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Internet Bunk

The Junk Science Page

The junk science site is run by Steven J. Milloy and is sponsored by the swell-sounding Citizens for the Integrity of Science, a front organization located in Potomac, Maryland, whose WWW page directs the websurfer back to Mr. Milloy's Junk Science Page. This is not surprising since Mr. Milloy is the "Administrative Contact" of the front organization.

The Junk Science Page is not about junk science so much as it is about anything which does not support a conservative or libertarian political agenda for businesses and industries that do not like regulations that limit their ability to pollute or poison us or our environment. Milloy uses the term 'junk science' mainly as a political and polemical term. What the majority of scientists call sound science, Milloy usually calls junk science. And what he calls 'sound science', the majority of scientists usually call junk science.

Milloy is up front about his deception, however. He describes junk science as "bad science used to further a special agenda." Those who employ junk science, according to Milloy, are the media who want to advance their own and their employers' social and political agendas; personal injury lawyers extorting deep-pocket businesses; the "food police," environmental extremists and gun-control advocates; government regulators who want to expand their authority and increase their budgets; businesses who bad-mouth competitors' products or make bogus claims about their own products; politicians who try to curry favor with special interest groups or be "politically correct"; scientists seeking fame and fortune; and ill individuals who use junk science to blame others for causing their illness.*

Milloy has toned down his language a bit. Until recently, he posted the following description of junk science:

'Junk science" is bad science used to further a special agenda, such as personal injury lawyers extorting deep-pocket businesses; the "food police," environmental Chicken Littles and gun-control extremists advocating wacky social programs; overzealous regulators expanding bureaucratic power/budgets; cut-throat businesses attacking competitors; unethical businesses making bogus product claims; slick politicians; and wannabe scientists seeking fame and fortune.*

 

I'm surprised he doesn't advise us to watch out for the feminazis as well. Using his definition, I suppose we should call his page The Junk Science Junk Science Page, since he certainly uses analyses of scientific work to further his political agenda.

Much of what he calls junk science isn't science at all, however. For example, individuals who blame their illnesses on their cell phones or the power lines in their neighborhood are not doing bad science; they are not doing science at all. They are simply using bad logic (committing the post hoc fallacy). Scientists who conclude that global warming may be significantly enhanced by human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels, may be wrong—currently the scientific consensus in on their side—but that does not make their work junk science. Politicians who advocate taking actions based on what might be happening rather than on what is generally agreed to be happening may be too cautious or opportunistic, but they are not junk scientists. They're not scientists at all. Lawyers who defend people who blame their illnesses on their cell phones, the local power company's nearby transformer or the silicon implant their client voluntarily sought out, are not doing junk science; they're not doing science at all. They too are hoping that the jury will use bad logic and reason that if one thing happened after another, then the former caused the latter. (On the other hand, there is no mention on Milloy's pages of so-called scientific expert Michael West, a quack dentist who claims he is an expert in identifying bite marks and whose testimony has sent at least a dozen people to prison. West is one of the most egregious examples of junk science in the courtroom imaginable. His testimony put two people on death row.)

When the mass media distorts the work of scientists, creating a widespread belief in claims never made by the original researchers, the media is not doing bad science. They're not doing science at all. (No mention could be found on Milloy's pages of the mass media scare regarding cocaine and brain damage in newborns, a myth based on a very small sample. Why not? Does this issue not fit with the conservative agenda? Or is this omission just a matter of "so much junk, so little time"?)


Two of the items on the conservative agenda are abortion and crime. They're against both, though they would like to make the former one of the latter. (By the way, the rates of both have been going down in recent years, though the mass media might have you thinking otherwise by its increase in coverage of crime.)  So, how did Milloy respond to the recent scientific study by economists Steven Levitt and John Donahue III that suggests legalized abortion may be responsible for approximately half of the crime rate’s recent fall? (Crime, including violent crime, has been steadily declining across the nation for the past seven years.) He links to an article published in the Los Angeles Times that claims that "Any reaction to this study is unwarranted." The author then goes on to state his reaction:

The study was an ecologic analysis of population statistics that reached unjustified conclusions. No examination of individuals was undertaken. The authors' association of abortions preventing the birth of criminals -- though intuitively attractive -- is pure speculation.

The proper scientific reaction to the study would be that the topic is worthy of further investigation. The data is preliminary, but wouldn't a scientist want to know whether legalized abortion is a significant factor in preventing future crime? The authors of the study suggest that legalized abortion led to a significant number of women not having unwanted children and that unwanted children may be more likely to become criminals than wanted children. Wouldn't a scientist want to know whether this is true? Apparently not if you are an anti-abortion citizen posing as a watchdog of junk science. The study hasn't even been published yet, but it is already being attacked as junk science.

Milloy's so-called junk science page is full of misinformation and misleading claims, and makes little effort to separate science from policy claims made by scientists. He can cite articles by scientists who support his beliefs. The hundreds who come to different conclusions are attacked for their bad motives and junk methodologies. He cites articles favorably which deny a role for analogical reasoning in science (drawing inferences for humans based on animal studies). He suggests that lawyers who sue manufacturers of harmful products are bad but the manufacturers are good. He even has a favorable reference and link to a UC Berkeley Law professor who claims that in America scientists cannot criticize Darwin.

In short, the Junk Science page has some valid analyses sprinkled amongst its propaganda, but overall the page is deceptive. There's nothing wrong with having a political agenda, and there is certainly nothing wrong with being concerned that the government is spending its resources on the wrong projects, and there is nothing wrong with being critical of the work of scientists, but there is something wrong with pretending to care about science and truth, while labeling scientists who produce work contrary to your agenda as doing junk science. But don't take my word for it. Just look at the list of scientists that Mr. Milloy considers to be junk scientists: nearly every person on his hit list has done a study with potential political implications that offend his political agenda.


On a page advertising Mr. Milloy's book Science Without Sense: The Risky Business of Public Health Research (published by the Cato Institute), he is described as being a public health expert. It says that he is the Director of Science Policy Studies at the National Environmental Policy Institute, although his name does not appear on their Web site except as the author of two works related to their Bioavailability Policy Project. The ad states that Milloy holds a bachelor's degree in "science" from Johns Hopkins University, a master's degree in biostatistics from the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health and law degrees from the University of Baltimore and Georgetown University. For $5 you can order a poster from him which says THE EARTH IS FINE, SAVE YOURSELF

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