One of the few barbs lobbed at OSHA chief nominee Dr. David Michaels has come from a blogger, not surprisingly. Steve Milloy, publisher of JunkScience.com, issued a press release in August stating: “Michaels runs something called the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) at the George Washington University. While its university affiliation and academic name would seem to lend it a modicum of credibility, in fact, SKAPP's origins are much more revealing.
The release continues: “As Milloy first reported in the Wall Street Journal in October 2003, SKAPP was launched by something called the Common Benefit Trust - an expense account originally established for the purpose of compensating silicone breast implant (SBI) plaintiff lawyers for legitimate services and expenses incurred in connection with the multi-billion dollar SBI litigation.
“But some of that money was diverted to form SKAPP, whose mission was to work to overturn the 1993 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals - the landmark decision that permit judges to set up scientific review panels in federal litigation to keep junk science out of the courtroom. One Daubert panel played a pivotal role in stopping SBI litigation in federal courts,” according to the JunkSience.com statement.
“SKAPP has also been recently active in the controversy over the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), which is used in food and beverage packaging,” the statement continues.
“The day after Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) introduced a bill to ban BPA in baby and children's products in April 2008, personal injury lawyers filed a billion-dollar class action lawsuit against five baby bottle manufacturers for using BPA in plastic baby bottles and toddler training cups.
“Around that time, Michaels was active in the media against BPA, telling the Washington Post, for example, that BPA makers were like the tobacco industry because, he claimed, raising questions about the science underlying regulatory action is merely a tactic to delay regulation,” according to JunkScience.com.
"Apparently, the only decent thing for an industry wrongfully besieged by activists and the government to do is to knuckle under in Michaels view," Milloy said in the statement. "Be assured that Michaels will advance the insidious junk science agenda at OSHA unless the Senate stops him," Milloy said in the press release
Milloy is the founder and publisher of JunkScience.com. He holds a B.A. in Natural Sciences from the Johns Hopkins University, a Master of Health Sciences in Biostatistics from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, a Juris Doctorate from the University of Baltimore, and a Master of Laws from the Georgetown University Law Center.
According to his website, Milloy is a frequent advocate for free enterprise/free market principles and policies in conjunction with the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the National Center for Public Policy Research.
According to the SKAPP website, “The Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy examines the nature of science and how it is used and misused in government decision-making and legal proceedings. Through empirical research, conversations among scholars, and publications, SKAPP aims to enhance understanding of how knowledge is generated and interpreted. SKAPP promotes transparent decision-making, based on the best available science, to protect public health.
“How and why science works may be difficult for non-scientists to understand. The aura around science and scientists - reflecting the power of scientific understanding and its complexity - creates opportunities for misunderstanding and misuse of scientific evidence. Indeed, failure on the part of decision-makers to understand the norms of science may lead to inaccurate conclusions and inappropriate applications of scientific results.
“Particularly in public policy and the courts, where the parties are intent on a specific outcome and selectively draw on scientific evidence to bolster their position, failure to understand how science works can lead to serious error. The consequences of such misunderstandings can be devastating for individuals, families, businesses and communities. Yet there is a growing disparity between the reality of scientific practice and increasingly prescriptive mandates for how decision-makers should evaluate scientific methods and evidence.
“What can science tell us and not tell us about links between environmental exposures and disease? What is the nature of uncertainty in different scientific disciplines? What standards for scientific evidence are appropriate in different contexts? By examining questions like these, SKAPP aims to enhance understanding of the limits and contributions of science to court and government decisions that may have substantial long-term ramifications for public health.
SKAPP is a project of the George Washington University School of Public Health and Heath Services. Project staff includes David Michaels, PhD, MPH and Celeste Monforton, MPH, DrPH, a well-known public health activist and blogger on “the Pump Handle.”
The SKAPP Advisory Committee includes former OSHA chief Eula Bingham, PhD, the most aggressive agency boss in its almost 40-year history (1977-1981), and Anthony Robbins, MD, MPA, the outspoken director of NIOSH from 1978-1981. In a book review published in 2003 in the Journal of Public Health Policy, Robbins related that while at NIOSH, “Until I read ‘Deceit and Denial’ I certainly believed that I had been an insider, had been well-informed about what had happened in the struggle to regulate vinyl chloride. How little I knew! How little I understood about industry efforts to manipulate the debate and influence the regulatory outcomes.”
Robbins echoes themes sounded by Dr. Michaels, who wrote about what he called a campaign to discredit studies showing beryllium's cancer causing properties in his book “Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health” (Oxford University Press 2008).
Funding for SKAPP is provided by the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, the Open Society Institute, and the Rockefeller Family Fund. Past support has been provided by the Common Benefit Trust, a fund established pursuant to a court order in the Silicone Gel Breast Implant Products Liability litigation; the Alice Hamilton Fund; and the Bauman Foundation.