[Marxism] ChevronTexaco and its academic whores

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Apr 6 14:01:51 MDT 2005

At last, shared interests are producing signs of cooperation between two 
warring forces in our society, business and environmentalists. On the one 
hand, bad environmental policies are ultimately disastrous for businesses 
and their employees. On the other hand, conservationists can't make the 
environment healthy without the help of businesses.

As an environmentalist (a director of World Wildlife Fund), I have mostly 
been in the position of blaming businesses for bad things. However, any 
habitual blamer also incurs an obligation to give praise where praise is 
due. Last year, I found that opportunity in an unexpected location, the big 
Kikori oil field of Papua New Guinea, managed by Chevron.

Although Chevron had enlisted World Wildlife Fund as partner to advise on 
environmental issues, I expected to see a mess. Instead, I was astonished 
as soon as I arrived. Flying over, I couldn't see oil wells, because almost 
the whole area retains its original cover of rain forest.

(The New York Times, January 8, 2000


Chronicle of Higher Education, Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Scientists Denounce Tactics of Texaco and Its Academic Consultants in 
Ecuadorean Oil Dispute

Fifty scientists have sent a letter to a journal of environmental and 
occupational health to decry the behavior of other researchers who have 
acted as consultants to ChevronTexaco in a dispute over oil drilling in 
Ecuador. The consultants were quoted in newspaper advertisements and on 
Texaco's Web site during a legal battle between the oil company and 
residents of the South American country.

Texaco drilled in the Ecuadorean Amazon from 1964 to 1992, and residents 
have sued the company in Ecuador's courts, saying that the pollution left 
behind has caused cancer and other illnesses, spoiled the environment, and 
destabilized communities. They argue that the oil company, which in 2001 
merged with Chevron, should pay $6-billion to clean up the mess.

But ChevronTexaco insists that the pollution is not nearly as widespread as 
claimed, and that other factors are likely to have caused the health 
problems. Backing up those assertions are reports produced for the company 
by six scientists whom the oil company hired as consultants, including 
faculty members at Boston University, the Massachusetts Institute of 
Technology, and the University of Texas School of Public Health.

Other scientists cried foul when quotations from the consultants' reports 
appeared in February on Texaco's Web site and, they say, in full-page 
advertisements in newspapers in Ecuador. The online statements criticize 
earlier studies, some of them published in the scientific literature, that 
showed connections between oil pollution and disease. The Web site, for 
instance, quotes Lowell E. Sever, a professor of epidemiology at Texas, as 
saying, "There is little or no evidence that would support a causal 
relationship between oil contamination and health effects."

The upset scientists are striking back with a letter to the editor of the 
International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, a quarterly 
peer-reviewed journal. In the letter, which is scheduled to appear in June, 
they call Texaco's advertisements "a blatant effort by the company to sway 
public opinion as the legal case was being heard." The 50 signers of the 
letter, most of them academics, work in 17 countries on five continents.

Their concern extends to the actions of Texaco's consultants. In the 
letter, the researchers respond to some of Texaco's scientific criticisms 
and assert that "the place to air legitimate scientific concerns about the 
quality of published research is in the research literature itself."

"The original authors then have the opportunity to respond to the critiques 
in an environment of open scientific dialogue and scrutiny by scientists 
internationally," the letter says.

Several of the letter's signers told The Chronicle that they objected to 
the academic scientists' lending their prestige to Texaco -- "epidemiology 
for sale," according to Arthur L. Frank, a professor and chairman of the 
department of environmental and occupational health at Drexel University. 
"Why didn't they publish differing science and let the scientific community 
critique it?" he asked.

Joseph LaDou, the journal's editor, said he was happy to throw a spotlight 
on the consultants' practices. "What I thought was significant about this 
letter was the broad international signatures that it elicited," said Dr. 
LaDou, who is director of the International Center for Occupational 
Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco.

"The scientific community," he went on, "is getting a little bit impatient 
with these hired guns who are willing to have quote after quote of 
criticism of the scientific literature appear in corporate-sponsored Web 
sites, while at the same time ignoring a scientific process that reviews 
articles and generates scientific truth."

Dr. LaDou said he was impressed enough that he signed the letter as well.

But Kenneth J. Rothman, a part-time professor of epidemiology at Boston 
University and a consultant who helped write one of the reports for Texaco, 
disputed the other scientists' concerns. He said that he was unaware of the 
newspaper and Web-site quotations and that Texaco had put no pressure on 
him to conform to its interests when he reviewed studies purporting to link 
oil pollution to cancer in Ecuador.

"This is just scientific criticism," Mr. Rothman said. "I have often been 
asked for opinions and given opinions that were inimical to the interests 
of the person who hired me. It's happened many times. I have more to lose 
if I would give a biased report than I would have to gain if I did 
something that pleased the sponsor."

But Colin L. Soskolne, one of the signers of the letter and a professor of 
epidemiology at the University of Alberta, in Canada, called consulting 
work such as Mr. Rothman's "very distressing." He said that environmental 
epidemiology must be considered in the context of the field's mission: 
protecting public health. When deciding whether to conduct a study or 
criticize another, Mr. Soskolne said, "we need to think, How do we make 
sure that the consequences of even asking the question and doing the study 
will not cause more harm than good? I'm afraid that many of us lose sight 
of that."



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