Sound science is a phrase often used by corporate public relations and government agency spokesmen to describe the scientific research used to justify a claim or position. Sound science, however, has no specific scientific definition itself, so the phrase is used subjectively. "Sound science" is not a synonym of "good science" practices, but rather it is an ideological policy statement more about the criteria for the use of science in policy making. It is invoked mostly to call into question the validity of a given study or scientific statement.
Lack of "sound science" is a common critique used against public health and consumer activists in an attempt to discredit their concerns about public safety and environmental risk. Junk science is often presented as the opposite of "sound science," usually for propagandistic purposes that favor industry.
According to Chris Mooney in his book, The Republican War on Science, "sound science", especially in conjunction with the Data Quality Act, often means "requiring a higher burden of proof before action can be taken to protect public health and the environment." He also states that, "the sound science movement also confuses the quality of scientific analysis with the degree of scientific certainty that has been achieved on a given question" and manufactures uncertainty by "relying on scientific outliers to sow doubt about mainstream findings"
In a 2002 memo to President George W. Bush titled "The Environment: A Cleaner, Safer, Healthier America", obtained by the Environmental Working Group, conservative political consultant Frank Luntz, said "sound science" arguments provide "a window of opportunity to challenge the science." and he has urged politicians to "be even more active in recruiting experts who are sympathetic to your view." In other words sound science advocates are not interested in "good science", objectivity, or even "sound" science practices, but in politicizing science to support a specific viewpoint, often relying on testimonials from their own hired, special interest "experts."
The intended result is often to delay or prevent government regulation.
Tobacco industry documents
A 1994 Philip Morris (PM) document shows PM using its public relations company, Burson Marstellar (BM), to organize a "sound science" front group to allow PM to favorably influence politicians and disseminate its own information about the health effects of tobacco products in Europe. PM and BM worked to hide PM's extensive involvement in assembling the "Sound Science Project" of 1994. Even the scientists who were approached for the project were skeptical of tobacco industry (and specifically Philip Morris') involvement. The document frankly notes: "...some of the scientists have themselves raised the questions of relations to the tobacco industry as a critical issue...." BM also noted how disclosure of PM's involvement could doom the entire plan: "Please note that you must not use the outcome of ... the interviews with scientists in a Philip Morris approach to the identified scientists because that could distort and jeopardize the entire operation ... " Moreover, BM worked to persuade companies other than PM to act co-sponsors of the "Sound Science Project," for, as they noted, if people detected that PM was the only sponsor of these seminars, the credibility of the scientists, and the entire project, would go out the window: "...It is absolutely vital that we succeed in getting funding of the seminar from a broader group of sponsors than just PM...because otherwise we would not be able to ensure the credibility of the seminar in relation to the scientists. And if the seminar has not got that credibility, then outcomes of the meeting will not have great value."
- American Council on Science and Health
- Data Quality Act
- The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC)
- Steven J. Milloy
- Junk science
- Precautionary principle
- The Republican War on Science, ""
- Chris Mooney, "Beware 'Sound Science.' It's Doublespeak for Trouble," Washington Post, February 29, 2004, p. B2.
- Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, "The Usual Suspects: Industry Hacks Turn Fear on its Head," PR Watch, 3rd Quarter, 2000.
- Martin Kady II, Mary Clare Jalonick and Amol Sharma, "Dueling Science: Science, Policy Mix Uneasily In Legistlative Laboratory," Congressional Quarterly Weekly, March 20, 2004, page 680.
- David Michaels and Celeste Monforton, "Scientific Evidence in the Regulatory System: Manufacturing Uncertainty and The Demise of The Formal Regulatory System", Journal of Law and Policy, Volume XII No 1, 2005.
- David Michaels,"Doubt Is Their Product: Industry groups are fighting government regulation by formenting scientific uncertainty", Scientific American, June 15, 2005. (Sub req'd for full article. Copies are reproduced here and here).
- George Monbiot, "The denial industry," Guardian, September 19, 2006
- Stig Albinus, Burson-Marsteller Sound Science Project and European Seminar in the Autumn 940000 Fax. 4 pp. June 17, 1994. Philip Morris Bates No. 2025493066/3069
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