The GOP’s Turn to Fake Science Should Have Consequences

While I was reading two articles this morning, I had a flashback to the late 1990s. The first article was written by Max Ehrenfreund of the Washington Post, and it was about how the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business was unable to locate any economist in the nation willing to argue that Donald Trump’s proposed tax cuts will be revenue-neutral or better rather than blowing a huge hole in the national deficit.

The second article was also in the Washington Post and written by Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis. It explained that “both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department are overhauling a slew of outside advisory boards that inform how their agencies assess the science underpinning policies, the first step in a broader effort by Republicans to change the way the federal government evaluates the scientific basis for its regulations.” In the case of the EPA, the new director Scott Pruitt has decided to replace nine people on the “18-member Board of Scientific Counselors, which advises EPA’s prime scientific arm on whether the research it does has sufficient rigor and integrity.”

More than anything, these two articles reminded me of the following history:

The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) was entered in November 1998, originally between the four largest United States tobacco companies (Philip Morris Inc., R. J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard – the “original participating manufacturers”, referred to as the “Majors”) and the attorneys general of 46 states. The states settled their Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco industry for recovery of their tobacco-related health-care costs, and also exempted the companies from private tort liability regarding harm caused by tobacco use. In exchange, the companies agreed to curtail or cease certain tobacco marketing practices, as well as to pay, in perpetuity, various annual payments to the states to compensate them for some of the medical costs of caring for persons with smoking-related illnesses. The money also funds a new anti-smoking advocacy group, called the American Legacy Foundation, that is responsible for such campaigns as The Truth. The settlement also dissolved the tobacco industry groups Tobacco Institute, the Center for Indoor Air Research, and the Council for Tobacco Research. In the MSA, the original participating manufacturers (OPM) agreed to pay a minimum of $206 billion over the first 25 years of the agreement.

The Tobacco Institute, the Center for Indoor Air Research, and the Council for Tobacco Research produced fake research to cast doubt on the scientific consensus that smoking tobacco was the cause of many negative effects on health. Today, similar efforts are carried out more diffusely and with more cleverness by producers of dirty energy to cast doubt on the scientific consensus that their products are causing climate change. There are other groups and individuals who make their living calling for tax cuts and promising that they will lead to so much investment and economic growth that they will pay for themselves.

The Republican Party is more and more resembling an organization like the Center for Indoor Air Research. Because its lies have such a negative impact on human health, they ought to face the same fate.

Yet, they’re actually in charge of every branch of the government right now for some shameful reason.

Sometimes, after say a Caspar Weinberger or Scooter Libby gets themselves in trouble, you’ll hear voices saying that we shouldn’t criminalize our political differences. I understand that sentiment, but in some cases I cannot agree. If the modern GOP wants to act like a fake industry-sponsored scientific advisory board, there’s no good reason that one day the attorneys general of 46 states shouldn’t be allowed to force them into a Climate/Budget/Health Master Settlement Agreement.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.