Dow tries to stifle historians who uncovered its secrets


Dow Chemical is leading a group ot twenty chemical giants in an all-out attack on two historians who have uncovered the sordid history of vinyl chloride production and its effects on health in the United States and Europe. Dow is the world’s largest producer of vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen.

Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner are the authors of Deceit and Denial, a book that documents the chemical industry’s cover up of the science around both lead and vinyl chloride. They were featured in the film Blue Vinyl and their research was highlighted in the Bill Moyers Special Trade Secrets .

Their research is based on the chemical industry’s own private papers and memoranda, which can be viewed on the website of the Environmental Working Group.

Despite itself being the source of the information used in the book, the chemical industry is waging a campaign to destroy the two historians’ credibility and careers. Below is a letter from David Rosner to Michael Lerner of Commonweal describing what has been happening and what they plan to do about it.

Dear Michael,
It was wonderful to speak with you yesterday. We are deeply grateful for you encouraging words and support! We have been under some stress recently due to the attacks by the chemical industry but the outpouring of friendship from so many dedicated people is truly moving.

As you know the chemical industry has been seeking ways of undermining both our credibility and our professional integrity They have
attacked our book Deceit and Denial, the Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution, by arguing that we fail to meet – and indeed subvert – the history profession’s standards of good scholarship. This was extremely difficult since our book has received such positive reviews in the academic and scientific literature. Hence, they engaged in previously unheard of tactics of subpoenaing the University of California Press and the co-publisher, the Milbank Foundation for all records related to our book. In addition, they subpoenaed five of the eight pre-publication reviewers of our book and deposed them as well. Finally they hired a fellow historian to write a 41 page single spaced attack on our professional ethics and methodology. We know of no other historian who has been subjected to this kind of effort. If you would like to see the attack, our response, and many of the documents associated with this please go to, the website we have put on line.

It appears to us as historians that this event is an extension of a much larger and long-term effort to undermine the independence of the scientific and scholarly community. In our book – and in forthcoming articles in Public Health Reports, we detail some of industry’s past activities with regard to scholars and scientists who the industry sought to discredit. Of special interest is, of course, the experience of Dr. Herbert Needleman of the University of Pittsburgh, who professional life was turned upside down by industry attempts to have his work on the effect of low-level lead exposure in children discredited. In addition, our book has documented other instances of industry attempts to shape and even distort scientific evidence. Of course, especially well-documented and relevant are the cases of the tobacco and asbestos industries.

We are often asked to how typical is our experience and we are unable to clearly state with any precision what our experience represents. There has been no systematic study of the ways industry has interfered in the academic enterprise. While some authors such as Sheldon Krimsky and David Michaels have detailed some parts of this story most accounts are anecdotal and highly specific to a particular substance. We are hoping to ultimately develop a more systematic review of the fields of occupational and environmental health over the course of the last few decades in order to try to put ours and others’ experiences in some sort of perspective and context. Without such a scholarly effort, we believe, there is little hope for ultimately building a consensus among scientists, social scientists and other academics that could aid in the development of standards of conduct when dealing with industry activities that could influence the outcomes of scientific research and social science policy. Without a scholarly evaluation and analysis of the ways – both obvious and subtle – that industry shapes our understanding and, therefore, our policies, we are condemned to have the debate degenerate into a series of charges and countercharges that do little more than provide for the maintenance of the status quo.

Even through our own work we see the complexity of deciphering how industry is influencing the academic community. We are hoping to get such a project off the ground at some point in the near future.

Again, thanks so much for your interest and concern. We believe that the quality of our work and the seriousness of our effort will ultimately prevail.


David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz

David Rosner, PhD
Professor of History & Sociomedical Sciences
Director, Center for the History & Ethics of Public Health
Mailman School of Public Health
Columbia University
722 West 168th Street Room 934
New York, NY 10032

Tel: 212-305-1727
Fax: 212-342-1986


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