Australian Politics 2018-06-17 15:44:00
Professor ‘bragged about burying bad science’ on 3M chemicals
I am a bit reluctant to enter this old controversy again but I was amused that the Left-leaning Fairfax press is critical of "burying bad science". I guess it is because you can be reasonably sure that any science the Left likes -- from Lysenko to global warming -- is in fact bad science. So they don't like it being buried. As the replicability crisis has revealed, bad science is rife and in great need of exposure.
But I suppose that is just a quibble. At issue is the basic toxicological dictum that the toxicity is in the dose. There is no doubt that PFOS chemicals can be bad for you but at what dosage? Even water can kill you if you drink enough of it.
But there is a lot of "science" papers and publicity seeking authors that ignore that. They excitedly announce some finding of bad effects in rats and then go on to utter large warnings about the threat to human health -- without considering the dose involved or even using very large doses. Those are the bad papers that Prof. Giesy would have tried to stop.
That the chemical concerned gets into people and animals one way or another has been known for decades. But the concentrations found are extremely minute -- measured in a few parts per billion. So how toxic is it? It certainly seems to be seriously toxic to a range of animals but evidence of toxicity to people is slight. And don't forget that this has been under investigation for a long time.
Additionally, it has been estimated that there is by now some PFOS in every American, so bad effects should be pretty evident by now. But they are not.
Note that the controversy is about PFOS in general use -- as part of domestic items. People who are for one reason or another exposed to exceptionally high levels of it could well have problems. And there do appear to have been some instances of that.
But the scare has been sufficient for the American manufacturers to stop production of the stuff and the levels in people have gone into steady decline. So if it is a problem, it has been dealt with.
The ethics of Prof. Giesy taking money from a chemical company is another matter. It is the sort of thing that is widely challenged by the Left as showing bad faith or corruption but it is very widely done and evidence of the practice being corrupt is rarely offered. The participants argue that the academics provide useful advice so should be paid for it
A reputation for integrity is essential to a scientist and scientists are very careful about doing anything that could risk that reputation. So they make sure that what they do follows ethical guidelines. So you will note at the very end of the article below that Prof. Giesy has been cleared of unethical behaviour by his university. Compared to that clearance the insinuations below should be treated as dubious assertions designed to sell papers
As a leading international authority on toxic chemicals, Professor John P. Giesy is in the top percentile of active authors in the world.
His resume is littered with accolades, from being named in the Who’s Who of the World to receiving the Einstein Professor Award from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Professor Giesy was credited with being the first scientist to discover toxic per- and poly-fluoroalkyl [PFAS] chemicals in the environment, and with helping to persuade chemical giant 3M Company to abandon their manufacture.
But Fairfax Media can now reveal that Professor Giesy was accused of covertly doing 3M’s bidding in a widespread international campaign to suppress academic research on the dangers of PFAS.
A trove of internal company documents has been made public for the first time following a $US850 million ($1.15 billion) legal settlement between the company and Minnesota Attorney-General Lori Swanson. They suggest that Professor Giesy was one weapon in an arsenal of tactics used by the company to - in a phrase coined by 3M - “command the science” on the chemicals.
The documents have allowed the state to chronicle how 3M, over decades, allegedly misled the scientific community about the presence of its chemicals in the public’s blood, undermined studies linking the chemicals with cancer and scrambled to selectively fund research to be used as a “defensive barrier to litigation”.
Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, John Linc Stine, says there is a sense of violation in the community after 3M disposed of chemicals that have now seeped into the groundwater.
Experts have branded the strategies nearly identical to those used historically by the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries.
At least 90 communities across Australia are being investigated for elevated levels of the contaminants, including 10 in Sydney.
The Australian government is aggressively defending a growing number of class actions from towns where the chemicals were used for decades in fire retardants on military bases, the runoff tainting the soil and water of surrounding homes.
The Department of Health maintains there is “no consistent evidence” that the chemicals can cause “important” health effects such as cancer. In arguing this, its experts have made reference to the work of 3M scientists, who insist the chemicals are not harmful at the levels found in the blood of humans.
On Saturday, Fairfax Media exposed cancer cluster fears centring on a high school in Oakdale, Minnesota, in America’s upper mid-west, a few blocks from 3M’s global headquarters and where the water was contaminated with PFAS.
3M has vigorously denied the allegations. It did not accept liability in February, when it reached a settlement on the courthouse steps over alleged damage to Minnesota’s natural resources and drinking water.
A spokesperson said: “The vast body of scientific evidence, which consists of decades of research conducted by independent third parties and 3M, does not show that these chemistries negatively impact human health at current exposure levels”.
But several leading public health agencies in the United States have sounded warnings to the contrary.
In 2016, the United States Environmental Protection Agency found the “weight of evidence” supported the conclusion that the chemicals were a human health hazard, warning that exposure over certain levels could result in immune and developmental effects and cancer.
The US National Toxicology Program found they were “presumed to be an immune hazard” based on high levels of evidence from animal studies and a moderate level from humans.
Immune suppression - usually as a result of conditions such as organ transplant or HIV - is known to increase the risk of several types of cancer by making the immune system less able to detect and destroy cancer cells or fight cancer-causing infections.
DuPont, which used PFAS chemicals in the manufacture of Teflon, reached a $US670 million settlement with residents living near its manufacturing plant in Ohio, West Virginia, last year, after an expert health panel conducted a large-scale epidemiological investigation. It concluded that residents’ drinking water, tainted with one of the chemicals called PFOA, had a “probable link” to six health conditions, including kidney and testicular cancer.
One of 3M’s own material data safety sheets for a PFAS chemical included a warning that it could cause cancer in 1997 - that was subsequently removed - according to the Minnesota case.
The chemical of greatest concern in Australia is perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, arguably the most toxic of the chemicals studied. This was widely used in Scotchgard and fire-fighting foams.
Last month, there was a storm of controversy amid claims that the US EPA and the White House blocked the publication of a health study on PFAS carried out by the country’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
In emails leaked to Politico, a Trump administration aide warned that the report would be a “public relations nightmare” because it would show that the chemicals endangered human health at far lower levels than what the EPA had previously deemed safe.
Health warnings were echoed by Harvard Professor Philippe Grandjean and Professor Jamie DeWitt of North Carolina State University in their expert testimonies for the State of Minnesota.
Professor Grandjean argued that PFAS chemicals pose a “substantial present and potential hazard” to human health, including to immune, thyroid, liver, endocrine, cardiovascular and reproductive functions, and by “causing or increasing the risk of cancer”.
“Both PFOA and PFOS show convincing associations with these outcomes,” he said, adding that risks to human health had been identified at very low exposure levels.
Watching 'bad papers'
To the outside world, Professor Giesy was a renowned and independent university academic.
“But privately, he characterised himself as part of the 3M team,” alleged the State of Minnesota.
“Despite spending most of his career as a professor at public universities, Professor Giesy has a net worth of approximately $20 million. This massive wealth results at least in part from his long-term involvement with 3M for the purpose of suppressing independent scientific research on PFAS.”
Professor Giesy’s consulting company appears to have received payments from 3M between at least 1998 and 2009. One document indicated his going rate was about $US275 an hour.
In an email to a 3M laboratory manager, Professor Giesy described his role as trying to keep “bad papers out of the literature”, because in “litigation situations they can be a large obstacle to refute”.
Professor Giesy was an editor of several academic journals and, in any given year, about half of the papers submitted on PFAS came to him for review.
“Some journals … for conflict-of-interest issues will not allow an industry to review a paper about one of their products. That is where I came in,” he wrote in another email.
“In time sheets, I always listed these reviews as literature searches so that there was no paper trail to 3M.”
Professor Giesy is alleged to have passed confidential manuscripts on to 3M, as well as an email from an EPA scientist detailing its latest PFAS investigations in Athens, Georgia. He allegedly bragged about rejecting the publication of at least one paper containing negative information about PFAS.
In another email chain, a 3M manager was concerned that a study Professor Giesy had drafted was “suggestive” of possible PFAS health hazards and should be cushioned with an accompanying document on the health effects.
“This paper … could set off a chain reaction of speculation that could reopen the issue with the media and move it back to a health story; something up to now we have avoided,” he wrote.
Professor Giesy is based at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, but he also holds positions with the University of Michigan and several Chinese universities.
An internal 3M document referred to him needing to “buy favours” when developing joint projects with Chinese colleagues “over whom he can exert some influence”.
A spokesperson for the University of Saskatchewan said it had conducted two reviews of Dr Giesy’s conduct.
“We found nothing out of the ordinary or evidence of conflict of interest,” she said.
If you say untrue things about government, is the government free to publish true things about you?
One would think it only fair but apparently government should be muzzled, according to some. Lies are not protected free speech
Australia’s national privacy office has ruled that individuals should “reasonably expect” the government will release sensitive personal data publicly to refute its critics, sparking concerns of a “chilling effect” on free speech.
Late on Monday evening, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner released the findings of an inquiry it launched in March last year following the Department of Human Services’ release of a blogger’s personal Centrelink history to a media organisation.
The Department did so to refute details contained in an opinion piece by the blogger for Fairfax Media in which she claimed that she had been “terrorised” by Centrelink as part of the controversial robodebt scheme.
After the opinion piece was published in February 2017, a briefing was provided to another journalist that detailed the blogger’s welfare history. This lead to a follow-up article claiming Centrelink may have been “unfairly castigated”.
The blogger in question complained to the OAIC, and former information and privacy commissioner Timothy Pilgrim opened an investigation into the matter in March.
Fourteen months later, the office has decided that the government was allowed to release the personal data under the Australian Privacy Principles, as individuals should “reasonably expect” the government to release private information under those circumstances.
The decision has sparked huge backlash against the OAIC and the country’s privacy laws more broadly.
The Australian Privacy Principles, which apply to all Australian government departments and agencies, include a range of exceptions where the personal information of an individual can be disclosed for another purpose.
These include when the individual would “reasonably expect the secondary use or disclosure” and this is related to the primary purpose of collection of the information.
It is under this exception that the department was allowed to release the blogger’s personal information to the media, the OAIC ruled.
“Having carefully considered the specific public statements made by the Centrelink customer, and the specific information disclosed in response, the acting Australian Information Commissioner and acting Privacy Commissioner reached the conclusion that, in this instance, the disclosure was permitted by APP 6.2(a)(ii),” the OAIC said in its decision.
The decision was made more than a year after the investigation was launched, and after the retirement of former privacy commissioner Timothy Pilgrim.
Angelene Falk has been serving as acting privacy commissioner since Mr Pilgrim’s retirement in March, with the agency close to announcing his replacement.
The OAIC’s decision pointed to a case note from 2010 as providing precedent, in which the Commissioner’s Plain English Guidelines to Information Privacy Principles gives examples of when an individual may be considered to be “reasonably likely” to think their information may be disseminated.
“A person who complains publicly about an agency in relation to their circumstances (for example, to the media) is considered to be reasonably likely to be aware that the agency may respond publicly – and in a way that reveals personal information relevant to the issues they have raised,” the guidelines say.
A number of Australian civil and digital rights advocates have been left outraged by the decision, with Electronic Frontiers Australia board member Peter Tonoli saying it “flies in the face of trust in government”.
Electronic Frontiers Australia policy team member Drew Mayo said she is concerned the recent ruling could have a chilling effect on criticisms of the government, with individuals concerned that their sensitive data will then be released publicly.
“EFA is extremely concerned about the implications of the recent ruling. The chilling effect posed by this decision is a direct risk to democracy and an attack on the strongest free speech protection Australians have, the implied right of political communication,” Mr Mayo told InnovationAus.com.
“We call on the government to enshrine in law the right of Australians to comment robustly on government policy without the risk of private data being released in retribution.”
The department has claimed that the release of the sensitive data was “proportionate” given the claims made in the blogger’s opinion piece.
“The recipient had made a number of claims that were unfounded and it is the opinion of officers that this was likely to concern other individuals,” Department secretary Kathryn Campbell said.
“That’s why we felt that it was appropriate to release the information, so that people knew it was important to file their tax returns and tell us about changes in their circumstances. In this case, our data said that had not occurred and that is why we had been chasing the debt,” she said.
Thales Sonar Upgrades to Extend Australia's Collins Class Submarine Capability
Australia’s Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne has announced major upgrades of the Thales sonars on Australia’s fleet of six Collins Class submarines.
The sonar upgrades are essential to extend the life of the Collins class submarines and maintain their regional superiority.
The A$230million contract with Thales for the sonar upgrades will employ 50 people at Thales Australia’s Rydalmere facility, in Western Sydney, where world-leading sonar technology is manufactured and integrated.
Australia’s strategic priority on enhancing its submarine capability will be supported by Thales through major upgrades of the sonar systems on all six Collins class submarines. The A$230million contract with Thales is part of a A$542million project approved by the Australian Government for the upgrade of the Collins class sensor capabilities, the key to extending the life and the regional superiority of the Collins fleet.
Thales Australia CEO Chris Jenkins said the Collins sonar upgrades continued a 30 year history of support for the Collins program since the original transfer of sonar technology from France in the 1980’s that formed the basis of the underwater systems business in Australia.
“It is critical that Australia maintain the highest levels of submarine capability from the Collins fleet until the Future Submarine enters service. The sonar systems are the ‘eyes and ears’ of the submarines, and Thales will bring together the best underwater sensing technology from around the world to ensure the Collins remains a potent force” Mr Jenkins said.
Manufacturing and integration work will be carried out at Thales’s underwater systems centre of excellence in Rydalmere, Western Sydney, supporting more than 140 jobs, including 50 people directly employed on the project.
In an internationally collaborative program, the Collins’ legacy cylindrical array will be replaced with a Modular Cylindrical Array (MCA) based on Sonar 2076 submarine technology developed by Thales teams in the UK. The existing flank array will be replaced by the latest generation flank array from Thales teams in France.
Thales will work with local industry including Raytheon Australia as the Combat System Integrator to deliver the upgrades for the six submarines integrating products from other Australian providers including Sonartech Atlas, and L3 Oceania.
Thales is a key strategic partner of the Australian Defence Force and the Royal Australian Navy, and is Australia’s market leader in underwater systems, having supplied advanced sonar and minesweeping systems to naval and civil customers in Australia and overseas for more than three decades.
“France and Australia have collaborated closely on sonar systems for the Collins submarines since the start of the program more than 30 years ago. Thales teams based in France, UK and Australia have worked together as one team to master the sonar technology in Australia and to share know-how with one ambition: assure long term regional superiority for the Royal Australian Navy.” Alexis Morel, Vice-President, Underwater Systems at Thales.
Indigenous child welfare double standards will perpetuate gap
Bill Shorten has been rightly criticised for his comments suggesting ‘culture’ take priority over the welfare of Indigenous children — and for suggesting that only ‘whitefellas’ say otherwise.
But it’s really Indigenous politics that Shorten is talking about taking precedence over children’s best interests.
The Indigenous industry is pushing hard to stop child removals. If removals continue at present rates, the future of the rural and remote ‘homelands’ will be jeopardised and so will the taxpayer funding received by the plethora of Indigenous organisations that provide services to these communities.
The industry says that the way to stop child removals and fix the underlying social problems and dysfunction is to ‘empower’ Indigenous-controlled organisations and communities to implement the solutions they claim to know work on the ground.
This approach was not successful during the era of ATISC (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission) which was abolished after presiding over corruption, failure, and an ever-widening gap in social outcomes between the most disadvantaged Indigenous people and all other Australians.
We are now being told that it will be different this time because Indigenous-controlled services will be properly evaluated for their effectiveness and held accountable for the outcomes they do — or do not — achieve.
This is not before time because Indigenous child protection poses the most complex and intractable social problem in the nation.
To ensure children can remain safely at home and close (allegedly) to culture, the array of social problems (from welfare dependence to drug and alcohol abuse to family violence) that plague and are entrenched in Indigenous families and communities — and which are intergenerational in nature and decades in the making — have to resolved within a short, child-centred timeframe to ensure that children are properly cared for and parented.
What this means is that child protection – that is, welfare-based decisions about whether children need to be removed from their own safety and well-being — is the ultimate accountability, and the ultimate measure, of whether services are actually effective at promoting the welfare of the most vulnerable members of Indigenous community.
Creating the kind of double-standard and different treatment of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children proposed by the Opposition Leader, at the behest of the indigenous industry, would therefore clearly be a retrograde step in indigenous affairs.
This is not the way to ‘close the gap’. It is nothing short of a recipe for perpetuating and exacerbating ‘gaps’ by leaving Indigenous children in harm’s way.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.). For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me here