Selective Skepticism and the Center for Science in the Public Interest


The Center for Science in the Public Interest runs what it calls its Integrity in Science project. That project aims to be a watchdog over industry-funded science blowing the whistle when CSPIers detect a foul. To this end, the project emails out a weekly Integrity in Science Watch newsletter detailing instances of what CSPI believes is conflicted science. So far, so good.

However, this week's Watch featured an item (2nd one down) based on a Wall Street Journal article about a newly released study on cancer rates at IBM factories. Apparently IBM had tried to suppress this study.

The CSPIers properly cocked a skeptical eye toward an earlier study which found lower than average cancer rates published by epidemiologists hired by IBM–nothing wrong with that. What was curious about the the Integrity in Science Project item was its apparent lack of skepticism about the newly published study, which was financed by trial lawyers. As I say, curious.

NEXT: Wake Up Bloomingdale's

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  1. Is it me, or is Ron Bailey trying to salvage his reputation by writing posts accusing his critics of the same things they’ve been accusing him for for years?

  2. It’s you.

  3. Funny thing about Center for Science in the Public Interest is that it almost never is.
    Kinda like calling the Klan “freedom riders.”

  4. Anyone who reads the entire item will find that we fairly summarized the contents of both studies and were neither skeptical nor promotional about either. We also reported the funding sources of both. The item was about IBM’s attempt to suppress Dr. Clapp’s work, which was why the Integrity in Science project at CSPI took an interest in this story in the first place. I would think readers of this magazine and blog would be concerned about that issue.

    Merrill Goozner
    Director, Integrity in Science
    Center for Science in the Public Interest

  5. See?!

    This just goes to prove that true science is done during the discovery phase of court proceedings!

  6. Here’s the item, for those too lazy to click on a link:

    Stifled Cancer Research Published after Industry-Funded Study Released

    An independent researcher last week finally published his study showing elevated cancer rates among workers at IBM manufacturing facilities. The company had fought the study’s publication for two years while supporting a researcher whose study, which appeared a year ago, showed no elevated risk, according to the Wall Street Journal. The independent study was conducted by Richard Clapp, a Boston University professor of environmental health, who was hired by lawyers in California who were representing a number of IBM workers who had gotten cancer. Using employee health records from 1969-2001, Clapp found an increased rate of cancer deaths in both men and women compared to either the national average or deaths at other IBM manufacturing plants.

    An IBM spokesperson said that Clapp’s analysis misused the data and conflicted with their own 2005 study which showed “lower overall mortality and cancer incidence rates than the general population.” The IBM study was led by Elizabeth Delzell, an epidemiology professor at the University of Alabama, Birmingham (see Integrity in Science database), who has conducted studies for numerous large firms and trade groups including Phillips 66, Ford Motor Company and Shell Oil.

    One could argue that the use of the word “stifled” in the title is a bit of editorializing, but given that it was the subject of a lawsuit that tried to block publication it isn’t inaccurate. A stronger criticism would be that the word “independent” is a poor way to characterize a study funded by lawyers for plaintiffs. The lawyers and their clients clearly have an interest in the outcome of the study. I would prefer to apply the word “independent” to a study funded by neither side of the dispute.

    However, all of the relevant facts are laid on the table (who did which study with money from whom) and very little commentary is offered except in an indirect form.

    If anything, I would say that the lack of commentary or analysis is the biggest weakness of this press release, because it makes for a boring read.

  7. Oops, should have previewed. The next two paragraphs after the title should have also been in block quote form.

  8. Our newsletter (you can sign up by sending an email to is “boring” because we trying to stick to the facts with only a bit of editorializing (yes, we have a point of view: financial interests can influence scientific results and should therefore be exposed). I use my personal blog at when I want to vent my opinions.

  9. Of course, CSPI has a watchdog site, as well.

  10. Kudos to Merrill for bearding the lion in its den. Now, back off my beloved Quorn, you tools, and then maybe I’ll take you seriously.

  11. Whoa, I didn’t see that coming! Who woulda guessed?

    Serously, is anyone suprised how this post turned out?

    I don’t think Reason treats its readers very when it lends its name to Ron Bailey’s campaigns.

  12. Bee, that stuff knotted up my guts like I’d swallowed a can opener. I’m never touching it again.

    I don’t know what the deal is with Quorn and CSPI, but they’re not making this all up.

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