Slice from the Chronicle of Higher Education:
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."
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."
Hey, if it gets another dollar in to the Big Oil Capitalists' wallet, you can pay many scientisits to say just about anything - just ask "Four out of Five Dentists..."