Sponsored By
Clare Goldsberry

March 15, 2016

6 Min Read
Science gets short changed in the money pit of government-funded research

Many groups that study various diseases or toxic chemicals or climate change get huge grants from the federal government—i.e. taxpayers—and are supposed to perform objective, scientific (empirical) testing. Often these groups, which get together to form a “scientific” consensus regarding BPA as well as other so-called environmental hazards, such as climate change, DDT, CO2 and emissions from VW diesel automobiles, consist of researchers and scientists who are interested in getting their own government grants for researching their chosen hazard. Researchers often believe that even trace levels of chemicals such as BPA in polycarbonate, or NOx (NO2, NO3 in diesel cars) or the small amounts of CO2 from vehicles are as harmful as high levels of emissions that we experienced several decades ago before the advent of clean-burning fuels and scrubbers in power plant smoke stacks and grant these trace amounts the same attention as some real high-level threat.

Image courtesy Cool Design/
freedigitalphotos.net.

At what point does the government say, “enough is enough—you’ve researched this for five decades and you still don’t have any conclusive scientific (empirical) evidence that BPA or any other types of plastic are harmful—it’s time to pull the plug!” But when the researchers are dependent upon the government for grant money to fund their research and pay their salaries, do you really think that they are going to perform objective, empirical research and find anything but what the government wants them to find?

In journalism school, I learned that every one—every publication, agency and bureaucracy—has an agenda. The government has some of the biggest and most costly agendas, but money is no object, because the government can just get it from taxpayers in the form of higher taxes on energy and other necessities, from big business and even from small, family-owned businesses. To keep these agendas going—be it BPA in plastic or climate change—it’s necessary to have government-funded scientists who feed at the trough of government grants and produce the precise results the government demands, so that research organizations can continue to get the tax dollars they need to keep going.

Here’s something else I learned in journalism school: Follow the money. Whenever a journalist is doing investigative journalism, a motive for the actions of those being investigated is needed. So, follow the money. That, this journalism teacher told us, is the primary motive. If you believe that the government is doing something like cap and trade, for example, or creating CAFE standards for automobiles because it is truly concerned for your health and welfare, then you need to look further.

Creating more rules and laws, such as those the EPA creates, means there are more ways to levy fines and penalties against those who are now lawbreakers—made so as a result of the newly created laws. These agencies such as the EPA can then collect these fines and penalties and line their coffers with taxpayer dollars, and pretend they are doing this for the health and welfare of the American people. Nothing could be further from the truth. Follow the money.

Angela Logomasini, a Senior Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, noted in an op-ed piece in the Oct. 14, 2015, edition of the Washington Examiner, that BPA-based resins used to coat the inside of steel and aluminum food cans are also at risk of being banned. In 2014, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) introduced the Ban Poisonous Additives Act (S.2572, H.R. 5033), which would eliminate BPA use in food packaging. Lining metal cans with plastic is certainly better than the method used in the 1800s, when metal cans were “welded” together with lead. While there is no empirical scientific evidence that BPA causes the harmful effects the alarmists would claim, they continue to battle the plastics industry. It’s just one more battle the environmentalists wage in the war on plastics, in order to gain more federal grant money and financially maintain their bureaucracy.

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., in a Wall Street Journal editorial about the VW scandal ("How to Settle the VW Scandal," Oct. 7, 2015) noted that the problem with this whole thing isn’t so much that the diesel cars didn’t meet EPA standards but that standards are getting to the point that they no longer make any sense or provide exponentially increasing benefits. Holman points out that, like GM and Chrysler, VW now belongs to a club: “Namely the club of auto companies simultaneously killed by regulation and propped up by government.”

Yet, while the government knows the automotive industry in the United States is “too big to fail” and that the jobs it generates are too valuable to lose, it’s the government that creates an unworkable climate for the industry by tightening the regulatory screws to make it increasingly impossible for the industry to function profitably.

“Already a trope is taking hold in the press: We must double-down on testing to make sure our cars meet the ever-expanding, multiple regulatory objectives we set for them,” writes Jenkins. “Unasked is whether America’s expansionist clean-air bureaucracy, after its successes of the 1970s, hasn’t already gone well past the point of diminishing returns in its pursuit of cleaner air.”

“There is plenty of evidence for this proposition. As President Obama’s first-term regulatory czar Cass Sunstein said in his 2002 book, The Cost-Benefit State, ‘As government controls get more severe, the benefits of increasing severity diminish to the point where the last 10 percent may do very little at all.’”

The law of diminishing returns refers to the point at which the level of profits or benefits gained is less than the amount of money or energy invested. The regulatory climate in the United States is reaching a point where increasing amounts of monetary investment and energy will have to be spent in order to achieve increasingly minute gains in the reduction of NOx, CO2 or additives in plastics that make them beneficial. 

When a report came out that the failure of VW diesel cars in the United States may have been responsible for five to 20 deaths per year from the diesel pollution of these vehicles, it was not based on objective, scientific empirical research but was the result of computer modeling. The Associated Press based those numbers on vehicle sales, the use of rigged VW cars and “computer models for air movement and previous studies on the epidemiological health effects of pollutants,” writes Chris Morran in “Studies Try To Estimate Number of Deaths Tied to Rigged Volkswagen Emissionsin the Consumerist on Oct. 5, 2015.

Science requires repeatable testing under rigorous, controlled conditions that result in consistent outcomes before anything can be stated as a certainty or seen as the standard model. While computer modeling can be helpful, the old saying “garbage in, garbage out” still holds true. We in the plastics industry owe it to everyone to be true to the science, and put the hype to rest.

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

Sign up for the PlasticsToday NewsFeed newsletter.

You May Also Like