How scientists try to shut down legitimate debate by using smear tactics

Scientists are using lawfare as one tactic to shut down debate, from climate science to health outcomes to nutrition.

Nutrition scientists seem to be some of the biggest offenders and one of their favoured tactics to shut down debate is to accuse companies of using “Big Tobacco” tactics in an attempt to delegitimise their input into debate.

The latest target is baby food manufacturers:

An article in World Nutrition invokes the specter of Big Tobacco and its great weaponized ‘playbook’, which is now considered so powerful and effective it’s become mythology, while tobacco companies paid tens of billions in settlements because the playbook actually failed. But opponents of conventional baby food remain conspiratorial, claiming the baby food industry (Big Baby Food) has taken tactics from Big Tobacco to insidiously control and distort efforts at global breastfeeding. All in the name of corporate greed. Let’s be clear at the outset, breastfeeding is good; but some mothers cannot, for a range of reasons, and there have long been replacements. The authors invoke the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes which states:

“The Code advocates that infants be breastfed. If they are not breastfed the Code also advocates that infants be fed safely on the best available nutritional alternative. Breast-milk substitutes should be available when needed, but not be promoted.”

So right away, they create a logical disconnect. How can women know an alternative is available when no one is to make  them aware of its existence? The authors then insist the food industry influences public health policy (of course) but that the acts of Big Baby Food have gone undocumented. Moreover because Big Tobacco and Big Baby Food share “ownership, investors, shareholders, experts, advisors, public relations and marketing companies” they learn from one another. In other words, if you’re in any business not funded by the federal government you can’t be trusted. 

I know of three such people doing exactly this in New Zealand, smearing and attacking industry, labelling them. One even called me “a paid prostitute of the tobacco industry”, yet has the temerity to sue me for telling the truth about him. If industry groups together to fight them, then they too are sued. The smears are right through their legal documentation. They do this to shut down debate, in the same way people who have a different view of climate change to scientists are called “deniers”.

The authors create a casual review of sorts, admitting that it is neither exhaustive nor systematic, but is instead hand-picked examples where they say Big Baby Food used the tactics of Big Tobacco. When baby food manufacturers use “lobbying, political financing, and other communications to high-level policymakers,” and promote “voluntary self-regulation instead of legally binding legislation” it is characterized as hijacking the political and legislative process. But is there any other means of communicating with officials involved in public health policy? Dropping off a policy position in the mailbox doesn’t work.

Same tactics used here. When the Food & Grocery Council opposes some inane report or survey being pushed into media by these activist scientists then they get abuse hurled at them about their funding, their rationale and their companies.

When Big Baby Food participated in policy formation, it was deceptively framed as influencing “baby food marketing standard setting.” Isn’t the role of experts, from industry or science or, for that matter, breastfeeding advocacy groups, to influence standards? It’s the only reason they exist.

Perhaps the most egregious accusation revolves around corporate social responsibility. The authors found that even attempts by corporations to ‘give back’ are attempting to manipulate public opinion, increase respectability, gain trust.

Ronald McDonald House is a classic example, and one of those suing me was in the forefront of the attacks on that charity.

It seems that Big Baby Food is caught in a Catch-22. When they participate in setting regulation, they are accused of hijacking; when they engage in creating standards, it is using influence; and when they exercise corporate social responsibility, it is characterized as a shameless attempt to manipulate public opinion.

Why is it that when advocacy groups participate in setting standards, developing policy and helping make the world better, it is without sin, but the actions of baby food companies are so tainted? Could it be that the Big Tobacco boogyman is how advocacy groups eliminate the need for respectful conversation and disagreement? They simply turn their political opposition into a scary amorphous thing hiding in the closet.

The one thing missing from all of these debates is actual science. They are political activists, nothing more, nothing less. The sooner they realise that engaging in politicking is going to get you push back the sooner they can grow up and stop using lawfare to stop legitimate public debate.


-American Council on Science and Health

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.