Lead Industry & the Deck of Cards

Helen Epstein has an interesting review of Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America‚Äôs Children by Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, in the current New York Review of Books. The review is worth reading to better understand the public policy problem of lead in products and the environment. But I cannot help but point out that the article could be used to provide more footnotes to the Denialists’ Deck of Cards:

… The lead companies also paid scientists who produced flawed studies casting doubt on the link between lead exposure and child health problems. When University of Pittsburgh professor Herbert Needleman first showed that even children with relatively modest lead levels tended to have lower intelligence and more behavioral problems than their lead-free peers, some of these industry-backed researchers claimed that his methods were sloppy and accused him of scientific misconduct (he has since been exonerated).
The companies also hired a public relations firm to influence stories in The Wall Street Journal and other conservative news outlets, which characterized Needleman as part of a leftist plot to increase government spending on housing and other social programs…

Here Comes the Downturn Denialism

We have not played with the Denialists’ Deck of Cards for some time! Let’s pick them up again, because the economic downturn gives all sorts of businesses the opportunity to play the “Bear Market” card.

i-e9c987e71f4415eb0c74e05a507bc833-qc.jpgStephen Power brings it in today’s Wall Street Journal:

“We know something needs to be done [to cut emissions], but we’ve got to get the economy on its feet before we do something economically irrational,” said Mike Morris, chief executive of American Electric Power Co. of Columbus, Ohio. Mr. Morris and other executives fear lawmakers will use revenue from pollution permits to pay down the federal deficit.

“The likelihood that they would try to take these revenues for other purposes, particularly in an economic downturn, is great,” says James Rogers, chief executive of North Carolina-based Duke Energy Corp.

Do not feel so bad for these guys, because when the markets are up, they play “Bull Market.” If the market is doing well, you should not mess with success.

Sexism or just idiocy from Cato?

I’m flattered that Pandagon liked our post on a terrible ad campaign for diamonds.

But if Amanda thought that was bad, she should see some of the latest “reason” coming from our libertarian friends at Cato. David Boaz writes a post for Cato entitled “All Those Who’d Like to Live in Rwanda, Vietnam, or Cuba, Raise Your Hands” in response to a Parade article complaining about the lack of female representatives in Congress:

Parade magazine frets:

In the current U.S. Congress, women account for only 16.3% of the members: 16 of 100 in the Senate and 71 of 435 in the House of Representatives. Eighty-four nations have a greater percentage of female legislators than the U.S., including our neighbors Mexico and Canada, as well as Rwanda, Vietnam and Cuba.

It’s not exactly clear that legislatures with more women produce better government. So why, then, as Parade notes, does the United States demand that emerging democracies have gender quotas that we would never accept in our own politics?

After the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan and of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the United States made sure that when those two countries held elections, 25% of the seats in their legislatures would be reserved for women.

So what do we think people? Stupid? Sexist? Both?

No one in their right mind would read the quoted paragraph from Parade and make the idiotic leap that they were suggesting those governments are better. In fact, it’s a sign of how pathetic it is that our government lacks women that these governments we consider repressive still manage to surpass us in female representation. It’s a little bit like being behind Alabama in adult literacy. Gender quotas, further, are necessary to prevent countries that have deep problems with female equality from oppressing 50% of their population.

Why is Boaz playing stupid with us? He knows full well the purpose and reasoning in both cases. Is there no better argument sexists can use for the promotion of the status quo than the “duh” card?

It is pathetic we don’t have more women in congress because after all these years, almost 90 now since women’s suffrage, we still don’t have anything approaching equal representation in government. We have never elected a female president. Why does it matter? Because as long as moralizing cranks are going to occupy office and make decisions impinging on women’s health, and not men’s we’ve got a problem. When Viagra gets covered by government health programs but contraception is cut, we’ve got a huge problem. When the best solution government can come up with for improving families is covenant marriage, and abstinence education in the face of higher teen pregancy rates, we’ve got a ridiculous problem. Other than just fundamental fairness, recognition of the equality of females, and human decency there are specific instances in which women are having decisions made for them that affect their health and their bodies by a majority male government, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Surely these are arguments for advocating women in government that even an libertarian could understand. I hope we don’t have to dumb it down even more.


I’d love to see what the angry toxicologist thinks of this scary article from CNN Tests reveal high chemical levels in kids’ bodies.

Michelle Hammond and Jeremiah Holland were intrigued when a friend at the Oakland Tribune asked them and their two young children to take part in a cutting-edge study to measure the industrial chemicals in their bodies.

“In the beginning, I wasn’t worried at all; I was fascinated,” Hammond, 37, recalled.

But that fascination soon changed to fear, as tests revealed that their children — Rowan, then 18 months, and Mikaela, then 5 — had chemical exposure levels up to seven times those of their parents.

“[Rowan’s] been on this planet for 18 months, and he’s loaded with a chemical I’ve never heard of,” Holland, 37, said. “He had two to three times the level of flame retardants in his body that’s been known to cause thyroid dysfunction in lab rats.”

Oh noes! The toxins!

I kid, but in the midst of an article which is a bit over-the-top in scaremongering are some important issues that probably should result in increased regulation of chemicals going into everyday products. For one, Elizabeth Whelan of the ACSH, true to form, spouts the standard industry denial – no problem:


Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health, a public health advocacy group, disagrees.

“My concern about this trend about measuring chemicals in the blood is it’s leading people to believe that the mere ability to detect chemicals is the same as proving a hazard, that if you have this chemical, you are at risk of a disease, and that is false,” she said. Whelan contends that trace levels of industrial chemicals in our bodies do not necessarily pose health risks.

Public health advocacy group? The ACSH? Please. Try instead, an industry can do no wrong advocacy group. While I agree that trace measurements of most of these chemicals is likely not a health problem, that doesn’t mean there is “no problem”.

Continue reading “Toxins!”

Denialist Deck Applied: PRISM

It’s that time again. Bora’s got the scoop on this new organization PRISM (Partnership for Research Integrity in Science & Medicine). They purport to be the saviors of scientific publishing, protecting us from the evil of open access. But how much do you want to bet they’re the same old industry lobbying group, disguising themselves as actors in the public interest? Well, there’s an easy way to tell. Let’s apply the deck of cards!

Continue reading “Denialist Deck Applied: PRISM”

Denialists’ Deck of Cards: The Ace of Spades, “We’ll Lose Money!”

i-bc7c187b37ebf18d2d53fc5d30cb856f-as.jpeg And finally, we come to the final card. Perhaps industry’s strongest card–“we’ll lose money”–is not really denialism, but it is what motivates so much of the bad rhetoric in public policy debates.

And of course, the truth is more nuanced. Proposals for reform create new opportunities, and many businesses have thrived under the very proposals they said would wreak havoc.

“Wall Street…has greeted practically every important market regulation introduced in this century with howls of dismay and predictions of disaster. In 1934, the head of the New York Stock Exchange told Congress that if the Securities Exchange Act, which became the foundation of market regulation in the U.S., was made law there was a chance that stock trading in the U.S. would be “entirely destroyed.” Needless to say, it wasn’t. In 1975, when the S.E.C. abolished fixed commissions, the Street claimed that its business would be demolished. Instead, after transaction costs fell, trading volume shot up. And in 2000, when the S.E.C. required companies to disclose material information to all investors, rather than just to insiders, we were told that this would strangle the flow of information to the market and make stock prices swing wildly. But, as numerous academic studies have found, it has actually done the opposite…” James Surowiecki, Over There, New Yorker Magazine, Feb. 2, 2007.

Denialists’ Deck of Cards: The Ace of Hearts, “Unamerican!”

i-44125a9117a80bd3d47763a5d195800a-ah.jpeg Almost any proposal can be styled as “Un-American.” Typically this is bundled with wild, inaccurate claims about European regulations (i.e., you can’t do business in Europe at all). You’ll wonder if the denialist has even been to Europe!

Update: Mark H provides this article as an example of “Unamerican” in today’s Wall Street Journal. It contains, among others, this great example:

The German took the floor first. His was a bold thesis: The economic transformation required to address global warming will bring huge energy efficiencies–and hence huge economic benefits–even if there is no global warming problem. But vested interests in the energy sector stand in the way of that transformation. “We cannot,” therefore, “wait for the industries that in many cases will be the losers . . . to make the necessary changes,” he told the audience of American and European industrialists.

To this American ear, this smacks of the tales about the man who invented a car that runs on water, but was bought out by Detroit to protect their market. But from a European perspective, it makes more sense.