David Michaels (@drdavidmichaels) is an epidemiologist who served as the Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA from 2009 to 2017, Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environment, Safety, and Health from 1998 through January 2001, and is the author of The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception.
What We Discuss with David Michaels:
- Why bad science thrives and who most profits from its proliferation.
- How seemingly solid data can be used to mislead and distract us in the guise of fact.
- Why our flawed regulatory system can take decades to protect the public against dangers the industries benefitting from them know are risky.
- What David means when he says: “There are two sides to every story, but there are not necessarily two valid sides to every story — especially if one of them has been purchased at a high price.“
- What we can do to become more aware of these manipulations and resist their effects on our health, our children, and our trust in science itself.
- And much more…
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider including your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
If you’ve ever been on the side of an argument shut down by an opponent’s declaration that “the numbers don’t lie,” you might be especially interested in today’s guest, Dr. David Michaels, the longest-serving executive in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and author of The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception. In this episode, we’ll explore how the numbers behind allegedly scientific studies can be massaged by special interests to sell the public on everything from harmful products like tobacco and Scotchgard to harmful ideas like climate change denial.
“There are two sides to every story,” says David, “but there are not necessarily two valid sides to every story — especially if one of them has been purchased at a high price.” In this episode, we’ll discuss the real purpose of fake science, how mercenary scientists and lobbyists spin insincere data into gold for their clients at the expense of the American public, how long the NFL knew about — and hid — the long-term effects of head injuries on its players, why it takes so long for regulations against industries that harm us to take effect, and much more. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Sign up for Six-Minute Networking — our free networking and relationship development mini course — at jordanharbinger.com/course!
AnyTask allows you to find affordable, professional, and talented freelancers who have the flexibility and commitment to provide you with high-quality work from as little as $1. Enter here for your chance to win a $25 gift card from AnyTask!
Better Help offers affordable, online counseling at your convenience. If you’re coping with depression, stress, anxiety, addiction, or any number of issues, you’re not alone. Talk with a licensed professional therapist for 10 percent off your first month at betterhelp.com/jordan!
Lids offers the largest selection of headwear and jerseys from top quality brands. Elevate your gift-giving game (or treat yourself) by going to lidsloyal.com/jordan for a 25% off coupon for your next in-store purchase!
Blue Moon Belgian White is refreshing for the palate of the sophisticated beer aficionado without succumbing to snobbery. Not sure if it’s available in your area? get.bluemoonbeer.com allows you to find local stores that carry Blue Moon or have it delivered in under three hours!
OxiClean MaxForce tackles grease, oil, grass, blood, soil, clay, food, and drink stains with five types of stain fighters. To work your magic with OxiClean MaxForce, go to OxiClean.com/MaxForce1 to get a coupon for $1 off!
Miss our conversation with Steve Elkins, the real-life explorer and discoverer of the Lost City of the Monkey God? Catch up with episode 299: Steve Elkins | Finding the Lost City of the Monkey God here!
THANKS, DAVID MICHAELS!
If you enjoyed this session with David Michaels, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception by David Michaels
- Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health by David Michaels
- David Michaels | Website
- David Michaels | Twitter
- David Michaels | YouTube
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- OSHA Wins SeaWorld Case | Occupational Health & Safety
- Thank You for Smoking: A Novel by Christopher Buckley
- Thank You for Smoking | Prime Video
- Dark Waters | Prime Video
- The Perils of Ignoring History: Big Tobacco Played Dirty and Millions Died. How Similar Is Big Food? | The Milbank Quarterly
- The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
- Stuart Ritchie | The Science Fictions Undermining Facts | The Jordan Harbinger Show 436
- Coming Clean: Did 3M and DuPont Ignore Evidence of Health Risks? | Mother Jones
- 3M Settles Waterway Contamination Lawsuit for $850M | UPI
- Whitecoat Project | SourceWatch
- Zealous Representation Compared to Zealous Advocacy: A Comparison | LACFLA
- How Vested Interests Tried to Turn the World Against Climate Science | The Guardian
- What a Lifetime of Playing Football Can Do to the Human Brain | Vox
- Concussion | Prime Video
Transcript for David Michaels | Dark Money and the Science of Deception (Episode 440)
Jordan Harbinger: Coming up on The Jordan Harbinger Show
[00:00:02] David Michaels: Johnson & Johnson that made Johnson's baby powder was their iconic product, they announced they're going to stop selling baby powder made with talcum powder. You know this is a product that sold for a hundred years. It's the symbol of the company. Everybody knows the smell. I mean, we all grew up with it. We'd put on our kids. Talc is a mineral. It's almost always present with asbestos when it's in the mountain and it's mined. So it's very difficult to make talc without asbestos. And the FDA tried to take that one in the '70s and Johnson & Johnson, and the industry pushed back very hard, so the industry hired some of the same experts who worked for tobacco. Now they're working for Johnson & Johnson. What they did was they said, "Look, we've got to convince the scientists on a national toxicology program that there's too much uncertainty." One of them says, "Here's our strategy time to come up with more confusion," and it was successful. And so we had another 20 years where people had no idea that this baby powder they were using had asbestos in it, hiding the facts for manipulating the science.
[00:01:09] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we code the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. If you're new to the show, we have in-depth conversations with people at the top of their game, astronauts, entrepreneurs, spies, and psychologists, even the occasional mafia enforcer. Each episode turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better critical thinker.
[00:01:34] Today, Dr. David Michaels, he's the former head of OSHA. You know, the folks responsible for other signs in the break room at your workplace today. We're actually not talking about slip and fall signs nor why you have to wear gloves when you're restocking the salad bar. We're talking about fake science or bad science. And now when I say bad science, I mean the type of misleading, biased, or just outright false conclusions that companies like big tobacco, automotive companies, e-cigs alcohol, even the NFL use to insist that their products and services are perfectly safe so that we keep buying and using them even when they might hurt or kill us, or they pollute. Or they are terrible and they're targeted towards children. You get the idea.
[00:02:16] Today, why bad science exists in the first place, who pedals it, and whose idea was it, to begin with? Also, will understand some of the methodologies people use to lie to us with data and keep us distracted and uncertain. Last but not least, we'll hear what we can do to become more aware of that science when it's thrown at us and what we need to do as a nation to limit the negative impact this is having on our health, on our children, and even on our trust in science itself. Super interesting episode here today. Even if you're not a big science nerd like me, I think you're really going to dig it.
[00:02:48] And if you're wondering how I managed to book all these great authors and thinkers on the show every week, it's because of my network. I work my network every single week. I'm not slimy about it. You shouldn't be either. I'm teaching you what I do for free over at hordanharbinger.com/course. By the way, most of the guests on the show, they subscribe and contribute to the course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company. Now, here's Dr. David Michaels.
[00:03:14] You're the head of OSHA. And I think a lot of people have heard of that. There are the people that are responsible for us putting up signs that say, "You must wear eye protection," or, "You could fall," or, "This is slippery," or, "This is what happens if you get something in your eye." But a lot of people don't really understand what that is beyond that. And I think if you're an employer, you complain about it. And if you're a worker, you just kind of deal with whatever it is, figuring it's for your own safety. How close am I?
[00:03:39] David Michaels: Yeah, you know, that's right. I mean, OSHA, which actually is 50 years old this December. It's a revolutionary agency in some ways. It gave workers the right to a safe workplace and said to every employer in the country, you have to provide a workplace free of recognized hazards. So the obvious things you see are things like signs. But if you go onto a construction site, everybody's wearing a hat.
[00:04:00] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:04:01] David Michaels: And there's almost no asbestos exposure now. 40, 50 years, there was just tons of asbestos around that cost tens of thousands of cases of cancer. And so OSHA, this sort of invisible agency, but an issue of standards that the employers tried to meet. And that's how the huge effect. When OSHA began, 37 workers were killed every day on the job in the United States.
[00:04:22] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:04:23] David Michaels: Yeah, it's down to 14 a day. Well, that's before COVID, and 14 a day is still too many, but with a workforce twice as large, OSHA has really had a big impact.
[00:04:32] Jordan Harbinger: It's kind of strange thinking that didn't exist before where it was like, "Oh if the person dies, we'll just hire another one. It's okay."
[00:04:38] David Michaels: That's exactly right. And if you were a worker and your boss said, "Go up on that roof, no fall protection, you put up that antenna." You had no rights around that, but now the law says you have to have fall protection. And there are lots of things like that. Lots of chemical exposures have been decreased, much safer working conditions. Of course, the big challenge now is infectious disease. OSHA got to deal with that as well.
[00:05:00] Jordan Harbinger: You mentioned in the book that OSHA is for safety, but it's not like your work environment is safe because of this. It's safer, but it's still not safe. And I'm wondering, as head of OSHA, what you meant by that because it's like, well, wasn't that your entire job? Like, what's going on here? It's still not safe?
[00:05:18] David Michaels: OSHA's job is to make sure employers provide a safe workplace. OSHA doesn't control workplaces.
[00:05:25] Jordan Harbinger: Of course, yeah.
[00:05:25] David Michaels: That's up to the employer. And we would tell employers that if you follow the OSHA rules, the workplace will be safer, but you know, OSHA doesn't have a rule for every hazard. OSHA has some general principles as it has some really specific rules about machine guarding or benzene, but there are lots of hazards out there that you can't predict. And it's up to employers to figure out what other hazards and how you fix them. The example that I always like to give because people remember it, the biggest press story about OSHA when I was running the agency for seven years, with SeaWorld, where you had a killer whale killed a trainer. Of course, OSHA doesn't have any standards for killer whales. But we still issued a citation against SeaWorld because we said, "Look, it's obvious that it's not safe to put a trainer in the water with a whale, that's already killed, two other people." What I tell employers is, "You should follow the OSHA rules that will make your workplace safer. But just because OSHA doesn't have a rule, that doesn't mean you shouldn't be taking every action you can to protect workers." And that's true right now around COVID-19. We have no rules about exposure to airborne infections, but we know if you don't make sure people are more than six feet apart if you don't give them PPE, they're going to get sick.
[00:06:40] Jordan Harbinger: I know we could go on about this because it is kind of interesting that there's all these different regulations and holes and regulations, but we're here to talk about fake science, right?
[00:06:48] David Michaels: That's right.
[00:06:48] Jordan Harbinger: So let's talk about some fake science. This is something that I think a lot of people have heard of before, but we don't necessarily know how deep it goes. Have you ever seen Thank You for Smoking?
[00:06:58] David Michaels: Of course. I read the book. I loved the movie.
[00:07:00] Jordan Harbinger: I figured that was right in your wheelhouse.
[00:07:02] David Michaels: Yeah.
[00:07:02] Jordan Harbinger: So for those of you who don't know, Thank You for Smoking — and you can correct me here because it's been like a decade, but this was a publicist, I think, that worked for big tobacco and his job was to spin it in tobacco as safe, or at least not dangerous. And so at one point, some activists kidnap him and throw him in the back of a van and they stick like a hundred nicotine patches on him and he barely survived and he goes, "Smoking saved my life. If I hadn't been a smoker, I wouldn't have built a tolerance up to all that nicotine. And those patches would have killed me. Thank God, I smoked for so long. Truly, it's saved me in this instance." And we're supposed to sort of sit there and go, "Come on, man." Because his whole job is to just put a bald-faced lie and spin on this and that's okay. He's a publicist or a PR person. That's what those guys do, not always negatively, usually for good, but in his case, he was supporting the company that hired him.
[00:07:55] But this is a whole different level, right? Fake science is a whole different level. It's not saying the sky is green when the sky is blue and everyone else can see it. And I'm just the a-hole, that's sort of tasked with lying to everyone. This is, "Hey, I'm a scientist. And I'm going to throw uncertainty, fear, doubt into the data that is just garbage science in many ways, because I'm getting paid and I want a new car. So I'm going to tell everyone that asbestos in baby powder or whatever. It's just not that big of a deal. And I don't care if your kid dies or I do, but I'm going to lie to myself and say, it never happens."
[00:08:29] David Michaels: Yeah. You know, that's a good summary of a lot of what I'm talking about. Thank You for Smoking, of course, was fiction written by Chris Buckley.
[00:08:36] Jordan Harbinger: I didn't know that.
[00:08:36] David Michaels: Yeah, you know, he's a satirist. Yeah. And he really captured that and took it to the extreme. You know, there's another recent movie, Dark Waters, all about the chemicals they're used in Teflon and Gore-Tex and Scotchgard, which all of us are exposed to. And I have a chapter in the book on that. And it's sort of the same story, it's not as funny, of course, it's not as extreme, but you have a chemical that increases the risk of cancer, immune function disorders. And the companies who manufacture this and DuPont and then 3M hire some scientists to essentially say the science is terrible, even though a lot of the science that shows those relationships was done by scientists paid for by DuPont.
[00:09:16] But once the results came in, it’s in the interest of companies that are fighting off regulation or fighting litigation to essentially manufacture uncertainty. I don't think those scientists necessarily believe that they're lying, but they've convinced themselves that these chemicals just aren't very dangerous. So everything they say says, "Well, all the other studies are wrong. These chemicals are safe." And so then you end up having sort of dueling scientists, one group paid for by the manufacturers of this product and the other paid for by governments, universities, et cetera.
[00:09:51] The model, then paralyzes the system that we have to protect people. That's the problem. And it's done so often because it works so well. You know, the tobacco industry showed us. If you hire a scientist to say, "Look, the science just isn't clear that tobacco causes lung cancer." You can delay dealing with lung cancer and around cigarettes for decades.
[00:10:11] Jordan Harbinger: And that's exactly what happened.
[00:10:12] David Michaels: Exactly.
[00:10:14] Jordan Harbinger: Look you all are scientists. How do you not understand the cognitive bias involved when I'm getting paid from big tobacco? I mean, come on, like, this is a part of every science curriculum that we have to be aware of bias. And yet if I'm getting a hundred percent of my funding from a chemical conglomerate and I suddenly start finding that chemicals are unhealthy. Like you say, you don't know, these scientists are lying to themselves. How could you not?
[00:10:41] David Michaels: Well, but that's the cognitive bias. From the outside, you can see it. Upton Sinclair, who wrote The Jungle, said very famously. It's hard to convince a man of something when his salary depends on him, not believing it. And so the tobacco industry had people up until the end who just didn't see what's really obvious. And there are lots of examples like that. So that's why you need to make sure that the sciences you believe are not paid by the companies that make these products that they're not mercenary.
[00:11:08] Unfortunately, we don't have a system that does that. You know, I'd like to see a system where if you make a product, you've got to put some money into a fund to hire a scientist, to examine whether or not it's dangerous without the manufacturer deciding who should do the study, how they should do the study. And if they're ever going to be hired again by that same manufacturer, because that's the big thing. You know, I work in the university. You'll hire people to be your research assistants, to work in your laboratories, and then you have some obligations to them and you think, "Well, where is their salary going to come from next year? I've got tenure. I don't have to worry about that." But the people you hire say, "Well, I'd better not offend who's ever given me money because next year I may not get it." And so that system leads to essentially biased science.
[00:11:54] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, that's a huge problem, obviously for the reasons that we discussed and that we'll be discussing here. But when we find out that something might be bad for us, companies, corporations, they instinctively try to defend their product. They attack the science that says their product is not safe. They deny all wrongdoing. I was horrified by the chapter in your book about, I think, it was Scotchgard where something like, I don't know, what is it? 95 percent of humanity has this in their body or something like that. I'm exaggerating maybe. Am I?
[00:12:21] David Michaels: Nope. Unfortunately, you're not and certainly the United States, it's beyond 95 percent. And that's the chemicals that are in Scotchgard and Teflon — and sometimes in dental floss. I mean, these are widely used—
[00:12:33] Jordan Harbinger: Dental floss? I put that in my mouth every day.
[00:12:36] David Michaels: As do I. But, you know, you have this miraculous on some level certain chemicals, which have these fluorine bonds that separate oil and water. They're great for certain things for waterproofing and cooking, but it turns out they cause a lot of illness and at the factories where they make this stuff, it's very clear. They cause a lot of illness. And now the big problem — and this is across the country — there are water systems in every single part of the country, in every single state, they're contaminated because the same chemicals are used in firefighting foam on the air force bases, on airports. People don't want it in their water supply because we can see that if your water supply is contaminated with these chemicals, it increases your risk of a bunch of different diseases.
[00:13:21] The companies are fighting science because they'll have to clean it up. They'll have to pay for the cleanup and that's really a big cost and so you've got this fight going on, but defiance of being around the science — just like tobacco. Once you acknowledge that tobacco causes lung cancer, then you've got to deal with the problem. If you could fight the science, if you could say, "No, the scientists are all wrong and that chemical is safe," or, "That chemicals are only dangerous at huge amounts," then you don't have to clean it up. And you only have to compensate people who you've made sick.
[00:13:52] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I got to tell you, speaking of OSHA, my uncle works in — I'm from Detroit. So my uncle works in one of these painting places where they spray car bodies.
[00:14:03] David Michaels: Right.
[00:14:03] Jordan Harbinger: And as if that weren't bad enough, last year, somehow the fire suppression system got triggered as well, and everyone was inside and they don't have respirators even in the painting shop.
[00:14:14] David Michaels: Really.
[00:14:15] Jordan Harbinger: So they were breathing in the fire suppressant and of course, every day he breathes in paint and solvents in the paint. So I worry about him a lot, man. I got to tell you, I mean, it's a ticking time bomb, I think.
[00:14:25] David Michaels: I would too. I mean, chemicals don't cause effects overnight, but if you're exposed day in, day out for 10, 20 years, the risk really can be quite high.
[00:14:34] Jordan Harbinger: The thing that really disturbs me the most is we expect corporations to deny. Look, maybe the Overton window or whatever you want to call is my expectations are really low, right? We expect corporations to deny it. Probably I shouldn't, but my generation, we were sort of cynical enough to go like, "The company is going to deny that this is bad." But what's really gross about this is we do not expect this from scientists. I want scientists and we expect scientists to be honest with us. Like that's why they freaking got into science in the first place to discover the truth. And now they're just like, "Eh, screw that. I'm going to lie to people for money." Like PR people, yes. Lawyers of which I am one to be fair, yes, okay. We're going to advocate. We're going to say — but scientist is nothing sacred. Come on, man.
[00:15:18] David Michaels: No, you've nailed exactly what this book is about because people believe scientists or they want to believe scientists. They know corporations will do whatever the corporations need to do, but the corporations know that if they could try a scientist out — the tobacco industry called it Operation Whitecoat. If you can bring a scientist to say, "This is what I think." If nothing else, you've confused people because you have equal and opposite scientists. That's the strategy for paralyzing any sort of protection program. But what's interesting — you mentioned attorneys in some ways what these scientists are doing are what attorneys are supposed to do. And we think it's ethical for attorneys to defend a defendant who might be accused of a heinous crime. But every lawyer I know, says, "You know, everybody deserves a defense," right?
[00:16:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Everybody deserves zealous advocacy.
[00:16:07] David Michaels: Exactly.
[00:16:07] Jordan Harbinger: Even if we know that they are probably a terrible person, we've set up our justice system so that the government has to meet a certain burden if we're going to put somebody in prison for life, even if they're horrible. Right?
[00:16:17] David Michaels: And so even though it's unsaid, that's how we set up our regulatory system. So the government has to prove that the chemicals are dangerous before they can do anything. That was the problem with OSHA. We have chemicals that I know are dangerous, but we don't have the bodies in the morgue yet. And when we do have sick people, then industry comes and says, "No, no, no, the studies aren't clear." And it can take literally 20 years before OSHA can issue a standard to protect workers. And that's because you begin with the presumption of innocence and that presumption is absolutely fair in criminal court, but absolutely wrong in public health but the model is the same model.
[00:16:53] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That's quite disturbing because, of course, I don't want to put an innocent person away for life. If, even if I'm a prosecutor, I really don't want to do that. As a defense attorney, obviously, I want to get my client the best defense they can get. And if they're guilty, then I want to help see them through that. But if I'm a scientist or even if I'm a company like a chemical that got invented, that happens to be profitable, should not have the same type of — there's no the same ethical standard of defense. If we stop using asbestos fireproof things, and we've got to find something that's slightly more expensive and it dings the stock price. But it saves a hundred thousand people's lives, that chemical is not entitled to the same type of defense as somebody who's accused of murder, especially when that chemical is beyond a reasonable doubt guilty of murdering a lot of people already. Right?
[00:17:39] David Michaels: But that the manufacturer of doubt is what these scientists do and there's a whole industry. And that's what I write about the product defense industry. And these are companies, their business model is to create whatever report the client needs. And if the manufacturer needs to report saying "No, this stuff isn't dangerous." That's exactly the report they'll give them. And they have scientists with the fancy letters after their name, the same letters I have after my name. And so it looks like, well, scientists can't agree. Look, you see it in climate change. There was a small group of scientists. If it's a dozen, that's probably more than there really are, who are out there paid by the fossil fuel industry to say, "No, that all the other studies are wrong or they're questionable, or they use the wrong data or you're interpreting the Bronx, but it looks like there's disagreement.
[00:18:25] And if you have the money, you can pay scientists because there are some scientists who will do this. They're paid to say anything and they really will. That's the reason I wrote my book. I mean, I was on the inside both — in the Clinton administration, I ran health and safety for nuclear weapons industry for the nuclear weapons complex for the government, and then running OSHA. I saw this up close and I know that most people on the outside don't see this. They don't see how there's this sort of industry to create fake science.
[00:18:54] Jordan Harbinger: I think a lot of people have suspected that that existed or we've heard about it in the news, but we thought, "Okay, well, I mean, how much is that really happening? I mean, I'm sure it happens here and there." Chemicals are the only example I can think of. And then I read the book and the first example is the NFL and the concussion debacle. You said something really interesting. You said, "There are two sides to every story, but there are not necessarily two valid sides to every story," especially if one of them has been purchased at a high price.
[00:19:26] David Michaels: That's right. We've come to believe that the press, for example, should make sure to cover both sides of every story. That's sort of one of the things that have been drilled into us since junior high school, but that's not really true. First of all, there are many sides to every story, but there is truth, and there is no truth, there is fact. There are certain things you can question, but the reality is we have to deal with those issues right now.
[00:19:49] You know, the NFL spent 10 years pretending that these multiple hits to the heads of football players had no impact on their brain function. They invented the committee, they staffed it with their own people. They pretended to be doing studies. For years, they didn't publish anything, but then they published really ridiculous studies that were totally wrong. And then when one physician looked at the brain of Iron Mike Webster who had died young, he was an all-star player for Pittsburgh Steelers. He's a center. He had his head bashed many, many times, and he had this terrible disease, which this physician named — this Bennet Omalu, who's played by Will Smith in the movie. You know, there are lots of movies that actually come into this. He saw a brain that didn't look like other brains and he called it chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
[00:20:36] When that came out, this whole group of experts who were hired by the NFL, their response was not, "Let's look at this more carefully." They demanded that Dr. Omalu retract his study. And they did that again and again, and attacking him until the evidence became so overwhelming, the NFL said, "Oh, okay, it's real. We're going to actually pay a billion dollars in the lawsuit to all these football players whose brains have been destroyed." And that's probably not enough by the way.
[00:21:02] But it's that same process that has been used by the sugar industry. It's used by the alcohol industry. Right now, every day to convince you that alcohol consumption doesn't cause breast cancer for example. There's no question that women who consume more alcohol are at a higher risk of breast cancer. Now, it may be that people make that choice. And there are lots of reasons to think about why you want to drink alcohol, but you can't pretend that doesn't have long-term health consequences, but that's what the alcohol industry does. And they hired the same exact product defense scientists who worked for tobacco or worked for the beryllium industry or worked for fossil fuels because that's their business.
[00:21:39] Jordan Harbinger: I mean, it's disgusting. And you hear about regulators going from private industry or going from the government then into the private industry or then going back again. And it's like, just to make a buck. I just don't understand how somebody can go from, "Hey, look, this kills children, this kills children, this kills children." And then they suddenly switched to the other side and they go, "You know, it doesn't really kill that many children. In fact, it probably didn't kill any children. Those children probably died in some other way. And look at my bonus check. Look at this car and my summer house, it is awesome. Like I said, not that many dead kids. Just a few, if any."
[00:22:10] David Michaels: That revolving door is so damaging. I mean, one of the examples I talk about in the book is around opioids, where the expert, the physician at the FDA who essentially was rubber-stamping the application from Purdue pharmaceuticals and these other companies, to market these opioids that have ended up killing about 40,000 people a year in the United States. He did that for a while. The FDA believed what the Sackler family said that this stuff is not very addictive. He rubber-stamped that for a while. And then he went to work for their company. I'm sure at five times the salary.
[00:22:47] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Dr. David Michaels. We'll be right back.
[00:22:53] This episode is sponsored in part by AnyTask. Anytask.com lets you find freelancers for literally anything you can possibly think of. We found SEO, optimized articles. There's video creation. You can get people photoshopped out of images from your Thanksgiving photos. You can say, "Hey look, you know. I would like this photo better if this person was not in it," and they will do that for you. They can make a menu for your restaurant. I'm just kidding about that but you know, someone's done that. You know, someone has done that and you can find that person on anytask.com. Search over 16,000 professional tasks, tacky or not from as little as one dollar. Outsource, risk-free, a hundred percent refund guaranteed.
[00:23:30] Jen Harbinger: Find professional freelancers for your business at anytask.com. That's A-N-Y-T-A-S-K.com for $25 credit toward any tasks. Go to the link in the show notes page, or go to jordanharbinger.com/deals.
[00:23:42] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by Better Help. These guys have been sponsoring us for a while. I'm a huge, huge, huge fan of therapy. And many of you have tried better help and said that this was great for you. So I'm glad to hear that. I want to encourage many of you who are sitting on the fence to go ahead and fill out the questionnaire they have there. They match you up in a couple of days. You don't have to wait a long time. Any issue that you think you have, even if you think a therapist might not be the right person for the job, I encourage you to try it. It's all confidential. You don't have to drive. You don't have to worry about scheduling as much. You don't have to find parking across town. If you're unhappy with your counselor, which happens, you can switch. Say that for your regular therapist, you can never do that. You got to transfer and then find a new place and see dah, dah, dah. Don't worry about that. Just dip your toes in these therapy waters, it'll help you save your sanity this season and in the coming year.
[00:24:30] Jen Harbinger: Better Help is an affordable option. And our listeners get 10 percent off your first month with the discount code JORDAN get started today at betterhelp.com/jordan. Talk to a therapist online and get help.
[00:24:42] Jordan Harbinger: And now back to David Michaels on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:24:47] We talk about bias a lot. We talk about science a lot on the show. I understand that you get influenced by your check. But it hurt less people selling fentanyl on the street than you do telling people that asbestos isn't harmful or that these other chemicals don't hurt people like you would kill and harm less people, literally being a drug dealer and selling poison to kids, then you would literally like mass producing it and then telling people it's safe.
[00:25:15] David Michaels: Yep. The great philosopher, Cyndi Lauper said, "Money changes everything." You get paid enough; you'll say whatever it is. And my point from before is I think at some point you believe it; you have to tell yourself it's true.
[00:25:27] Jordan Harbinger: You have to.
[00:25:28] David Michaels: And there are enough ways to do that. Now there are quite a few people, I think who've come from the dark side over and said, "Look, I was doing this. I was wrong." Certainly, there are movies about that, The Insider, the tobacco industry, fellow who came over and said, "Look, this is terrible." And he spilled the beans and he made sure a large quantity of documents that were kept secret by the tobacco industry became public. And a lot of what we know about how this whole process works and how the scientists are hired and paid to manufacture doubt, come from these tobacco documents. So we call it, in fact, the tobacco playbook, not that the tobacco industry was the first industry to use this approach but because of these documents and the lawsuits that ended up revealing literally millions of pages of memos and documents that all are public now. They're on the University of California, San Francisco's website and you could look at them. You could see exactly how it works, how these physicians, epidemiologists, toxicologists were chosen thinking, "Well, there are people who we're going to give them some money for research and going to tell them what research we want them to do and bring them into our circle. And then we can use them when we have court cases when smokers who develop lung cancer sue us. They will be people who will testify on our side." And they did this for years.
[00:26:45] What's interesting is the tobacco industry. Stories are interesting because for many years they ran this public relations campaign saying, "We're trying to get more research. We're doing more research, but we really care about your health. And we'll tell you everything we know." And they could do that for a long time because people weren't looking very hard enough. But also, they said, "Look, whatever the research finds you as a smoker need to figure out whether you want to continue to smoke or not, it's your choice." And so that avoided really any sort of regulation because they kept saying, "Well, people are choosing what to do when we have a free country," and freedom is a really important value.
[00:27:20] But when the study started coming out, showing that not just smokers, but non-smoking spouses of smokers were getting lung cancer, that really threatened the industry. And that's when they have to hire even more scientists to develop a lot of the tactics. Now, they're used much more widely where if the government doesn't study what they will do is they will demand the raw data and they will change the results around. And that's not hard to do. If you give me the raw data from a study that shows a relationship between exposure and cancer for example. I can take that raw data. I could put different assumptions into it. I could play with it and turn a positive study into negative. That's one of the tactics that they do. And then all of a sudden you have two studies. One says this causes cancer, and the other says it doesn't. And so what do you do? It's impressive when you step back, but it's definitely when you realize what's really going on here.
[00:28:11] Jordan Harbinger: Look, make no mistake. This has nothing to do with advancing science. It has everything to do with — what convincing a jury to spare a corporation using flood studies and analysis that are sometimes laundered through academia or credentials with people like yours, where they say, "Look, he's an expert. And he said that it was not always this way." So ignore the other 500 people that weren't paid by the company that says that it is and have more data.
[00:28:36] I've seen that a lot of these flood studies are published in scientific journals. And I've done another show that's about this, where there are vanity journals where I can just drop a thousand dollars into some bank account. I mean, I can pay online with my credit card.
[00:28:49] David Michaels: That's right.
[00:28:50] Jordan Harbinger: And I can publish a study that says, "People who eat dry erase markers live 10 years longer." And they're like, "Whatever, here you go." Published in the journal of the dumb, fake science weekly. And that journal sounds to the layman, just like nature or some other reputable journal. I mean, if I'm on a jury — then what? You have to attack the journal and say, "Well, anybody can publish in there. I'm not paying attention. I'm a public-school teacher. I don't really know and care about this. I'm just looking at this for the first time." I'm confused now. So maybe the company shouldn't pay a hundred million dollars and all those people lose their jobs.
[00:29:22] David Michaels: That's exactly right. And in fact, most articles in leading journals. If you read the New England Journal of Medicine or science or published in JAMA recently, the articles are at most four or five pages, a long article is 10 pages because no one wants to read that much. In the science world, you want to see what's there. And sometimes online there'll be some additional stuff, but these articles are short and to the point, and they have the important information. In these vanity journals, some of these experts will publish hundred-page papers. And of course, you have to pay by the page in those journals. The scientist or the sponsor pays by the hundred-page paper, which no one in the scientific community would ever read. Looks really impressive to a jury and I'll have tons of tables and you'll show that to a jury and say, "Look at this study. And that shows the opposite of what the truth is.
[00:30:07] Jordan Harbinger: Right. So it won't fool regulators, but the real audience is a judge, a jury. And the journals, I think you noted in your book, that are — some of these fake journals, they're owned by the industries that they protect. So I suppose there's a journal called real climate science or something like that and it's owned by the fossil fuels industry.
[00:30:25] David Michaels: But it's interesting, even though regulators aren't fooled by them and I would see that. The problem with the regulatory system is you have to respond to every comment that comes in and every study that doesn't find exactly what you think is the truth. And so when I was at OSHA, we issued a standard on silica exposure.
[00:30:43] Jordan Harbinger: Those things that say, do not eat that come with all kinds of different—
[00:30:46] David Michaels: Well, that's silicone but silica is like, if you have a brick and you grind it up, the very fine dust is silica and it causes lung cancer. It causes a disease called silicosis. There's actually a new outbreak of silicosis in people who are cutting and installing countertops in your kitchen. This is called artificial stone. That looks just like marble. I mean, it's a pretty, aesthetically impressive product, but it's pure silica. And to cut it and grind it, you got this very fine dust. And just last year, there were a bunch of deaths and people who were crippled for life who work in these shops.
[00:31:21] Anyway, it took OSHA 20 years to issue the standard, one of the reasons is the industry was opposed to it and they paid for studies that didn't find any effect. And OSHA and all the agencies know that you have to go through every study and every comment and reply to it and show why it's wrong because if you don't do that, there'll be a court case afterwards. But the judge will look at it and say, "Well, you didn't respond to this comment." Now I know as an epidemiologist, that comment was nonsense, but you still have to respond to it and show why it's wrong. And so you have this whole literature, you have to debunk. It works. It slows things down. And so companies get years of additional production and marketing without any government interference.
[00:32:06] Jordan Harbinger: Real science — correct me where I'm wrong. I am not a scientist — but it starts with a hypothesis. I remember that from sixth grade. You collect data and then you see what conclusion that data supports. Right?
[00:32:16] David Michaels: That's in general model, right, exactly.
[00:32:19] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:32:19] David Michaels: Then you lay your methods out in advance.
[00:32:21] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:32:21] David Michaels: And you say, this is how I'm going to do my study. And this is I'm going to report whatever result I find.
[00:32:26] Jordan Harbinger: And product defense science in air quotes, science, right? Product defense specialists, they start with the answer, and then they — what? Seek to find the data that's then going to support the conclusion. And then that's the way they roll.
[00:32:39] David Michaels: They don't tell you that, but that's absolutely right. And I know that because you can look at some of these scientists or some of these companies — and they published dozens of studies a year for different industries. They always have the same conclusion. It just can't be that every single one of these chemicals is safe.
[00:32:54] Jordan Harbinger: In Triumph of Doubt, you said, "That every exposure to a carcinogen increases cancer risk by some small amount." That's actually really terrifying because I guess, I'd never really thought about it, but there is no healthy amount of any human carcinogen. I always just figured, oh, okay. Well, you need a lot or it's cumulative or you need a lot at once. I didn't realize that like every little shred. Just mathematically increases your risk.
[00:33:18] David Michaels: But you have to know, and I'm not someone who's worried about these things very much. My family knows that one of my basic lines I use when we do certain things, "Still when the risk is low, there's risk, but the risk is low." I'm not stopped from having a gin and tonic or a beer at the end of the day, even though that slightly increases my risk of a couple of different cancers actually. Men have no great increase in breast cancer as a result of alcohol, but esophageal cancer and other cancers, but that's okay. I mean, what we need to do is reduce our risks as much as we can. And there are a lot of risks that are needless. And certainly, risks that are in industrial products, in workplaces, we should be controlling those exposures. People shouldn't be exposed at all. If there are things in our food, we should try to pull them out and make sure our food doesn't have some pesticide residue because that's going to increase our risk of cancer.
[00:34:08] We can have something that increases the risk of cancer in one in every 10,000 people. That risk to you as an individual is pretty low. You're saying, "Well, the risk, I've got one in 10,000 chance of being made sick, but I'd probably take that risk for almost anything." On the other hand, one in 10,000 people in the country is a whole lot of people who are sick.
[00:34:28] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:34:28] David Michaels: And so from the public health point of view, we need to eliminate those risks as much as we can without making people's lives unhappy or miserable or bereft with some of the things that make them happy.
[00:34:38] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I think it's hard for us of course, to do that math in the moment. And so we rely on scientists. That's what's so disturbing about the book, right? Because there's this truth decay where there's alternative science and alternative facts and attacks on science. And hey, this person's motivated reasoning. Even when you call out motivated reasoning and somebody's getting paid, then that side can say, "Well, you're motivated because you—" I don't know, even something that's not going to motivate your reasoning, the other side can say, "Well, your reasoning is equally motivated. There's just this whataboutism." And then people go, "Well, I don't really know what to believe. So I'm just going to do whatever I want," which is to keep drinking or use the cheap chemical or play football, whatever it is.
[00:35:17] David Michaels: But that's the job of the government to help you figure that out. And certain choices should be made much more difficult. Like, you know, people often say to me, how do I figure out what's safe and what's not? If you look at the back of a shampoo bottle that will list 15 chemicals each with six syllables each, I can't tell you which ones are dangerous. And certainly, people who are non-scientists shouldn't even have to think about that. The government can play a really useful role. It could say certain chemicals are too dangerous to be in the product at all. And others, maybe they're really important to have, but we should have warning labels on them. So people can decide that was really one of the big issues around baby powder.
[00:35:53] You know, you probably heard that Johnson & Johnson that made Johnson's baby powder. That's their iconic product and it makes them body powders as well. They announced they're going to stop selling baby powder made with talcum powder in the United States and Canada. Yeah, this is a product that is sold for a hundred years.
[00:36:08] Jordan Harbinger: Right at least.
[00:36:09] David Michaels: It's the symbol of the company. Everybody knows the smell. I mean, we all grew up with it. We'd put on our kids. What happened there as you know talc is a mineral. It's almost always present with asbestos when it's in the mountain and it's mined. So it's very difficult to make talc without asbestos. And even the 1970s mineralogists were saying to Johnson & Johnson and others, "Look, there's asbestos in your product." And the FDA tried to take that on in the '70s and Johnson & Johnson, and the industry pushed back very hard and the FDA gave up because these big companies were very powerful.
[00:36:43] And one of the things I wrote about in my book is in 2000, at the end of the George W. Bush administration — the beginning of the George W. Bush administration, excuse me — the National Toxicology Program, which is a sort of multi-agency branch of US government looked at talcum powder and said, "Look, it's often with asbestos. And it needs to be called cancer-causing," and well if they say that, then this is now a regulatory agency, it doesn't say you can't sell it, but by notifying the public that it causes cancer, that could change people's use patterns. So the industry hired some of the same experts who worked for tobacco literally, and they had done their reports for tobacco. Now they're working for Johnson & Johnson and the trade association representing consumer products. What they did was they said, "Look, we've got to convince the scientists on a National Toxicology Program that there's too much uncertainty." And the memos that came out of a court case, that are really remarkable.
[00:37:40] One of them says, "Here's our strategy. Time to come up with more confusion." And it was successful. And so we had another 20 years where people had no idea that this product had asbestos in it. Now, since then, there have been quite a few studies showing that there was a link between ovarian cancer and baby powder use or body powder use. The science is not definitive. I've looked at lots of studies. Some say there is a relationship. Some say they're not, but in any case, people weren't given the information they need to know. They should have been told that this baby powder they were using has asbestos in it and they could have used cornstarch or bought a product that was different.
[00:38:18] And as a result of that though, Johnson & Johnson has had huge lawsuits. In fact, in one lawsuit, the jurors awarded four billion dollars in punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson for hiding the facts for manipulating the science. It's unfortunate. The company is paying the price. These people paid the price. These women who develop this disease, they may not have use baby powder and maybe they wouldn't have cancer as a result. So it's a very big deal and it's unfortunate that this is going on and so frequent. And what's interesting, of course, is it comes up in movies all the time. You know, you started with a movie on — I don't know if people saw Dark Waters, but that was a movie about the same issue about the Teflon chemicals, but how companies hid the science and eventually have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars, or we'll have to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars because they've made people sick. They made people sick and they hid the evidence.
[00:39:08] Jordan Harbinger: That to me is the next level of sort of despicable behavior. Like if you're a massive company, you made billions of dollars off something, I wouldn't say it's totally forgivable that you didn't fund a bunch of science to see if it was safe. Like, yes, it should have been done. But will the company willingly sort of shoot themselves in the foot? Not necessarily. But once the science is in and then you're going, "All right, bury this." Now, you're just a freaking criminal bastard in my opinion.
[00:39:32] David Michaels: And what's interesting is they don't use their own scientist. You know, all of these companies, DuPont and Johnson & Johnson, they have great scientists with real integrity who work for them, but when they run into a problem like this, there is a small group of these companies out there, these product defense firms called Gradient, ChemRisk, Exponents. That's their business. It's like when you're accused of murder, you know, you better find the best criminal defense attorney. When it looks like one of their chemicals, one of their products could be making people sick. They know exactly who to go to and all the memos showed up and say, "These are the companies that are going to be friendly to us. It'll give us what we want."
[00:40:07] Jordan Harbinger: Right. So it's not like they hire a company and the company goes, "All right, well, don't tell them where we're going to find in their favor, because we want to create a favor." This is the executives going, "Who's going to give us the result we want, whether it's bullshit or not."
[00:40:18] David Michaels: That's exactly right. When they're going to court, they don't want an independent view, they want someone who will defend them, just like they hire a lawyer. And so that's why we need a system and want to talk about in the book is say, "Okay, we've got to have independent science to make these evaluations." And then we have to trust those scientists. There are a couple of models like this. There's an organization in Cambridge, Massachusetts set up by the environmental protection agency and the motor vehicle industry. Originally, the auto companies expanded now. It has truck companies, has some oil companies. And they put in half the money, the government and the corporations, and they hire scientists to do research. It's actually pretty good. It's not perfect, but they do good research and it's really independent. And those scientists know that getting the next grant is not dependent on giving this institution called the Health Effects Institute, the results that they want.
[00:41:11] So we need to have that for chemicals. We need to have that for food. There is this incredible industry of fake studies and food. There's a really brilliant nutrition scientist at NYU Marion Nestle. And she's written a lot of books on this issue. She actually has—
[00:41:26] Jordan Harbinger: Not to be confused with Nestle.
[00:41:27] David Michaels: Nestle, no, spelled the same, pronounced differently.
[00:41:30] Jordan Harbinger: That's got to be so — she probably has to explain that every day of her life.
[00:41:34] David Michaels: I'm sure. Anyway, she has an email that goes out every day with different things about the food industry and writing. But every week there was a different study done by, you know, the pomegranate juice industry saying, "Pomegranate juice cures sterility. It put hair on your head," know, whatever else they can claim. It's just amazing nonsense and you just see the stuff, but it's all done for the press to promote pistachios or cranberries or where they're helping court somewhere. I have a chapter on that, but her work is really remarkable. She sees these and it's a huge industry. And a lot of that actually is academic because they're not so much going to court to defend the product because no one's suing the pistachio makers. But in this case, they want to convince you that whenever the food is, it's healthy. You're going to live longer and therefore you should buy, you know, whatever that food is, even though the studies are terrible.
[00:42:29] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. By the six-dollar glass bottle of pomegranate juice, because it has antioxidants in it, which cure cancer maybe, sort of, kind of, possibly.
[00:42:37] David Michaels: Well, that company was taken to court by the Feds and they had to retract all of their claims because they were unfounded.
[00:42:43] Jordan Harbinger: Isn't' the person who owns that isn't she the wife of the almond guy who's taken all the California water as well?
[00:42:49] David Michaels: Yeah. I'm not on top of that story as I should be, but I believe it is. I believe there's a family. They own a lot of the lands in the valleys. Yes. They're producing pomegranates and pomegranate juice and almonds, yes.
[00:43:04] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Dr. David Michaels. We'll be right back.
[00:43:09] This episode is sponsored in part by Lids. You need to find the perfect gifts this season and Lids has what you're looking for, whether you're looking for officially licensed sports gear, iconic brands, like Nike, Adidas, and Champion. Lids is the largest retailer of hats in North America. And I know that that might sound like, "Ah, who needs another hat?" When you walk into this place, you're going to be blown away. This stuff they have, there is stuff you'd never even thought of as far as hats are concerned. And the quality is top-notch. Visit any Lids store. An associate will help you find the perfect cap for anyone on your holiday gift list. Lids is the leader in headwear, including all the authentic major league baseball on-field caps, NFL sideline caps, and knits. Plus, a huge, ridiculously huge variety of styles, colorways, and Lids exclusive.
[00:43:51] Jen Harbinger: Visit blog.lids.com/jordan for a 25 percent off coupon on your next in-store purchase. That's B-L-O-G.lids.com/jordan.
[00:44:01] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by Blue Moon. I've had a couple of these recently now with the pandemic and cranking my Xbox up a couple of notches. It's time for me to take a holiday and relax — even me, folks, even me. Blue Moon, you've had this beer before. And if you haven't, you've definitely got to try it. It's one of my favorites. It has been one of my favorites for probably like 20 years since college. That's why they probably — and they knew that. That's why they sponsor the show. It's a well-crafted beer. They've got that twist of flavor. You know, if you're pretentious like me, you take an orange slice and you put it on the side and it adds to the flavor and you can showcase that beautiful hazy color. So whether it's Thanksgiving, Christmas, or just a little bit of time alone, or even with friends, socially distanced, you can go and grab some Blue Moon at get.bluemoonbeer.com. They'll deliver it to you. Get.bluemoonbeer.com.
[00:44:48] Jen Harbinger: Add a special touch to your holiday season with the brightness of the Blue Moon. Brewed with Valencia orange peel for a unique, vibrant taste reach for the moon. Celebrate responsibly. Blue Moon Brewing Company. Golden Colorado Ale
[00:44:59] Jordan Harbinger: This is also sponsored in part by OxiClean. It's that time of year. We're washing the blankets over here in the Harbinger household. Rotating out those old sheets, keeping those dish towels looking good. You know you got those ratty bowl, batty dish towels that have like a tomato sauce stain on it. That's been there since the last president was in office. Yeah. We're spraying that stuff down. So we're using OxiClean Max Force. What you do is you spray this on there. You can leave it on for like a week up to five days, I think. You throw it in the wash and then you don't have to throw out shirts just because there's a stain you couldn't get out. You don't have to throw out something just because it touched something that your kid made a stain on. I'll leave it at that. You know, we've got some of that in the laundry these days where I don't really want to wear something with dried on, you know, what's crusted to it. OxiClean Max Force really tackles the toughest dried-in stains. There are five powerful stain fighters. That'll help you get out those tough stains the first time and remove some of life's messes from your clothes.
[00:45:55] Jen Harbinger: You've got to try OxiClean Max Force for yourself. To work your magic with OxiClean, go to oxiclean.com/maxforceone to get a coupon for a dollar off.
[00:46:04] Jordan Harbinger: I wanted to thank you for listening and for supporting the show. Our advertisers, yeah, some of these ads might be annoying, I try and keep them funny, but look, these are the people that keep the lights on around here. You can check out all the deals we've got for you at jordanharbinger.com/deals. That's everything all-in-one place. Please do consider supporting those who support us in our ability to create these types of shows for you. Also, don't forget, we've got worksheets for every episode. Today's is no exception. Those are linked in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. Now, for the conclusion of our episode with Dr. David Michaels.
[00:46:40] So the way that this happens — what? They misrepresent the data is one method that they come up with. They sort of throw uncertainty in there, right? They say the data is incomplete, which you made a really interesting point in the book, which is any data literally anywhere in the world for anything is always incomplete. Like there's no such thing as a complete set of data. So you can always claim, "Hey, the data is incomplete on whether or not water hydrates you." You know, I mean, you can really just throw that in as a part of the laundry list, right?
[00:47:08] David Michaels: And the big problem of studying sort of health impacts, the negative health effects of different exposures is you can't do the randomized trial. Right now, we're really interested in the COVID-19 vaccine — make a trial of 30,000 people and they randomized them. One group gets the vaccine and the other doesn't. They got something else. They think they've gotten the vaccine. They actually got the shot. You can't do that with a toxic chemical. You can't say we're going to take 30,000 people and give half of them something that we want to know if it's toxic and half something that looks like it but isn't toxic. And then follow them for 10 years or 20 years, and see who gets sick. So instead, you've got to do studies on animals, or you do studies on people with really — you know not perfect understanding of what their exposure was 10 or 20 years before.
[00:47:53] So there's always uncertainty and there are always differences. But if you want to protect the public, the basic principle is that you have to institute your protections on the best available evidence we have at the time. If it looks like something could be dangerous, you don't want to say, "Well, let's wait 15 years to figure out if this really kills a lot of the people."
[00:48:13] Jordan Harbinger: And then lie about it for 15 more years.
[00:48:15] David Michaels: Right. But even if you step aside and just say, "We're going to wait until all these studies are done." That's wrong. You got to say, "Look, there's some indications here, unless we really need to. If we need this chemical for some reason, or we need this food for some reason or this pesticide, if we can't get rid of it, let's figure out how to reduce exposure to warn people. But if it's looking like it's going to get people sick, let's not fight over science. There's enough indication to pull it now." Of course, that's what's so hard to do. And the industry has so much power, especially right now in the Trump administration.
[00:48:44] Another sort of tragic example occurred in the last few weeks. There's a pesticide, chlorpyrifos. And chlorpyrifos, it's used on a lot of different crops. It's also used or was used at one time to kill household insects like cockroaches. But there were studies done in New York City where it was used in the household, clearly showing that it impacted the neurological development of kids. So they stopped using it in homes but still used on crops. And so farmer children are exposed. They live right there and people who there's residue on crops and wheat, none of us should be exposed to this. But the EPA just said, "Well, there's too much uncertainty," and at the behest of Dow Chemical, who has been begging to keep selling this crop — the EPA said, "We're not going to ban this." Even though EPA scientists have said very clearly, this chemical is too dangerous to use.
[00:49:31] And in fact, what the EPA is saying is there's too much uncertainty. In fact, they're using this new technique that tobacco came up with, they're saying to the researchers at Columbia University who did this study of household exposure, they said, "We need to see your raw data. We need to give that to Dow. Since you're not giving us your raw data, we can't believe your study. And so therefore we're not even going to consider it." They just give the stamp of approval to selling this chemical and using it on crops that just shouldn't be used.
[00:50:00] Jordan Harbinger: The default sort of outcome would be, "If it's possibly unsafe, let's halt it until we can prove that it is safe," not, "Hey, you have to prove like at a murder trial that this is completely unsafe. And then we're going to say, you have to stop using it, but then we have to let you phase it out because of your profit margins and your shareholders." I mean, I'm all for free-market economy. And there's a lot that I can't stomach when it comes to this kind of thing because as a parent of a 14-month-old kid, the idea that some a-hole is going to get an extra 20 bucks a share, and my kid could die from exposure to this chemical is so infuriating. It makes me want to — you know, it drives me absolutely insane.
[00:50:40] David Michaels: That's absolutely right, especially when we think about kids because the ability to have a toxic effect on a kid is so much greater because they're changing so fast. Their cells are reproducing so fast, making them absorb chemicals that have a bigger impact on their brains and on their development. And so we often look at kids, we say, "Well, if something's dangerous for adults to a certain level, we have to assume it's going to be dangerous for babies and young children at a much higher level. We need to protect everybody. And that really means protecting the youngest."
[00:51:08] Jordan Harbinger: Absolutely. I mean, look, he takes those little oranges we buy and he puts them in his mouth and we go, "Oh, hold on. We've got to wash that." I would be murderously angry if I found out that there was a chemical on every single one of those things that is damaging his brain. Obviously, we wash things like that because you don't know what's on there. But like if someone's deliberately spraying that on every orange that I'm peeling and giving to him and I'm feeding it to him, it just makes me want to fly off the handle.
[00:51:32] David Michaels: Jordan, you've made a really important point. You can't know what's on that orange and you shouldn't have to know you should be able to live your life assuming that that orange is safe and isn't going to hurt you or your kid. That's why you need a strong environmental protection system in the government. It can't rely on you making decisions because you don't want to spend your time thinking about that. And it's too complicated for most individuals and that's what's really run down in the United States. As bad as it is now and I think it's really problematic, I don't blame President Trump alone. In fact, I think on one level he's done us a favor. I think in recent years, the environmental protection agency has been decimated while the best people have left. The rules that protect people are being rolled back. The same is true for OSHA and other agencies, but it wasn't very good five years ago. The agencies were set up with this presumption of innocence with all sorts of difficulties in moving forward. I think now when we have to think about how we're going to rebuild our system of protecting people. We have to look and see what mistakes did we make in the past. One, I think everybody's aware of is the 737 MAX jet
[00:52:39] Jordan Harbinger: Is that the one that had a defect and that was crashing or something like that?
[00:52:44] David Michaels: That's right. It crashed twice. Two different plants went down and killed 350 people and it came out — after that the FAA had essentially outsourced safety oversight to Boeing. And of course, the folks at Boeing were under great pressure. I don't think any of them said, "I'm going to cut this corner and people are going to die," but you have to have independent oversight for safety. As a result of what happened, Boeing had to ground hundreds of jets. It costs the company a fortune. They lost a tremendous number of jobs. All the suppliers got hurt. The whole air traffic system was in shambles. Of course, that was before COVID, which has raised another set of problems. But independent, strong safety oversight would have saved 350 lives and protected the corporation and all those jobs as well.
[00:53:32] And so it's very shortsighted to just say, "Let's get the government out of this and let the corporations take care of these risks themselves." They need a strong government authority because their instinct, of course, and the competitive pressure says, "Well, let's cut corners. Let's use things. They may be a little dangerous." Of course, they don't really think it's very dangerous, but of course, they're not going to think that.
[00:53:52] And so when I think about the Trump administration and the next administration that comes in, we have this opportunity now to take these principles and rebuild a system that will be much more effective and protect babies will protect workers. It will protect all of us.
[00:54:06] Jordan Harbinger: What about people who say, "Okay, fine worker standards, but these OSHA guys, they get carried away. They're going to make this so damn expensive. Look, if they had it their way, everybody would be in a bubble and we'd never get any work done. And everybody would have a hundred thousand dollars in PPE on it all the time and all this stuff."
[00:54:22] David Michaels: And that's, of course, the line they're anti-OSHA people use. In fact, Senator Kennedy from Louisiana just said, "I don't want OSHA to make me wear a mask in the shower." You know, people just don't understand OSHA. When OSHA issues a standard, they propose a standard. Industry always says, "Look, it's going to cost too much." The evidence is once OSHA issues a standard, it saves lives and always costs far less than even OSHA predicts it will because industry is very creative and they figure out exactly how to meet the standards. And then you forget it has the standard.
[00:54:53] You know, when you're going into every, any hospital room or doctor's office, you go in, it has a little box on the wall where you have to put sharps in, you know, needles, and that's because you have an OSHA standard. It says — to protect those workers, to make sure they're not hit by a needle at one time, they were worried about HIV, that worried about hepatitis. You have to do that and it's common to place now. No one even remembers it's because of OSHA, you put that up and that's true for most OSHA standards. You just accept them and you live with them and turns out they're not such a big deal and it makes everybody better off.
[00:55:26] Jordan Harbinger: Right. I'm imagining you all proposing that standard and somebody going, "I can't just throw syringes in the garbage can anymore." And then when it bounces against the intern's leg, it pokes him. How are we going to be able to afford this plastic box that goes on the door? That's going to cost billions of dollars.
[00:55:43] David Michaels: They say it's too expensive. Of course, when OSHA first proposed the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard. That's what's called. Dentist said, "You're going to make me wear gloves. How am I going to do dentistry if I have to wear gloves?" Of course, when was the last time anybody has been to a dentist who wasn't wearing gloves.
[00:55:57] Jordan Harbinger: That would be — this is so gross. I guarantee you that no dentist wants to not use gloves either at this point.
[00:56:03] David Michaels: Exactly at this point. But at the time, they all felt like, "You know, we've always done it this way. Why make us change?" When OSHA said if you have tools on construction sites that are grinding up cinder blocks are putting a lot of dust in the air. You have to have something on the tool, either wet them, dust down, or vacuums it up, which costs a few hundred dollars. And, you know, the home building industry said, "This is going to kill home building. No one could be able to afford a house." Of course, OSHA put that out in 2016, it's now required. The tools were flying off the shelves and it works fine and no one's complaining
[00:56:33] Jordan Harbinger: Basically, it's like a hose that sprays water on the blade. Right?
[00:56:35] David Michaels: Right.
[00:56:35] Jordan Harbinger: I've seen them when they're doing the street or something like it.
[00:56:37] David Michaels: Exactly. Yeah. It wets it down. Or if you don't want to have water there, you vacuum it out. It's not such a big deal and it's all doable, but the instinct is always to say, "Don't make us spend any money protecting someone because we don't want to do that."
[00:56:52] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Because that person's expendable and sits right at the bottom of the food chain, right?
[00:56:56] David Michaels: That's right. That's because we don't pay the cost when that person gets sick. That's a different discussion but yes.
[00:57:01] Jordan Harbinger: There's a lot in the book that I really enjoyed and people can go and buy it. We'll link it in the show notes. You've got diesel engines; you've got the Volkswagen saga in there. Some stuff about the NFL and the concussions. The baby powder was in there. What else am I forgetting?
[00:57:13] David Michaels: Well, that monkey story and diesel is a great story.
[00:57:16] Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah. That was kind of gross. You want to run us through that real quick? That was shockingly disgusting actually.
[00:57:21] David Michaels: Well, one of the stories I tell is about Volkswagen when they were facing this problem when they were trying to market diesel engines. They said diesel engines were going to be the best thing. And of course, everyone knows about the diesel engine scandal. Beyond the defeat device that they had in the software, they had another problem with which these diesel engines put out particulates, and the world health organization classified diesel engine exhaust as what's causing lung cancer. And so the industry said, and this was actually one of the PR people said, "You know, we need to have a study that opposes this. It makes it look like it's safe. Come up with a study." So at first, they said, "Well, maybe we'll do a study where we'll take some volunteers. We'll put them in a chamber, we'll put them on bicycles and we'll pump some of this engine exhaust and we'll clean it out a little bit. We'll pump it in and show that it's safe." And then they realized they'd probably the optics were not good for a German company that put people in chambers and pumped gas into them.
[00:58:16] Jordan Harbinger: Oh yeah.
[00:58:17] David Michaels: So instead they said, "Well, we'll use monkeys." And so they hired this research group in New Mexico called Lovelace. They did the study where they were going to pump gas into the chambers and showed that the monkeys were not affected. And actually, had to have the monkeys watch TV cartoons to keep them calm. They did the study so badly that they found the opposite results that they showed that the monkeys who breathed the air coming from a new Volkswagen Jetta or beetle. I can't remember. It actually had more of an impact on their lungs than breathing the exhaust from like a 15-year-old Ford F-150 because they did the study wrong. They hired these people who just didn't follow the basic science rules, I guess.
[00:58:59] But when they didn't get the result they wanted; they wouldn't pay the folks in New Mexico. They said, "We need you to change the results to give us a study that we can use to show our product to be safe." And that went back and forth. And the folks in New Mexico were going to change the results, but then the whole scandal, the other scandal, the defeat device has hit the fan. And so the folks in Germany said, "Okay, we're done." And so the folks in New Mexico actually never got their final payments. But it shows the length of both Volkswagens would go and the scientists in New Mexico would go to create the image the diesel exhaust was safe.
[00:59:34] Jordan Harbinger: When I lived in Europe, they had a lot of diesel cars. They had those turbo-diesel Mercedes sedans, and you don't see them here. And I don't really know why. I guess diesel is a lot cheaper in Europe than gasoline's price here. I'm not really sure.
[00:59:45] David Michaels: Gasoline is very expensive in Europe. It's highly taxed and diesel is taxed much less. It's subsidized. And so there's a lot more incentive to use diesel in Europe. It ends up being cheaper to operate your car with diesel. And all of these companies move to these new, more efficient diesel engines, but turns out many of them use these defeat devices to make it look like they were polluting much less. And they're all paying the price for that now.
[01:00:08] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. So the air in Europe, is it dirtier than the air in the United States?
[01:00:12] David Michaels: No. I mean, what they've done in Europe and on the big cities is they've actually limited access to cars, especially to diesel engines. Downtowns, many of them have very limited hours that you're allowed to drive in downtown and that keeps that cleaner.
[01:00:25] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. Yeah. Well, here's what I want to clean up before we go here because I think a lot of people go, "Oh, so science is just fake then I can't trust it at all." I want to clean this up because most scientists do search for truth. We have to be aware of science that's sponsored by corporations, but I want to talk about why this doesn't mean, "Oh, well, science is fake," because that does more harm than not doing this episode at all.
[01:00:47] David Michaels: No, that's you are exactly right. And most scientists have great integrity and are doing this because they want to understand the world. It's fascinating to them and they want to make it better. And that's certainly true of people who go into the public health sciences, like toxicology or epidemiology. And they work really hard often for not as much money as they'd make if they were in business or as attorneys, but they love the idea of inquiry. They want to get involved in some of these debates. They think that's ugly and that's dirty. They really just want to be creating new knowledge. They're often dragged in because then you have these unfortunate, really mercenary scientists who ended up opposing their work and contradicting the work of all these scientists were quite independent and honest.
[01:01:28] When they're forced to do that, it starts to open their eyes and says, "Boy, in the real world, and this stuff gets really difficult." But most science is well done. It's not perfect, but it's done by people with real integrity who want to make the world a better place.
[01:01:42] Jordan Harbinger: Dr. David Michaels. Thank you so much. I think, look, it's scary to think that some of the science we'd read is fake and as a lot of paranoid people say, "Follow the money," but that's even hard to do, right? Because then we go, "Well, it's the big corporation." "No, the government wants us to have to buy more safety stuff." So there's even that argument on both sides.
[01:01:59] David Michaels: That's what the subtitle of my book, Dark Money and the Science of Deception. That's absolutely right.
[01:02:03] Jordan Harbinger: Dr. David Michaels, thank you so much. The book will be linked in the show notes. I really appreciate your time. This is really interesting.
[01:02:08] David Michaels: I enjoyed this tremendously. Stay safe, Jordan,
[01:02:14] Jordan Harbinger: As usual, I've got some thoughts on this episode, but before we get into that, I wanted to give you a preview of one of my favorite stories from an earlier episode of the show, Steve Elkins, my friend, Steve Elkins found a lost city in the jungle that most people never even knew existed. I'm not even kidding. It sounds insane. This has to be one of the most incredible stories I've ever recorded on the show. I know you're going to love this one.
[01:02:39] Steve Elkins: The legend of Ciudad Blanca or White City in English goes back probably 500 years to the best of my knowledge. People have believed that there is this civilization out there. And the local indigenous people have their own legends. It has about five different names of which I can't pronounce about this culture, this civilization that lived out in the jungle at one time. One of the other monikers for the city in the current times is Lost City of the Monkey God. Maybe there's some truth to this legend. I kind of felt there was something to it.
[01:03:13] The Mosquitia Jungle where it's located in Eastern third of Honduras is one of the toughest jungles in the world. And by accidents of geography and history, it has remained pretty much unexplored until recently I have a map made by the British in the 1850s. And on that map, it says Portal del Infierno over that part of the jungle. And it was called the Gates of Hell because the terrain was so tough. A lot of people have gone looking for it. Some went in and some never came back.
[01:03:41] A director friend of mine introduced me to a guy named Captain Steve Morgan. And he was a lifelong adventure, explorer, treasure hunter, and rock on tour, nice guy, really pretty smart. And I said, "Let's go." And then 1994, we headed out to Honduras for an unknown adventure, looking for the Lost City.
[01:04:04] Jordan Harbinger: For more with Steve Elkins, including the details on how they discovered the city and made one of the most important archeological discoveries of the century, check out episode 299 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:04:18] Fake science and bad science, we knew this kind of thing was happening. I mean, you knew about that, right? But I didn't know how deep this went. I didn't know how common this was. And I had no idea that the NFL is actually the most dangerous job around besides logging and commercial fishing. Think about how dangerous logging must be and think about commercial fishing. You've seen those deadliest catch shows. The freaking shows called Deadliest Catch. The NFL is the most dangerous job behind that CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This is the brain condition associated with repeated blows to the head. Now, you don't have to be a doctor to know that that's bad for you. It leads to suicide. It leads to violence. It leads to memory issues. There are numerous stories. Aaron Hernandez, three murders and then a suicide. I mean, he was probably not a great guy beforehand, but he had super severe CTE and they found it in his autopsy. This is just something that's being covered up by the NFL. And the NFL can't claim this isn't real, especially after colleges put new anti-concussion regulations into play. So they simply had studies made that claimed professional players were more resistant to CTE and therefore didn't need those regulations. It's just, it's a shame. It really is. Yes. They're getting paid a lot, but come on. This is quite remarkable. This is a remarkable statement that obviously nobody could possibly believe even inside the NFL.
[01:05:37] The book also goes after some of these regulators that join private companies and then go back to the regulatory agencies after their pension. It's kind of icky and makes you realize just we cannot trust companies to regulate themselves. And we can't usually trust the government to actually be effective in regulating them. And I think whenever we see regulations rolled back, we always see that those are not good for the consumer. They're great for business. They're not good for us. And it is sad to me to hear engine companies and mining companies fighting new standards and safety measures that would cost something like $150,000 a year, which is less than they probably spend on branded freaking pens and pizza Fridays and crap like that.
[01:06:16] There's an example in the book where $1,200 a year would be all it would cost for an entire company to keep construction workers safe from inhaling silica, which causes this agonizing, painful death. It's just such a shame. 1200 bucks a year for the whole company, not per worker, nothing, the whole company. All they needed was a water sprayer attachment for the machines that cut the blocks. That's all. They wanted to not pay for the water sprayer. Come on. It makes me angry.
[01:06:45] These bad studies, they also use things like distractions. So some of these conclusions could be a distraction. Here's one that really caught my eye. As a woman, you're at higher risk for breast cancer as well. And this comes from the alcohol companies. Their implication is — the inference here is, "Hey, don't worry about alcohol because you have a higher risk for breast cancer, just because you're female." First of all, you should worry about both of those things, male or female, just because something is riskier than something else doesn't mean you don't worry about the thing that's less risky. Give me a break. And yes, of course, you're at higher risk for breast cancer as a female. Everyone knows that. That doesn't mean you don't have to worry about getting cancer from drinking alcohol. It's infuriating. The things people do for money just pisses me off.
[01:07:26] Another common tactic is the ruse. So they'll float a more moderate conclusion. They'll say something like, "Well, it doesn't cause cancer. It may cause silicosis or cirrhosis of the liver, or it may increase the risk of cirrhosis of the liver or silicosis or cancer." It increases the risk, yes, if it goes from one percent for somebody who's not exposed to this — I'm making these numbers up — and then goes up to 70 percent for people who are, yes, it increases the risk. Just like my risk of winning the lottery has increased when I buy a ticket and decreased when I do not. My chances go up or down, depending on those things. They'll say it increases or decreases the risk because they don't want to say, "Hey, this causes this." They want to take that language out because it sounds less risky. So they float a more moderate conclusion based on whatever they want.
[01:08:15] Dr. David Michaels had a really good quote in the book. He said, "Statistics, they're real people with the tears wiped away." In other words, all of these safety standards, they affect people and if they don't work or they're weakened by industry bullsh*t and lobbying, people get very sick and die. And these are people's family members and children, just remember that. And that's what makes this so appalling for me. And we didn't even get into the climate breakdown denial. There is big dark money in politics because it is harder to get tons of money from loads of citizens. Look, if I've got a cold call, five million people and each one of them donates five or 10 bucks, that's a lot of work. But if I go to corporations and super PACS and I get hundreds of millions of dollars from three or five different industries or one industry, then it's a lot easier for me. It's a lot more reliable. It's scalable. I can even get more money from that. So politicians, they just vote accordingly. It's so much easier to get money from those places. Therefore, industry voices are so much louder than actual humans and citizens because of this.
[01:09:16] And look, if you're a conservative, you might have some issue with this, but I think all of us realize that we need to make sure that things are safe for us, not just safe for businesses to make loads of money. I am not against big business making money. I am against big businesses wanting to save $1,200 a year and not giving a crap if their workers get silicosis because they didn't want to buy a freaking water sprayer. That stuff just grinds my gears. Of course, this book goes over lots of potential solutions and likewise, we need politicians that aren't on the freaking take and who are willing to implement these. Getting big money out of politics — ah, whatever I'm going on a rant now. You don't even want to get me started.
[01:09:52] Big thank you to Dr. David Michaels. The book is called The Triumph of Doubt. We will obviously link to that in the show notes, as we always do. Worksheets for this episode to remember what you took away, just in case you were driving or something when you heard it. You don't have to take your notes there in the worksheets. Those are linked in the show notes. Transcripts are also in the show notes. There's a video of this interview going up on our YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram or just hit me on LinkedIn.
[01:10:20] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems, using tiny habits. Maybe you get a promotion, maybe you find a job if you're laid off right now, or you're in between some go learn how to do this. This is a game-changer, jordanharbinger.com/course it's free. Dig the well before you get thirsty, come on people. You know, you need it and no, you don't naturally do this. Stop lying to yourself. You don't naturally do these things, okay. I teach this to intelligence agencies and law enforcement and special operations. None of those people naturally do it. Why do you think you do? So no more self-delusion, go get at jordanharbinger.com/course.
[01:10:53] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. And my amazing team includes Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Ian Baird, Millie Ocampo, Josh Ballard, and Gabe Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. You know somebody who is interested in how science can be manipulated — so maybe they're into science, maybe they're just into politics, share this episode with them. I love this one. This one kind of came out of left field. I thought it was mildly interesting before I started researching it. And I just really got into it. Hopefully, you know somebody who will be the same way and I hope you find something great in every episode of this show. So please share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.