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Conflicts of Interest In Science – Sheldon Krimsky


Conflicts of Interest In Science

How Corporate-Funded Academic Research Can Threaten Public Health

Sheldon Krimsky

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: January 29, 2019

Publisher: Hot Books


30+ Years of Peer-Reviewed Studies on the Corporate Ties and Vested Interests that Influence Scientific Research For over 500 years, groups and organizations with political, economic, and personal interests have successfully exercised influence on the pursuit of scientific inquiry and knowledge. History is replete with examples like the Papal authority muddying research into studies of the cosmos, but far less attention is paid today to the various corporate and special interest groups who, through funding and lobbying efforts, have been able to shape the modern academic and scientific landscape to fit their agenda. In Conflicts of Interest Within Science , author Sheldon Krimsky compiles 21 peer-reviewed, academic articles that examine the complex relationship between the individual scientists conducting research and the groups who fund them. Ultimately, Krimsky’s call to action concerns a collective movement among authors, peer reviewers, corporations and journal editors to disclose the sources of their funding. By holding scientists and the groups that fund them more accountable through increased transparency, we as a society can begin to rebuild trust in the integrity of knowledge.

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Conflicts of Interest In Science – Sheldon Krimsky

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Elizabeth Warren’s new plan would jail lying fossil fuel executives

Lying under oath is a crime known as perjury, but corporations lie all the time. (Remember when tobacco companies told us cigarettes were healthy?) On Tuesday, Senator Elizabeth Warren unveiled a plan to fight what she calls “corporate perjury.”

Her proposal, which is part and parcel of her larger anti-corruption push, zeroes in on fossil fuel companies. Specifically, ExxonMobil — a company that is currently mired in lawsuits that allege it knew climate change was real in the 1980s and misled investors and the public about it.

Several candidates have sworn to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for fraud and corruption. But Warren is the first to release a proposal specifically aimed at stopping corporations from misleading the public and regulators in the future.

The plan is three-pronged. First, Warren aims to create a “corporate perjury” law that will take executives to court for knowingly lying to federal agencies. You might assume such a law already exists, but you’d be wrong. People can be taken to court for lying in court, before Congress, or to their own shareholders, but the information they provide to federal agencies currently constitutes a weird gray area.

Warren’s plan says that “where companies engage in egregious and intentional efforts to mislead agencies in an effort to prevent our government from understanding and acting on facts, they will face criminal liability.” Executives who engage in this type of behavior could have to pay $250,000 in fines or face jail time.

In the second plank of her plan, Warren gets nerdy. Research that is not peer-reviewed — not evaluated by other experts in the same or a similar field — will not be eligible to be considered by federal agencies or courts. The same goes for industry-funded research. That is, it won’t be eligible unless whoever submitted it can prove that it’s free of conflicts of interest. “If any conflicts of interest exist, that research will be excluded from the rulemaking process and will be inadmissible in any subsequent court challenges,” the senator writes.

That would mark a significant departure from the way President Trump operates. On Monday, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration plans to curtail the kind of research the government can use to craft public health regulations, which could have drastic implications both for future rules and regulations that already exist.

The last piece of Warren’s plan hopes to reacquaint the public with the federal rule-making process. She would create a national Office of the Public Advocate to guide people through the process of weighing in on new regulations. By involving the public in this process more explicitly, Warren says, federal agencies will “make informed decisions about the human consequences of their proposals, rather than largely relying on industry talking points.”

Warren’s new corporate perjury plan is in keeping with her broader goal of holding Big Oil accountable for the consequences of their actions. At the first-ever Presidential Forum on Environmental Justice last week, she explained how she feels about corporate executives who pollute. (Editor’s note: Grist was one of the forum’s media sponsors.) “If they do harm to people, they need to be held responsible,” she said. “You shouldn’t be able to walk away from the injuries you create.” That apparently goes for the lies fossil fuel companies tell, as well.

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Elizabeth Warren’s new plan would jail lying fossil fuel executives

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Video games consume more electricity than 25 power plants can produce

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This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

A few years ago, Evan Mills’ 14-year-old son Nathaniel wanted to get into gaming. To juice up the experience, he wanted to build his own computer like more and more gamers do. Mills is an energy expert, a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so he struck a deal with his son: “I’ll bankroll it if you help me measure the hell out of it and let’s see how much energy this is really going to use.” His son agreed, and they “went at it,” Mills recalls. “We had a power meter and all the tools. And when the results came in — it was jaw dropping.”

“I’m looking at the power ratings, and I’m like, ‘What? This graphics card uses 300 watts? That one uses 500 watts? Is this a typo? This is way out on the fringes.’” In time, the father-and-son team hardly paid attention to the games themselves, instead focusing on their watt meter and switching out hardware and games to see which configurations would make the electricity readings spike or fall.

In 2015, they released a research paper that got picked up by PC Gamer and other outlets, and Mills landed a $1.4 million grant from the California Energy Commission to continue the research. Last week, Mills released another report, titled “Green Gaming: Energy Efficiency without Performance Compromise,” that builds on his years looking into a relatively untouched field of study. Gaming’s “plug load” was long overlooked in part because it fell into the miscellaneous category of non-appliances whose energy consumption was either not understood or assumed to be less significant.

To fill in the blanks, Mills’ research team created a gaming lab with 26 different systems, a host of displays, and all manner of consoles and virtual reality equipment. Over two years, they tested 37 popular games in eight different genres, including Call of Duty: Black OpsSkyrim, and FIFA17. But it was clear early on that gaming’s energy consumption, Mills says, “is not trivial.”

So just how big is gaming’s environmental footprint? Globally, PC gamers use about 75 billion kilowatt hours of electricity a year, equivalent to the output of 25 electric power plants. (And that doesn’t include console games.) In the United States, games consumes $6 billion worth of electricity annually — more power than electric water heaters, cooking appliances, clothes dryers, dishwashers, or freezers. As the report concludes, “video gaming is among the very most intensive uses of electricity in homes.” And more power means more greenhouse gas emissions: American gamers emit about 12 million tons of carbon dioxide annually — the equivalent of about 2.3 million passenger cars. Games are rated for things like sex and violence, Mills points out, but games and gear are “silent on their carbon footprint.”

What’s more, games’ impact could balloon as their market keeps expanding. “This isn’t the domain of 15-year-old boys anymore,” Mills says. “This is something that two-thirds of American households are engaged in. And what does it mean for the population? It’s a lot of energy and a lot of carbon.” Within five years, the electricity demand for gaming in California could rise by 114 percent, according to the report.

Some of gaming’s energy demand is driven by emerging technologies like virtual reality and higher-resolution connected displays. Cloud-based gaming, in which graphics processing is conducted on remote servers, is especially energy intensive, increasing overall electricity use by as much as 60 percent for desktop computers and 300 percent for laptops.

Luckily, it’s not all doom and gloom. “There is the potential to save a lot of energy with very little effort and little to no effect with the quality or experience,” says Jimmy Mai, a computer technician and one of the project’s principal testers. An avid gamer, Mai’s job was to set up the equipment every day and then play the games, diving into some titles he’d always wanted to explore, like League of LegendsWorld of Tanks, and The Witcher III (“a beautiful game,” says Mai, who jokes that this was “sort of a dream project”). Gaming equipment “is constantly being revised, becoming more energy efficient, and becoming more powerful in some cases,” Mai says. Mills notes that by simply changing out the lab’s graphics cards and power supply units, his team could reduce its energy consumption by 30 to 50 percent—with no reduction in the games’ performance.

The researchers found that gaming’s electricity demand could fall by 24 percent in the next five years if gamers shifted toward more efficient equipment and change their playing habits. Mills and his colleagues have created a website that outlines steps gamers can take to save energy. For example, there’s a huge range in how much energy different gaming systems use — anywhere from 5 kWh per year (very little) to 1,200 kWh per year (equivalent to leaving a 60-watt lightbulb on for more than two years straight.) Simply switching to a more efficient power supply unit can realize a 13 percent energy savings. And if that’s not enough incentive, the report shows how saving energy will also save gamers money. The annual electricity bill for a “power-sipping Nintendo Switch” can be as little as $5, while a “high-end desktop system run by an extreme gamer” can run up to $400 or more.

Awareness can have an impact, too, says Mills. Even though this entire project began with his son, its findings turned him off from gaming. “When my son saw the carbon footprint, he did lose his interest,” Mills says. For others, like Mai, who often worked in the gaming lab by day and still fired up his own system at night, giving up on gaming isn’t going to happen. (“Jimmy is going to go out in a wooden box gaming,” Mills says.) We’ll just have to find a way to enlist them in the massive multiplayer quest to save the planet.

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Video games consume more electricity than 25 power plants can produce

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Green Beer for St. Paddy’s Day! Not So Fast


As parade and bar-goers know, the color green saturates everything in sight on St. Paddy’s Day — including food and drink.

But what may seem like a harmless way to celebrate all things Irish (yes, we’re talking about you, green beer and green milkshakes) is in fact not all that bonny for the planet or your body, research shows.

Industrial artificial green food coloring — known variously as FD&C Green No. 3 and Fast Green FCF — is derived from petroleum, a limited resource, and contains coal tar. It’s also associated with an increased risk of certain cancers and hyperactivity in children, according to a study released by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

The European Union requires a warning label on foods containing dye, including FD&C Green No. 3, but in the U.S. it remains one of nine synthetic dyes FDA-approved for food processing.

Still thirsty for a green beer?

Try coloring up your drink with a naturally derived food dye instead. India Tree dyes use red cabbage, turmeric and beets to create intense shades of blue, yellow and red. (Remember from grade school? Blue + yellow = green.) Chefmaster sells ready-made green derived from red cabbage and beta carotene.

If you’re game for the DIY route, check out these instructions for fruit- and veggie-based homemade dye from the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Simple Steps site. (It works — the city of Chicago, which dyes its river green every St. Patrick’s Day, uses vegetable dye to get the job done.)

As for that hangover, though, you’re on your own.

This story was originally published on March 10, 2011. It was updated on March 18, 2018.

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Green Beer for St. Paddy’s Day! Not So Fast

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This climate denier has a starring role in the Russia investigation.

Citing the risk of conflicts of interest, the EPA administrator instituted a sweeping change to the agency’s core system of advisory panels on Tuesday, restricting membership to scientists who don’t receive EPA grants.

In practice, the move represents “a major purge of independent scientists,” Terry F. Yosie, chair of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board during the Reagan administration, told the Washington Post. Their removal paves the way for a fresh influx of industry experts and state government officials pushing for lax regulations.

The advisory boards are meant to ensure that health regulations are based on sound science, but that role may be changing. As of Tuesday, the new chair of the Clean Air Safety Advisory Committee is Tony Cox, an independent consultant, who has argued that reductions in ozone pollution have “no causal relation” to public health.

The new head of the Science Advisory Board is Michael Honeycutt, the head toxicologist at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, who has said that air pollution doesn’t matter because “most people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors.”

The figureheads of science denial were on hand to celebrate Pruitt’s announcement. Representative Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, called the move a “special occasion.”

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This climate denier has a starring role in the Russia investigation.

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Fossil fuel execs to Texas: Don’t target trans people.

Oh, and by the way, did you know there’s an EPA museum?

The one-room exhibit opened in Washington, D.C., just before Trump’s inauguration. The displays tell the history of the EPA while highlighting big Obama-era steps towards combating climate change, like the implementation of the Clean Power Plan and the signing of the Paris Agreement.

In light of Trump’s decisions to ditch both, the EPA as displayed isn’t looking quite Trump-y enough. A career EPA official told the Washington Post that, in addition to a coal display, plans are underway to add controversial EPA administrator Anne Gorsuch to the exhibit and expand on Trump areas of interest like the Superfund program. The Clean Power Plan and Paris Agreement displays are already scheduled for removal.

If you want a preview of the changes, current EPA officials have already put up a poster board that includes a photo of Pruitt shaking hands with miners and description that calls Trump’s approach to the EPA “back to the basics.” What basics are those, you might ask? We were wondering the same thing.

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Fossil fuel execs to Texas: Don’t target trans people.

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The White House Plans to Keep Visitor Logs Secret

Mother Jones

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The Trump administration will keep its list of visitors to the White House secret, the White House announced Friday. This move—a major retreat from transparency—breaks from the Obama policy, which regularly released a log of White House visitors, with some exceptions.

The Obama administration was the first to voluntarily disclose its visitor logs. Though the data was incomplete—the White House reserved the right to withhold names it deemed sensitive—this public data was important information regarding how the White House did business. The logs were a much-used resource for media outlets. These records may well be more significant in the Trump administration, which is already mired in conflicts of interest due to the vast financial entanglements of the president (and his daughter, son-in-law, and other key advisers).

White House Communications Director Michael Dubke defended the decision to Time, saying the reversal was due to “the grave national security risks and privacy concerns of the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.” Administration officials also noted that the decision was necessary to allow the president to seek advice from whomever he wants. The logs will be kept secret for at least five years after Trump leaves office.

Earlier this week, a trio of open-government groups sued the Trump administration, arguing that its refusal so far to release the visitor logs violated the Freedom of Information Act. “Given the many issues we have already seen in this White House with conflicts of interest, outside influence, and potential ethics violations, transparency is more important than ever, so we had no choice but to sue,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, one of the groups that filed suit. Last month, eight Democratic senators urged the president to continue the Obama administration’s policy. “We see no reason why you would be unable to continue policies of your predecessor,” they asserted. “And we urge you to extend those policies to address your decision to regularly conduct official business at private properties that also provide access to certain members of the public.”

Trump’s decision to roll back transparency at the White House clashes with his previous criticism of Obama.

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The White House Plans to Keep Visitor Logs Secret

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Foreigners Are Fleeing From Treasury Bonds, But It’s Probably Not Trump’s Fault

Mother Jones

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Bloomberg reports that foreigners are tripping over themselves to unload their holdings of US treasuries:

In the age of Trump, America’s biggest foreign creditors are suddenly having second thoughts about financing the U.S. government.

….From Tokyo to Beijing and London, the consensus is clear: few overseas investors want to step into the $13.9 trillion U.S. Treasury market right now. Whether it’s the prospect of bigger deficits and more inflation under President Donald Trump or higher interest rates from the Federal Reserve, the world’s safest debt market seems less of a sure thing — particularly after the upswing in yields since November. And then there is Trump’s penchant for saber rattling, which has made staying home that much easier.

….Combined with the unpredictability of Trump’s tweet storms, interest-rate increases in the U.S. could further sap overseas demand….Right now, it’s just “much easier to stay home than go abroad,” said Shyam Rajan, Bank of America’s head of U.S. rates strategy.

Hmmm. The age of Trump? According to the Treasury Department, the selloff started in June:

Preliminary figures from Japan suggest that December will be much the same as November, which means foreigners will have sold off nearly a half-trillion dollars worth of treasuries in six months. That’s 7 percent of their total holdings. The only other time there’s been a selloff this sustained was at the tail end of the dotcom boom.

But is it Trump’s fault? Nobody thought he had a chance of winning until November, so it’s hard to see how he could have caused uneasiness with federal debt back in June. I don’t imagine Trump has done the US debt market any favors, but on this score, at least, I suspect he’s getting more blame than he deserves.

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Foreigners Are Fleeing From Treasury Bonds, But It’s Probably Not Trump’s Fault

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Faith Doesn’t Matter Anymore in American Politics

Mother Jones

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Atrios writes:

At least with the election of Trump we don’t have numerous think pieces (and sweet sweet consulting cash) about how Democrats just need to pretend to love Jesus more.

I always thought that stuff was wrong politically, but also really offensive to actual religious people (I am not one). Just hit the love Jesus button often enough and the rubes will believe you.

True enough. For the moment, working-class whites have replaced religious folks as the iconic group that everyone thinks Democrats need to reach out to.

But it actually goes further than this. One of the things Donald Trump taught us last year is the ultimate hollowness of the Christian right. Trump is the most obviously unreligious person to run for president in—well, probably forever. He doesn’t go to church. He hasn’t read the Bible. His lifestyle would make Hugh Hefner blush. He doesn’t pray. He doesn’t ask forgiveness from God for his sins. He’s not born again. There is literally nothing in his 70 years on this earth that suggests he’s anything but a stone atheist.

But that didn’t matter. All he had to do was make a few awkward and obviously fake protestations of faith, and that was that. His insincerity was palpable to anyone paying the slightest attention, but everyone decided not to pay attention. As long as he mouthed the right words, everything was fine.

The Christian right has never been about actual faith. Like any other interest group, they just want what they want: abortion restrictions, money for private schools, opposition to gays, and so forth. As long as you’re on board, they don’t care what’s in your heart. They never have, and that’s why the suggestion that Democrats need to be more publicly devout has always been so misguided. Faith doesn’t matter. Empathy for people of faith doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is supporting the Christian right’s retrograde social views, and Democrats were never going to do that.

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Faith Doesn’t Matter Anymore in American Politics

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Trump’s Business Plan Won’t Eliminate His Conflicts of Interest

Mother Jones

At a long-awaited press conference Wednesday, Donald Trump outlined an extensive list of steps he plans to take to separate himself from his business interests. But he stopped short of the one thing that ethics experts agree he needs to do to eliminate conflicts of interest: divest his billions in assets and debts and place the proceeds in a blind trust.

Standing in front of a large stack of papers and manila folders that he said represented agreements he has signed to separate himself from his businesses, Trump steadfastly insisted he did not have to take any measures to avoid conflicts because federal ethics rules do not apply to presidents or vice presidents. According to Trump and a lawyer he retained to devise a plan to limit his business conflicts, he was voluntarily taking steps to make sure there are no questions about whether he is acting in the public interest while in office. Under the plan detailed at the press conference, Trump’s assets will be placed into a trust that will be run by his sons and another Trump executive, and all of the Trump Organization’s deals will be vetted by an ethics adviser who will have the right to veto any new deals that might present a conflict.

But the Trump trust will not be a blind trust—that is, an entity run by an independent third party containing assets the beneficiary is unaware of. It will just be a trust. Many of Trump’s assets are already in a trust—the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust—but according to Trump and his attorney, Sheri Dillon, he won’t play a role in managing the new trust. Dillon said Trump will not be provided with detailed statements showing how his companies are performing. He will just receive updates showing the profits or losses of his assets.

Dillon also attempted to stave off concerns that Trump might violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits federal officials from receiving financial benefits from a foreign government. Ethics experts have pointed out that Trump’s financial entanglements may violate this provision. Among other things, he is part of a partnership that owes money to a government-owned Chinese bank. And foreign diplomatic delegations have rushed to book space at Trump’s new Washington, DC, hotel—seen by many as an attempt to curry favor. According to Dillon, Trump will donate all hotel profits connected to any foreign government to the US Treasury.

None of Trump’s proposals seemed to impress his critics. Norm Eisen, who served as a lead ethics attorney in Barack Obama’s administration, said the plan laid out by Trump and Dillon fails all five standards that he and Richard Painter, a former ethics attorney for the George W. Bush administration, laid out prior to the press conference.

“Tragically, the Trump plan to deal with his business conflicts announced today falls short in every respect,” Eisen said, calling it “an inadequate and scantily detailed ethics wall.”

“Mr. Trump’s ill-advised course will precipitate scandal and corruption,” Eisen added.

One of Trump’s most intractable conflicts of interest is the debt he owes to lenders around the globe. Trump has reported owing $713 million. His biggest lender is Deutsche Bank, the troubled German bank that recently agreed to a $7.2 billion settlement with the Justice Department for its role in the 2008 mortgage crisis. The bank remains under investigation by the Justice Department for possibly participating in an attempt to funnel money out of Moscow in defiance of international sanctions. Trump did not address the loans other than to say he believed his company has very little debt.

As he left the stage, Trump said he was happy to leave his sons in charge of his business empire and that he will judge how they have performed when he leaves the White House. “I hope they do a good job,” Trump said in closing, “but if they don’t a good job, I’ll say, ‘You’re fired!'”

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Trump’s Business Plan Won’t Eliminate His Conflicts of Interest

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