Public Relation firms have become very sophisticated in the preparation of news releases. They have learned how to attach the names of famous scientists to research that those scientists have not even looked at. (Stauber, p 201) This is a common occurrence. In this way the editors of newspapers and TV news shows are often not even aware that an individual release is a total PR fabrication. Or at least they have "deniability," right?
Stauber tells the amazing
story of how leaded gas came into the picture. In 1922, General Motors discovered that adding lead to gasoline gave cars
more horsepower. When there was
some concern about safety, GM paid the Bureau of Mines to do some fake
"testing" and publish spurious research that 'proved' that inhalation
of lead was harmless. Enter Charles
Finally it became too obvious to hide that lead was a major carcinogen, and leaded gas was phased out in the late 1980s. But during those 60 years, it is estimated that some 30 million tons of lead were released in vapor form onto American streets and highways. 30 million tons.
That is PR, my friends. JUNK SCIENCE
In 1993 a guy named Peter Huber wrote a new book and coined a new term. The book was Galileo's Revenge and the term was junk science. Huber's shallow thesis was that real science supports technology, industry, and progress. Anything else was suddenly junk science. Not surprisingly, Stauber explains how Huber's book was supported by the industry-backed Manhattan Institute.
Huber's book was generally dismissed not only because it was so poorly written, but because it failed to realize one fact: true scientific research begins with no conclusions. Real scientists are seeking the truth because they do not yet know what the truth is.
True scientific method goes like this:
1. form a hypothesis 2. make predictions for that hypothesis 3. test the predictions 4. reject or revise the hypothesis based on the research findings
Boston University scientist Dr. David Ozonoff explains that ideas in science are themselves like "living organisms, that must be nourished, supported, and cultivated with resources for making them grow and flourish." (Stauber p 205) Great ideas that don't get this financial support because the commercial angles are not immediately obvious - these ideas wither and die.
Another way you can often distinguish real science from phony is that real science points out flaws in its own research. Phony science pretends there were no flaws.
THE REAL JUNK SCIENCE
Contrast this with modern PR and its constant pretensions to sound science. Corporate sponsored research, whether it's in the area of drugs, GM foods, or chemistry begins with predetermined conclusions. It is the job of the scientists then to prove that these conclusions are true, because of the economic upside that proof will bring to the industries paying for that research. This invidious approach to science has shifted the entire focus of research in America during the past 50 years, as any true scientist is likely to admit.
Stauber documents the increasing amount of corporate sponsorship of university research. (206) This has nothing to do with the pursuit of knowledge. Scientists lament that research has become just another commodity, something bought and sold. (Crossen)
THE TWO MAIN TARGETS OF "SOUND SCIENCE"
It is shocking when Stauber shows how the vast majority of corporate PR today opposes any research that seeks to protect
It's a funny thing that most of the time when we see the phrase "junk science," it is in a context of defending something that may threaten either the environment or our health. This makes sense when one realizes that money changes hands only by selling the illusion of health and the illusion of environmental protection. True public health and real preservation of the earth's environment have very low market value.
Stauber thinks it ironic that industry's self-proclaimed debunkers of junk science are usually non-scientists themselves. (255) Here again they can do this because the issue is not science, but the creation of images.
THE LANGUAGE OF ATTACK
When PR firms attack legitimate environmental groups and alternative medicine people, they again use special words which will carry an emotional punch:
outraged sound science junk science sensible scaremongering responsible phobia hoax alarmist hysteria The next time you are reading a newspaper article about an environmental or health issue, note how the author shows bias by using the above terms. This is the result of very specialized training.
Another standard PR tactic is to use the rhetoric of the environmentalists themselves to defend a dangerous and untested product that poses an actual threat to the environment. This we see constantly in the PR smokescreen that surrounds genetically modified foods. They talk about how GM foods are necessary to grow more food and to end world hunger, when the reality is that GM foods actually have lower yields per acre than natural crops. (Stauber p 173) The grand design sort of comes into focus once you realize that almost all GM foods have been created by the sellers of herbicides and pesticides so that those plants can withstand greater amounts of herbicides and pesticides. (The Magic Bean)
THE MIRAGE OF PEER REVIEW
Publish or perish is the classic dilemma of every research scientist. That means whoever expects funding for the next research project had better get the current research paper published in the best scientific journals. And we all know that the best scientific journals, like JAMA, New England Journal, British Medical Journal, etc. are peer-reviewed. Peer review means that any articles which actually get published, between all those full color drug ads and pharmaceutical centerfolds, have been reviewed and accepted by some really smart guys with a lot of credentials. The assumption is, if the article made it past peer review, the data and the conclusions of the research study have been thoroughly checked out and bear some resemblance to physical reality.
But there are a few problems with this hot little set up. First off, money. Even though prestigious venerable medical journals pretend to be so objective and scientific and incorruptible, the reality is that they face the same type of being called to account that all glossy magazines must confront: don't antagonize your advertisers. Those full-page drug ads in the best journals cost millions, Jack. How long will a pharmaceutical company pay for ad space in a magazine that prints some very sound scientific research paper that attacks the safety of the drug in the centerfold? Think about it. The editors aren't that stupid.
Another problem is the conflict of interest thing. There's a formal requirement for all medical journals that any financial ties between an author and a product manufacturer be disclosed in the article. In practice, it never happens. A study done in 1997 of 142 medical journals did not find even one such disclosure. (Wall St. Journal, 2 Feb 99)
A 1998 study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that 96% of peer reviewed articles had financial ties to the drug they were studying. (Stelfox, 1998) Big shock, huh? Any disclosures? Yeah, right. This study should be pointed out whenever somebody starts getting too pompous about the objectivity of peer review, like they often do.
Then there's the outright purchase of space. A drug company may simply pay $100,000 to a journal to have a favorable article printed. (Stauber, p 204)
Fraud in peer review journals is nothing new. In 1987, the New England Journal ran an article that followed the research of R. Slutsky MD over a seven year period. During that time, Dr. Slutsky had published 137 articles in a number of peer-reviewed journals. NEJM found that in at least 60 of these 137, there was evidence of major scientific fraud and misrepresentation, including:
Dean Black PhD, describes what he the calls the Babel Effect that results when this very common and frequently undetected scientific fraudulent data in peer-reviewed journals are quoted by other researchers, who are in turn re-quoted by still others, and so on.
Want to see something that sort of re-frames this whole discussion? Check out the McDonald's ads which often appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Then keep in mind that this is the same publication that for almost 50 years ran cigarette ads proclaiming the health benefits of tobacco. (Robbins)
Very scientific, oh yes.
KILL YOUR TV?
Hope this chapter has given you a hint to start reading newspaper and magazine articles a little differently, and perhaps start watching TV news shows with a slightly different attitude than you had before. Always ask, what are they selling here, and who's selling it? And if you actually follow up on Stauber & Rampton's book and check out some of the other resources below, you might even glimpse the possibility of advancing your life one quantum simply by ceasing to subject your brain to mass media. That's right - no more newspapers, no more TV news, no more Time magazine or Newsweek. You could actually do that. Just think what you could do with the extra time alone.
Really feel like you need to "relax" or find out "what's going on in the world" for a few hours every day? Think about the news of the past couple of years for a minute. Do you really suppose the major stories that have dominated headlines and TV news have been "what is going on in the world?" Do you actually think there's been nothing going on besides the contrived tech slump, the contrived power shortages, the re-filtered accounts of foreign violence and disaster, and all the other non-stories that the puppeteers dangle before us every day? What about when they get a big one, like with OJ or Monica Lewinsky or the Oklahoma city bombing, or now with Gary Condit? Do we really need to know all that detail, day after day? Do we have any way of verifying all that detail, even if we wanted to? What is the purpose of news? To inform the public? Hardly. The sole purpose of news is to keep the public in a state of fear and uncertainty so that they'll watch again tomorrow and be subjected to the same advertising. Oversimplification? Of course. That's the mark of mass media mastery - simplicity. The invisible hand. Like Edward Bernays said, the people must be controlled without them knowing it.
Consider this: what was really going on in the world all that time they were distracting us with all that stupid vexatious daily smokescreen? Fear and uncertainty -- that's what keeps people coming back for more.
If this seems like a radical outlook, let's take it one step further:
What would you lose from your life if you stopped watching TV and stopped reading newspapers altogether?
Would your life really suffer any financial, moral, intellectual, literary, spiritual or academic loss from such a decision?
Do you really need to have your family continually absorbing the illiterate, amoral, phony, uncultivated, desperately brainless values of the people featured in the average nightly TV program? Are these fake, programmed robots "normal"?
Do you need to have your life values constantly spoonfed to you?
Are those shows really amusing, or just a necessary distraction to keep you from looking at reality, or trying to figure things out yourself by doing a little independent reading?
Name one example of how your life is
improved by watching TV news and reading the evening paper.
What measurable gain is there for you?
PLANET OF THE APES?
There's no question that as a nation, we're getting dumber year by year. Look at the presidents we've been choosing lately. Ever notice the blatant grammar mistakes so ubiquitous in today's advertising and billboards? Literacy is marginal in most American secondary schools. Three-fourths of California high school seniors can't read well enough to pass their exit exams. ( SJ Mercury 20 Jul 01) If you think other parts of the country are smarter, try this one: hand any high school senior a book by Dumas or Jane Austen, and ask them to open to any random page and just read one paragraph out loud. Go ahead, do it. SAT scales are arbitrarily shifted lower and lower to disguise how dumb kids are getting year by year. (ADD: A Designer Disease) At least 10% have documented "learning disabilities," which are reinforced and rewarded by special treatment and special drugs. Ever hear of anyone failing a grade any more?
Or observe the intellectual level of the average movie which these days may only last one or two weeks in the theatres, especially if it has insufficient explosions, chase scenes, silicone, fake martial arts, and cretinesque dialogue. Radio? Consider the low mental qualifications of the falsely animated corporate simians hired as DJs -- seems like they're only allowed to have 50 thoughts, which they just repeat at random. And at what point did popular music cease to require the study of any musical instrument or theory whatsoever, not to mention lyric? Perhaps we just don't understand this emerging art form, right? The Darwinism of MTV - apes descended from man.
Ever notice how most articles in any of the glossy magazines sound like they were all written by the same guy? And this writer just graduated from junior college? And yet has all the correct opinions on social issues, no original ideas, and that shallow, smug, homogenized corporate omniscience, to assure us that everything is going to be fine... Yes, everything is fine.
All this is great news for the PR industry - makes their job that much easier. Not only are very few paying attention to the process of conditioning; fewer are capable of understanding it even if somebody explained it to them.
TEA IN THE CAFETERIA
Let's say you're in a crowded cafeteria, and you buy a cup of tea. And as you're about to sit down you see your friend way across the room. So you put the tea down and walk across the room and talk to your friend for a few minutes. Now, coming back to your tea, are you just going to pick it up and drink it? Remember, this is a crowded place and you've just left your tea unattended for several minutes. You've given anybody in that room access to your tea.
Why should your mind be any different? Turning on the TV, or uncritically absorbing mass publications every day - these activities allow access to our minds by "just anyone" - anyone who has an agenda, anyone with the resources to create a public image via popular media. As we've seen above, just because we read something or see something on TV doesn't mean it's true or worth knowing. So the idea here is, like the tea, the mind is also worth guarding, worth limiting access to it.
This is the only life we get. Time is our total capital. Why waste it allowing our potential, our personality, our values to be shaped, crafted, and limited according to the whims of the mass panderers? There are many truly important decisions that are crucial to our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being, decisions which require information and research. If it's an issue where money is involved, objective data won't be so easy to obtain. Remember, if everybody knows something, that image has been bought and paid for.
Real knowledge takes a little effort, a little excavation down at least one level below what "everybody knows." 1
Stauber & Rampton Trust Us, We're Experts Tarcher/Putnam 2001 Ewen, Stuart PR!: A Social History of Spin 1996
Published by Basic Books, A Division of Harper Collins
Father of Spin: Edward
L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations
Wall St. Journal, 2 Feb 99. Engler, R et al. Misrepresentation and Responsibility in Medical Research
New England Journal of Medicine v 317 p 1383 26 Nov 1987 Black, D PhD Health At the Crossroads Tapestry 1988. Trevanian Shibumi 1983. Crossen, C Tainted Truth: The Manipulation of Fact in America 1996. Robbins, J Reclaiming Our Health Kramer 1996. Bernays, E Propaganda Liveright, New York 1928. Jefferson, T Writings New York Library of America, p 493; 1984.
O'Shea T The Magic Bean 2000 www.thedoctorwithin.com
Alternative Medicine magazine May 2001.
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