Science on trial?

| 23 Comments

Lou Dubose reported in the Washington Spectator the other day that Eastman Chemical prevailed in a lawsuit against two small companies, and Dubose thinks that decision could have far-ranging consequences. I am not certain whether science was on trial, but as it turned out in vitro assays may have been.

I cannot find much interesting material that postdates the decision, but you can find a slightly gloating press release by Eastman Chemical here.

NPR reported in July that Eastman’s BPA-free plastic Tritan was, in effect, going on trial. BPA is an estrogen-active material, and Eastman markets Tritan as a plastic that is not estrogen-active and therefore may be used in drinking bottles. Nalgene bottles and Sippy cups, for example, are now made of Tritan, according to a later article in the Spectator. Two small companies performed assays on the monomer that is used to fabricate Tritan and concluded that it was in fact estrogen-active; Eastman sued them. You may find a short overview of the case in the Spectator article cited directly above.

The defendants, CertiChem and PlastiPure,

allege that Eastman is launching the suit to silence debate about a serious public health issue.

It reads: “This ought to be a scientific dispute to be resolved in the way scientific disagreements are normally resolved, the way countless scientific debates have been resolved over hundreds of years, i.e., by study, experimentation, exchange of ideas and data, publication of test results and analysis, and debate, all ultimately aiming at attaining a resolution of a legitimate and important scientific issue,”

according to an article in Inside Higher Ed. I could not agree more with that statement.

Eastman had commissioned a study that used live rats and supported its claim but according to Dubose tried to suppress the results of their own tests. In any event, they did not challenge the results of the research, which was carried out by George Bittner, a University of Texas professor and founder of the two companies. I will not bore you with the claims of conflict of interest from both sides – see the Spectator article or the Inside Higher Ed articles cited above.

In “Science on trial,” Dubose notes that authoritative testimony by several prominent scientists supporting the in vitro assay known as MCF-7 (which IHE calls “the scientific community’s ‘gold standard’ for testing for endocrine disruption”)

did not stop the jury from ruling that the two Austin labs had made false comments and “willfully engaged in false advertising” when they published results of their tests of Eastman plastics.

To reach their decision, jurors had to rule that tests performed by the labs were invalid, which perhaps also invalidates the account of the testing that was published in a National Institutes of Health peer-reviewed journal. Jurors also had to dismiss results of tests done in a University of California Davis lab, where a faculty member used a different assay to detect estrogenic activity in Tritan.

Dubose thinks it will be a long time before anyone tests Eastman products without permission.

If in vitro assays are deemed legally questionable, then it will become impossible to test chemicals for toxicity. To my mind, it is the tobacco industry all over again: tobacco does not cause cancer, climate change is a hoax, neonicotinoids do not kill bees. Creationism is small potatoes, except that the same cranks who deny evolution also deny climate change and any other aspect of reality that they do not like.

I first thought that the Spectator headline, “Science on trial,” was overstated. Now, I am not so sure.

23 Comments

Boycott. Boycott Eastman Chemical, their Tritan shit and anything made from it. No scientist shall buy any Eastman Chemical product.

All scientists who work for Eastman Chemical will be banned from all scientific conferences. You’re dead to us.

A similar effort was launched by the meat processing plants, beef, pork, chicken, to silence any critics who might try to film the gross conditions that exist on their premises. No critic can try to get employment with the future intent to film or expose conditions, etc. IOW, what they do is their dirty little secret and damn the consumer.

George Eastman, when trying to get control of chemical processes in order to tighten quality control at Eastman Kodak, bought that chemical company in Tennessee, and it became Eastman Chemical, a subsidiary of Kodak.

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Kodak was making a disastrous series of bad decisions and trying to suppress the emerging electronic imaging industry, even though Kodak was itself doing leading-edge research on CCD imagers.

After forays into buying a pharmaceutical company and a cleaning products company to shore up their continued losses as a result of constant mismanagement, Kodak finally “shot” all its researchers and began a slow death-spiral into bankruptcy, selling off many money-making assets such as Eastman Chemical in the process.

Anybody who knew Kodak knew that the company was headed for bankruptcy. Back in 1997, after a series of disastrous missteps and mismanagement at Kodak, Alecia Swaysy, business editor for the St. Petersburg Times wrote a book entitled Changing Focus in which she compiled many of the horror stories from interviews of people who lived in Rochester, NY and had worked for Kodak. This was well before Kodak finally went bankrupt last year. Kodak is just now emerging from bankruptcy. It has had to sell its patents in CCD imaging and will not be able to compete as a major player in this market.

If the Eastman Chemical Company retains any of the management style of those mismanaged years at Kodak, I think I can see where this is going. The chemical industry is a very high profit margin industry, just like Kodak was, and management can get pretty fat and lazy and will engage in some pretty ruthless tactics in order to keep their plush life style.

Let’s wait for the appeal – which I hope will happen.

Does anyone know when this decision came down? Eastman Chemical has lost 6.7% of its market value in the last 6 months. There seem to have been some big investment groups dumping their Eastman stock, and the VP of Eastman (whose role covers the plasticisers in this court case) sold nearly half his company shares 2 weeks ago.

Whoops, an erratum to my comment above: Eastman has lost 6.7% of market value in the last 1 month. It’s gone up 10% in the last 6 months.

I’d like that second excerpt explained, because I don’t necessarily see the logical connection between the first and second paragraphs. Maybe there is some legal nuance I’m missing here, but why couldn’t the jury’s ruling mean that they think the two labs did perfectly legitimate scientific testing AND THEN engaged in false advertising etc.? Not to cast aspersions on the two companies - I don’t know any of the details of this case - but we see that sort of behavior all the time. A study is conducted. It’s methodologically legitimate and maybe shows some interesting results. Then the public press release completely mangles or intentionally misinterprets the results in order to generate hype. That scenario is a classic and common example of how an incident of false advertising does not necessarily imply a challenge to the science itself.

I’m not saying that that’s what these companies did. I’m not trying to defend Eastman. What I’m asking is: why does a legal finding that the two companies “willfully engaged in false advertising” necessarily imply that, legally, the science is untrustworthy or that in vitro assays are unreliable?

Let’s wait for the appeal – which I hope will happen.

One of the sources I read noted that the two companies will probably go out of business.

…why couldn’t the jury’s ruling mean that they think the two labs did perfectly legitimate scientific testing AND THEN engaged in false advertising etc.?

I posted this question on the Spectator‘s website here. Keep an eye peeled for a reply.

No response yet, but thanks Matt. I’ll check it again tomorrow and cross post any substantive answer.

This isn’t anything new. Companies have been suing each other over intellectual property issues for over a hundred years. And yes, just like tobacco and climate change, when there is big money at stake, science takes a back seat to punitive legal shenanigans. Or gets thrown under the bus. Pick your metaphor. It’s not right, and it’s not good, but it seems to be in the nature of homo-bureaucratous that science is a tool to be discarded when it isn’t convenient any more.

One of the main reasons why government funded research is so important.

As my Dad always pointed out, there are the entrepreneurs and innovators who build successful companies (Eastman, Kaiser, Edison, Westinghouse, Jobs, Musk, etc.). Then there is the second or third generation managers who inherit the company who tend to be lawyers or accountants, who don’t know what to do with the company other than run it into the ground. Not always, of course. Sometimes you get an equally visionary successor or two, or the founder is savvy enough to create a self sustaining corporate culture of innovation and promoting from within (like IBM). But more often than not, the company that was good at doing “X” becomes too calcified to be nimble enough to find a new market when “X” inevitably becomes obsolete. Rather than innovate their way out, they lash out with lawyers instead.

Any way to flag abuse/spam such as Turkish diet pill sites or do we just wait for the mods?

Still no comments. Oh well.

Scott F said:Rather than innovate their way out, they lash out with lawyers instead.

*cough* Apple. *cough*

Scott F said:

This isn’t anything new. Companies have been suing each other over intellectual property issues for over a hundred years. And yes, just like tobacco and climate change, when there is big money at stake, science takes a back seat to punitive legal shenanigans. Or gets thrown under the bus. Pick your metaphor. It’s not right, and it’s not good, but it seems to be in the nature of homo-bureaucratous that science is a tool to be discarded when it isn’t convenient any more.

One of the main reasons why government funded research is so important.

As my Dad always pointed out, there are the entrepreneurs and innovators who build successful companies (Eastman, Kaiser, Edison, Westinghouse, Jobs, Musk, etc.). Then there is the second or third generation managers who inherit the company who tend to be lawyers or accountants, who don’t know what to do with the company other than run it into the ground. Not always, of course. Sometimes you get an equally visionary successor or two, or the founder is savvy enough to create a self sustaining corporate culture of innovation and promoting from within (like IBM). But more often than not, the company that was good at doing “X” becomes too calcified to be nimble enough to find a new market when “X” inevitably becomes obsolete. Rather than innovate their way out, they lash out with lawyers instead.

The Peter Principle at work?

@Mike Elzinga: I worked for Kodak for a couple summers and can confirm. That company made great products but horrible business decisions.

Nothing is as easy as it seems. I happen to be a beekeeper. Pesticide use is certainly a topic that has caused more than one animated discussion during my beekeeping meetings. I find this statement rather odd:

“To my mind, it is the tobacco industry all over again: tobacco does not cause cancer, climate change is a hoax, neonicontinoids do not kill bees.”

- “tobacco does not cause cancer” is nearly certain a false statement. - “climate change is a hoax” is probably a false statement - However, “neonicontinoids do not kill bees” is a true statement based on the science today if they are applied according to the labels.

Neonicontinoids is a class of insecticides; therefore, they most certainly will kill bees under certain circumstances. But the research currently being conducted cannot find a definitive link between widespread neonicontinoid use when applied according to the label and problems with bee mortality most people have heard about. Certainly, kills have been documented that have been linked to neonicontinoids, but these are rare.

I have spoken to a university researcher who did a neoniconoid study. He calculated the amount of a certain neonicontinoid (I don’t recall which one) a bee hive would be exposed to if they were to forage on a crop with the chemical applied at the maximum label rate. He planned to apply that level directly to the bee food. Before he started the study, he contacted the chemical manufacturer. To his surprise, they recommended he feed the bees twice the level he had planned. He incorporated the manufacture’s recommendation into his study. The results? The “poisoned” bees survived as well as the control group.

Banning neonicontinoids sounds like an obvious thing to do ( insectides kill bees). But right now, the research does not definitively support the ban. It may someday. But the call to ban them is more emotional than rational. France banned neonicontinoids around 2006. I would have thought the people trying to ban the pesticide would be touting the victory in France by telling the world about the enhanced survival rates of those bees. Interestingly, I have heard nothing. Why?

In my opinion, at this time the call to ban neonicontinoids is on the same emotional level as the call to teach ID in high school science class: “Isn’t it obvious?? The people who don’t agree with the ban can be ignored because they have an agenda paid for by big business.”

<nit picking mode>

@alicejohn

Neonicotinoids are derivatives of nicotine. There is no such thing as a neonicontinoid — except as a spelling error with 47.5k Google hits — so you can save the unnecessary wear and tear on your “N” key.

Otherwise, your post is informative, especially the French moratorium.

</nit picking mode>

– “tobacco does not cause cancer” is nearly certain[ly] a false statement.

– “climate change is a hoax” is probably a false statement

– However, “neonicontinoids do not kill bees” is a true statement based on the science today if they are applied according to the labels.

I am afraid that you have lost a certain amount of credibility with your first two claims, since “tobacco does not cause cancer” and “climate change is a hoax” are damned well false statements, even in the unlikely event that climate change turns out to be false. Nevertheless, let me withdraw “neonicontinoids (sic) do not kill bees” and replace it with

Vaccination does not cause autism.

There, better?

alicejohn said:

I have spoken to a university researcher who did a neoniconoid study. He calculated the amount of a certain neonicontinoid (I don’t recall which one) a bee hive would be exposed to if they were to forage on a crop with the chemical applied at the maximum label rate. He planned to apply that level directly to the bee food. Before he started the study, he contacted the chemical manufacturer. To his surprise, they recommended he feed the bees twice the level he had planned. He incorporated the manufacture’s recommendation into his study. The results? The “poisoned” bees survived as well as the control group.

I would think that the next obvious question would be about the effect on the genome of the bees. Does any effect show up in subsequent generations of the bees?

Has this question been investigated?

Vaccination does not cause autism.

oops, based on your simile of “things that are obviously untrue but pushed by vested interest groups” I think you meant the reverse of that to keep it in character with the others?

even in the unlikely event that climate change turns out to be false.

unpossible, given that it has already happened.

Yes, sorry, got carried away with the “nots”: It is not true that vaccine causes autism. As for climate change, the point is that, even if it turns out to be false or short-term, only fools think there is a giant conspiracy involving all the climate scientists in the world.

Matt Young said: only fools think there is a giant conspiracy involving all the climate scientists in the world.

If climate change were a giant hoax/conspiracy, I would almost certainly hear some hushed whispering out in the hall. But it’s quiet.

If climate change were a giant hoax/conspiracy, I would almost certainly hear some hushed whispering out in the hall. But it’s quiet.

That same comment could be applied to evolution theory, too.

(Not to mention the moon landing, the face on Mars, and probably a bunch of other things as well.)

Henry

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