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Our Stolen Future and The Contest for Truth

In 1996, the book Our Stolen Future, by Theo Colburn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John P. Myers (Dutton, NY, 1996), put forth the evidence that numerous chemicals used as pesticides, herbicides, and plasticisers interacted with the endocrine systems of adult and developing animals (including humans). These endocrine disruptors caused the reproductive failure of numerous animals and may be responsible for human reproductive and behavioral problems, as well. This web site is where the authors of that book provide regular updates about the science related to endocrine disruption. They also post information about ongoing policy debates, and they suggest ways to minimize risks related to hormonally-disruptive chemicals.

The authors of this site know that not everyone agrees with them:

"Anyone who has followed this issue or watched the response to the book knows that not everyone agrees with our interpretation of the science or with our recommendations. Advances in science are always surrounded by debate—and we think that's healthy. So we've included references to a range of the critics' publications and even links to their web sites. Go see for yourself."

In discussing policy issues, it is important to know who is funding the research. While it is usual to bring together the terms "Research" and "Development" into one term, "R&D", these ways of doing science are traditionally in opposition. The goal of research is publication; that is, a document made available to the public (i.e., a publication). In this model, scientific knowledge is open knowledge. The goal of development is a patent; that is, a document stating that anyone who uses this information must pay for it. In this model, scientific knowledge is proprietary, it is owned by someone, like property. In recent years, some university scientists have come to conclusions that are at odds with industry scientists over the safety of these very profitable and very widely used compounds. Does it matter? Shouldn't we judge the science, not the scientist?

It's not so easy. Robert Lee Hotz (2002) has gathered together numerous cases where profit has superceded the normative values of science:

A list of non-technical books about environmental health and industry can be found at http://www.toxictorts.com/reading.shtml.

With the strong links being constructed between universities and corporations, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see who has interests in these truth claims. But needless to say, it is becoming an important thing to know.

Literature Cited

Hotz, R. L. 2002. "Falling from Grace: Science and the Pursuit of Profit," in Who Owns Life? (ed. David Magnus, Art Caplan, and Glenn McGee). Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY.

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