeholders continued to benefit from sales of this acknowledged carcinogen for many years to come.
September 26, 2006
1 Local 100 Express - Transport Workers Union Press Release. 9/11 Hall of Shame: President George W. Bush, EPA Dir. Christie Todd Whitman, Governor George Transport Workers Union Pataki, Mayor Rudy Giuliani. September 2006.
2 Henderson M. Ban on Asbestos Cladding Cost Lives. The (London) Times. September 18, 2001.
3Milloy S. Asbestos Could Have Saved WTC Lives. Fox News. September 14, 2001.
4Monbiot G. The Denial Industry. The Guardian. September 19, 2006. http://environment.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,,1875762,00.html
6 McCulloch J. Saving the Asbestos Industry. Public Health Chronicles. September-October 2006/ Vol. 121, pages 609-614.