It seems that the more that an industry, person, or group is trying to hide (or lie and cover up) vital information, the more that they go on the defensive. In the case of the DC lead in water crisis, WASA, the CDC, and the EPA seemed to point the finger at others; they held firm in their lies about blood lead and the link to drinking water because they would lose face even more (CDC 2010a, b). Even though work by the Washington Post, Rebecca Renner, and Marc Edwards demonstrated otherwise, these agencies spent a great deal of time calling them names and otherwise behaving in an immature fashion. This was similar in the lead industry historically (Markowitz and Rosner 2002). Instead of admitting that lead was harmful, the industry went to extremes to discredit any scientists that were using good science to dispute claims of lead being benign. One of the most ridiculous ploys from the lead industry was blaming industrial workers for their elevated blood levels; the industry claimed that they liked their “Budweiser” too much. Additionally they claimed that any issues with lead causing lower fertility in men were not due to the metal, but instead due to the test subjects not being honest about having sex prior to submitting a sample for testing (Markowitz and Rosner 2002). It seems that any logical human being could understand that these were nothing more than hasty attempts to hide what everyone in the public already seemed to know: lead is harmful in any amount.
Additionally, the Markowitz and Rosner (2002) article helped me understand the position of the CDC in terms of not wanting to link lead in drinking water to increased blood lead levels in Washington, DC. The 1969 industry-produced “Policy and Program of Childhood Lead Poisoning” seemed to be nothing more than window dressing by stating that paint was the major source of increased blood lead levels, not gasoline, exhaust, deposition, or anything else. Apparently the lead industry of the past and the DC agencies involved in the water crisis believed that lead in any liquid form is not important. It is unfortunate to see how some things do not change.
With so much risk present in today’s society from industry, it is easy to understand how the public would have a hard time trusting anything scientific or coming from industry itself (Jasanoff 2012). The fact that the lead industry had a small, insulated research group producing the data that claimed lead was harmless should have been a red flag to the public (Markowitz and Rosner 2002). As many authors have noted, including Freedman (2010), money is quite an impetus for generating ‘results’ that please funding agencies (i.e. industry, pharmaceutical companies, etc.). What is more surprising is that one group in which the public puts a great deal of faith, physicians, are not as honorable as one would expect (Freedman 2010). Even as billions of dollars in NIH grants are funded for medical research, 90% of the work in this field is considered flawed, misleading, or wrong (Freedman 2010). This is disheartening to someone in my field, who have to fight tooth-and-nail to get any amount of support. It is ironic that “NIH budgets are easier to justify” (Jasanoff 2012) compared to those for NSF proposals, while it seems that a greater proportion of biomedical research is prone to dishonesty. Even my primary care physician apparently does not read medical journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine, because he feels that the studies are questionable. Maybe that is a medical opinion worth noting.
CDC. 2010a. Notice to Readers: Examining the Effect of Previously Missing Blood Lead Surveillance Data on Results Reported in MMWR. MMWR 59(19):592, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5919a4.htm.
CDC. 2010b. Notice to Readers: Limitations Inherent to a Cross-Sectional Assessment of Blood Lead Levels Among Persons Living in Homes with High Levels of Lead in Drinking Water. MMWR 59(24):751, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5924a6.htm.
Freedman, D. H. 2010. Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science. The Atlantic (Nov.), pp. 1-12, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/11/lies-damned-lies-and-medical-science/8269/.
Markowitz, G. and R. Rosner. 2002. “Old Poisons, New Problems.” In Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution, 108-138. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Jasanoff, S. 2012. Technologies of Humility: Citizen Participation in Governing Science. In M. Winston and R. Edelbach, eds., Society, Ethics, and Technology, pp. 102-113. Boston, MA: Wadsworth.