Threats to Public Health Science

  • Date: Nov 09 2004
  • Policy Number: 200411

Key Words: Occupational Health And Safety, Science

Acknowledging that science, by its nature, relies on continuous inquiry, with scientists regularly seeking more precise and fuller understanding of their disciplines;1,2 and Acknowledging that within science, absolute proof and perfect information are rare;3-5 and

Recognizing that special interests have exploited the nature of science, specifically scientific uncertainty, to delay protective legal and/or regulatory action;6-14 and Acknowledging that some public health decisions must be made in the absence of perfect scientific information;15-20 and

Recognizing that special interests, under the guise of a call for "sound science" have sponsored and promoted changes in public policy that have weakened and continue to threaten public health protections;7-25 and

Recognizing that special interests have challenged highly regarded public health research and researchers,26-29 and inappropriately characterized established scientific methods as "junk science;"30,31 and

Recognizing that the Executive Branch, beginning in 2001, has challenged core public health and scientific principles by manipulating the composition of scientific advisory committees32,33 and dictating rigid, unrealistic peer review guidelines; and

Recognizing that special interests are attempting to impede public health and environmental protections by promoting the application of the 1993 Supreme Court decision, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.,34 which directs federal judges to serve as "gatekeepers" for expert testimony, including scientific evidence, and two related Supreme Court rulings35-36 to federal regulatory procedures;37-39 and

Recognizing that the Daubert decision has propagated misinterpretations and misapplications of scientific principles relied upon throughout the public health sciences, such as insisting that any epidemiologic study that is relied on to support causation demonstrate a two-fold increase in risk as well as a reliance on significance testing to determine which scientific findings are to be allowed as evidence;40-44

Recognizing that special interests are engaged in a campaign to extend Daubert’s reach to those states that have not embraced prescriptive definitions of scientific reliability.45-46 

Therefore, APHA:

  1. Opposes legislation or administrative policies that attempt to define the characteristics of valid public health science, or dictate prescriptive scientific methodologies; and 
  2. Supports the efforts of other scientific organizations to promote the government’s ability to utilize the best available science to protect the public’s health; and
  3. Urges friend of the court briefs that address the problem inherent in the adoption of Daubert and Daubert-like court rulings, the application of Daubert in regulatory proceedings, and when judges misinterpret scientific evidence in their implementation of the Daubert ruling. 


  1. Popper KR. The Logic of Scientific Discovery. 1934. 
  2. Kuhn TS. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962. 
  3. Hill B. The environment and disease: association or causation. Proc R Soc Med 1965;58:295-300. 
  4. Hempel CG. Philosophy of Natural Science. 1966. 
  5. Bridgman PW. "On Scientific Method" in Reflections of a Physicist. 1955. 
  6. European Environment Agency. Late lessons from early warning: the precautionary principle 1896-2000. Environment Issue Report No. 22; 2001. 
  7. Samet JM, Burke TA. Turning science into junk: the tobacco industry and passive smoking. Am J Public Health 2001;91:1742-1744. 
  8. Rosenstock L, Lee LJ. Attacks on science the risk to evidence-based policy. Am J Public Health 2002;92:14-18. 
  9. Goldman L. Epidemiology in the regulatory arena. Am J Epidemiology 2001;154:S18-S26. 
  10. Kluger R. Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris. New York: Random House; 1996. 
  11. Markowitz G, Rosner D. Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution. Berkeley: University of California Press: 2002. 
  12. Brodeur P. Outrageous Misconduct: The Asbestos Industry on Trial. New York: Pantheon Books; 1985. 
  13. Egilman D, Fehnel C, Bohme SR. Exposing the "myth of ABC,"anything by chrysotile": a critique of the Canadian asbestos mining industry and McGill University chrysotile studies. Am J Ind Med 2003;44:540-557. 
  14. Michaels D. When science isn’t enough: Wilhelm Hueper, Robert A.M. Case and the limits of scientific evidence in preventing occupational bladder cancer. Int J Occup Environ Health 1995;1:278-288. 
  15. Svoboda T, Henry B, Shulman L, Kennedy E, Rea E, Ng W, et al. Public health measures to control the spread of the severe acute respiratory syndrome during the outbreak in Toronto. N Engl J Med 2004;350(23):2352-61. 
  16. Update: Investigation of Bioterrorism-Related Anthrax and Interim Guidelines for Exposure Management and Antimicrobial Therapy, October 2001, MMWR Oct 26, 2001;50(42);909-919. 
  17. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Health standard on carcinogens. 39 Federal Register: 3756; January 29, 1974. 
  18. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Health standard on vinyl chloride. 39 Federal Register. 35890; October 4, 1974. 
  19. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 1992. 
  20. Pollution Prevention Act of 1990. 42 U.S.C. 13101 and 13102. 
  21. Bero L, Barnes DE, Hanauer P, Slade J, Glantz S. Lawyer control of the tobacco industry’s external research program. JAMA 1995;274:248-253. 
  22. U.S. House of Representatives. "Western caucus leaders call for credibility and sound science over political activism in federal agencies" (news release) March 6, 2002. 
  23. Mooney C. Beware ‘Sound Science’ It’s Doublespeak for Trouble. Washington Post February 29, 2004. B02. 
  24. Section 515 of the Treasury and General Government Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2001. Public Law 106-554. 
  25. Guidelines for Ensuring and Maximizing the Quality, Objectivity, Utility and Integrity of Information Disseminated by Federal Agencies. 67 Federal Register. 8452; February 22, 2002. 
  26. Muggli M, Forster J, Hurt R, Repace J. The smoke you don’t see: uncover-ing tobacco industry scientific strategies aimed against environmental tobacco smoke policies. Am J Public Health 2001;91:1419-1423. 
  27. Barnes D, Bero L. Scientific quality of original research articles on en-vironmental tobacco smoke. Tobacco Control 1997;6:19-26. 
  28. Barnes D, Bero L. Why review articles on the health effects of passive smoking reach different conclusions. JAMA 1998;279:1566-1570. 
  29. Needleman HL. The removal of lead from gasoline: historical and personal reflections. Environ Res 2000;84:20-35. 
  30. Ong EK, Glantz SA. Constructing "sound science": tobacco, lawyers, and public relation firms. Am J Public Health 2001;91:1749-1757. 
  31. Rampton S, Stauber J. Trust us, we’re experts! New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc.; 2001. 
  32. American Public Health Association Policy Statement 2003-6. Ensuring the Scientific Credibility of Government Public Health Advisory Committees, 1948-present, cumulative. Washington, DC. APHA current volume. 
  33. American Public Health Association. Letter from Georges Benjamin to the Office of Management and Budget. December 11, 2003. http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/inforeg/2003iq/86.pdf 
  34. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 113 S.Ct. 2786 (1993). 
  35. General Electric v. Joiner, 1997; 522 U.S. 136. 
  36. Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, 1999; 526 U.S. 137. 
  37. United States Chamber of Commerce. Scientific information in federal rulemaking. Available at: http://www.uschamber.com/government/issues/ regulatory/scientific.htm. (Accessed November 12, 2003). 
  38. The Mercatus Center and the George Marshall Institute, Letter to OMB, December 15, 2003. 
  39. National Funeral Directors Association, Letter to OMB, October 28, 2003. 
  40. Greenland S, Robins JM. Epidemiology, justice, and the probability of causation. Jurimetrics 2000;40:321-340. 
  41. Greenland S. Relation of probability of causation to relative risk and doubling dose: a methodologic error that has become a social problem. Am J Public Health 1999;89:1166-9. 
  42. Kassierer JP, Cecil JS. Inconsistency in evidentiary standards for medi-cal testimony: disorder in the courts. JAMA 2002;288:1382-1387. 
  43. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Ernest Havner and Marilyn Havner, Supreme Court of Texas, 1997; No. 95-1036, 953 S.W. 2d 706. 
  44. Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy. Daubert: the most influential Supreme Court ruling you’ve never heard of. Available at: www.defendingscience.org. (Accessed: February 4, 2004). 
  45. Howerton v. Helmet Ltd, 581 S.E. 2d 816, (N.C. App. June 17, 2003), review allowed by Howerton v. Arai Helmet, Ltd., 585 S.E. 2d 757 (N.C. Aug 21, 2003). 
  46. House Bill 1420. Georgia General Assembly. Introduced February 9, 2004. Available at: http://www.gachamber.com/story-402092C68DACD024A.html. 

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