Bent Research

Jeffrey Rosen’s fascinating piece Supreme Court Inc. is a must-read for anyone interested in business cases before the Court. It helps unravel (among other mysteries) why Judge Luttig may have been the “wrong type of conservative” for business interests deeply concerned about the composition of the Court. Rosen’s piece also explores the extraordinary influence of corporations in encouraging certain directions in research by legal scholars, as this excerpt suggests:

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez tanker, whose captain had a history of alcoholism, ran into a reef and punctured the hull; 11 million gallons of oil leaked onto the coastline of Prince William Sound. A jury handed down a $5 billion punitive-damage award. After the verdict, Exxon began providing money for academic research to support its claim that the award for damages was excessive. It financed some of the country’s most prominent scholars on both sides of the political spectrum. . . .

Exxon’s role here reminded me of a fantastic presentation by Prof. Wendy Wagner on “Bent Science” (a phenomenon she will also explore in a forthcoming book co-authored with Thomas McGarity). Here are the questions Wagner and McGarity will be asking:

What do we know about the possible poisons that industrial technologies leave in our air and water? How reliable is the science that federal regulators and legislators use to protect the public from dangerous products? As this disturbing book shows, ideological or economic attacks on research are part of an extensive pattern of abuse.

Thomas O. McGarity and Wendy Wagner reveal the range of sophisticated legal and financial tactics political and corporate advocates use to discredit or suppress research on potential human health hazards. Scientists can find their research blocked, or find themselves threatened with financial ruin. Corporations, plaintiff attorneys, think tanks, even government agencies have been caught suppressing or distorting research on the safety of chemical products.

I plan to review the book as soon as it is released. It looks like it will be an important read, especially in light of a growing “deregulatory presumption” at the Supreme Court and the quasi-scientific status of some economics research.

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