Damned Heretics

Condemned by the established, but very often right

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Qualified outsiders and maverick insiders are often right about the need to replace received wisdom in science and society, as the history of the Nobel prize shows. This blog exists to back the best of them in their uphill assault on the massively entrenched edifice of resistance to and prejudice against reviewing, let alone revising, ruling ideas. In support of such qualified dissenters and courageous heretics we search for scientific paradigms and other established beliefs which may be maintained only by the power and politics of the status quo, comparing them with academic research and the published experimental and investigative record.

We especially defend and support the funding of honest, accomplished, independent minded and often heroic scientists, inventors and other original thinkers and their right to free speech and publication against the censorship, mudslinging, false arguments, ad hominem propaganda, overwhelming crowd prejudice and internal science politics of the paradigm wars of cancer, AIDS, evolution, global warming, cosmology, particle physics, macroeconomics, health and medicine, diet and nutrition.

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Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

Skepticism is dangerous. That’s exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that’s why there is a great reluctance to teach it in schools. That’s why you don’t find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don’t have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy? – Carl Sagan (The Burden of Skepticism, keynote address to CSICOP Annual Conference, Pasadena, April 3/4, 1982).

It is really important to underscore that everything we’re talking about tonight could be utter nonsense. – Brian Greene (NYU panel on Hidden Dimensions June 5 2010, World Science Festival)

I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing ever interfered with my learning was my education. My name as you already perceive without a doubt is George Bernard Shaw, and I certainly approve of this blog, in that its guiding spirit appears to be blasphemous in regard to the High Church doctrines of science, and it flouts the censorship of the powers that be, and as I have famously remarked, all great truths begin as blasphemy, and the first duty of the truthteller is to fight censorship, and while I notice that its seriousness of purpose is often alleviated by a satirical irony which sometimes borders on the facetious, this is all to the good, for as I have also famously remarked, if you wish to be a dissenter, make certain that you frame your ideas in jest, otherwise they will seek to kill you.  My own method was always to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine) One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. – Bertrand Russell, Conquest of Happiness (1930) ch. 9

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Fumento loses Scripps Howard for concealing payoff – is this fair?

Some happy to see him get his comeuppance, but we see his point

The embarrassing exposure of Michael Fumento this week raises the following questions: Is it right for a science columnist to take money that is given to his think-tank by Monsanto on his application and use it to write a book on biotechnology without mentioning his happy sponsor? Is it right for him to later write a column for syndication which praises the company’s products without revealing they paid for the book as he had suggested?

Although he has done some yeoman work over the years as a mythbuster Michael Fumento has in one important respect – AIDS – been something of a now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t kind of critic, a brave skeptic at one moment and a ranting, hostile supporter of a questionable paradigm the next. He currently has a perch at the Hudson Institute where he writes a nice bunch of skeptical stuff supporting biotech, DDT and other outrages to liberal sensibilities.

His claim to fame in AIDS is to have written a book exposing The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, published in 1993, a gloriously vindicated analysis, while vehemently maintaining then and ever since that Peter Duesberg is wrong about HIV not being the cause of AIDS, a position which not only contradicts his betters but is totally inconsistent.

This extraordinary critical schizophrenia may have been an early indication of how Fumento’s brain is split further apart than normal into two independent halves, where verily the right hand writes and knoweth not whereof the left hand accepts what now look distinctly like solicited bribes, sorry to say.

For the latest news is that the famously combative scribe this week has managed to do exactly what the first paragraph above describes, without acknowledging the conflict of interest to himself or to the public even after he was let go on Friday by Scripps Howard, who will no longer syndicate his writings.


Asked about the payments, Fumento says, “I’m just extremely pro-biotech.” He says he solicited several agribusiness companies to finance his book, which was published by Encounter Books. “I went after everybody, I’ve got to be honest,” Fumento says of his fund-raising effort. “I told them that if I tell the truth in this book, the biotech industry is going to look really good, and you should contribute.

The book’s acknowledgements cite support from The Donner Foundation and “others who wish to remain anonymous.” Fumento didn’t disclose the payment from Monsanto either in the book or in at least eight columns he has written mentioning Monsanto since 1999. He explained in his recent column that he focused exclusively on Monsanto due to a “lack of space and because their annual report was plopped onto my lap while I was hunting for a column idea.”

The author says he sees no conflict of interest in his recent columns because the grant came several years ago. “If you’re thinking quid pro quo,” he says, “I think there’s a statute of limitations on that.”

BioEvolution argues that advances in biotechnology are overwhelmingly positive for humanity, and it quotes Monsanto scientists, along with those from other companies, at length. In one section, Fumento writes that Monsanto allowed outside researchers to use plant patents it had developed without a licensing fee, to help alleviate suffering in the Third World. “Has this all been good PR for Monsanto?” Fumento asks in the book. “Yes it has, as headlines have made clear. But a good deed is a good deed.””

The statement issued in opposition to this defense was as follows:

“Scripps Howard News Service requires writers to disclose any conflict of interest or even an appearance of a conflict in the stories and columns we offer to hundreds of newspapers.

“For three years, we have distributed columns by Michael Fumento, a fellow at the Hudson Institute. On Jan. 5, he wrote about biotechnology and the role of Monsanto. He did not tell SHNS editors, and therefore we did not tell our readers, that in 1999 Hudson received a $60,000 grant from Monsanto. The Hudson Institute said the grant was used to support Fumento’s work on a book he authored about biotechnology.

“Our policy is that he should have disclosed that information. We apologize to our readers.

The issue of the rights and wrongs was explored in more detail in

Syndicate Execs Discuss the Latest Paid Pundit Scandal by Aya Kawano in Editor and Publisher. She emphasizes the issue is not so much the money as disclosure:

“Disclosure is the most important thing,” said Creators Syndicate President Rick Newcombe. He noted that if a columnist hypothetically told Creators that he or she had taken money, “we would of course disclose it to the newspaper clients. If enough clients still wanted to run the column, we might not drop it.”

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Editor and Publisher

Syndicate Execs Discuss the Latest Paid Pundit Scandal

Aya Kawano

By Dave Astor

Published: January 13, 2006 6:45 PM ET

NEW YORK With Scripps Howard News Service (SHNS) the latest distributor to drop a pundit for taking undisclosed payments, a question comes to mind: Is the main problem taking payments or not disclosing them?

SHNS Friday dropped columnist Michael Fumento of the conservative Hudson Institute for not disclosing he had accepted money from Monsanto in 1999. Fumento wrote in praise of Monsanto as recently as his Jan. 5 column.

“Disclosure is the most important thing,” said Creators Syndicate President Rick Newcombe. He noted that if a columnist hypothetically told Creators that he or she had taken money, “we would of course disclose it to the newspaper clients. If enough clients still wanted to run the column, we might not drop it.”

John Twohey, vice president for editorial and operations at Tribune Media Services (TMS), said: “Certainly accepting money from an entity you cover crosses a line. I can imagine exceptions, like going on the lecture circuit. But if columnists accept speaking fees from an organization they end up writing about, they would need to disclose that in the column.”

TMS was the syndicate that dropped Armstrong Williams a year ago after it was revealed that the broadcaster/columnist was taking money to promote the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind initiative. At around the same time, Maggie Gallagher of Universal Press Syndicate and self-syndicated columnist Michael McManus were also accused of accepting government money.

Would syndicates reduce the chance of payola scandals if they signed more Op-Ed columnists who have journalism backgrounds rather than, say, think-tank backgrounds?

“We prefer columnists with journalism backgrounds,” said Newcombe. “On the other hand, there’s no guarantee a journalist won’t plagiarize or do something else.”

Newcombe added that Creators has some columnists who are economists and/or from academia. These commentators don’t have journalism backgrounds, he said, but they have “brilliant minds” and deserve syndication.

With paid pundits Fumento and Copley News Service’s Doug Bandow recently being dropped (after Business Week Online revealed they had accepted money), will syndicates contact their columnists to remind them about staying on the up-and-up?

King Features Syndicate Managing Editor Glenn Mott said it’s possible the issue might come up “informally” when he talks to King columnists, but he has no plans to send out formal reminders.

At least one syndicate — TMS — sent out ethical reminders a year ago after the Armstrong Williams scandal. Twohey told E&P he doesn’t see a need to do that again at this point. “Our creators know what our expectations are,” he said.

Syndicate executives also noted that they already have ethical guidelines in place, and that they check columnists as much as they can before signing them.

“We do a thorough review before we take anybody on,” said Mott. “I trust the people we have.” He did add that King has it easier than some distributors in reviewing Op-Ed columnists because it syndicates a relatively small number of them (fewer than 10).

“I do a fair amount of screening before we sign a columnist,” said Newcombe, while observing that “any syndicate can get burned” no matter what it does.

Editor/General Manager Peter Copeland of SHNS declined to comment when reached by phone Friday. He did e-mail E&P Online a statement that read:

“Scripps Howard News Service requires writers to disclose any conflict of interest or even an appearance of a conflict in the stories and columns we offer to hundreds of newspapers.

“For three years, we have distributed columns by Michael Fumento, a fellow at the Hudson Institute. On Jan. 5, he wrote about biotechnology and the role of Monsanto. He did not tell SHNS editors, and therefore we did not tell our readers, that in 1999 Hudson received a $60,000 grant from Monsanto. The Hudson Institute said the grant was used to support Fumento’s work on a book he authored about biotechnology.

“Our policy is that he should have disclosed that information. We apologize to our readers.

“We learned of the grant from Fumento after he responded to questions from Business Week. We immediately suspended his column, investigated and severed our relationship with Fumento. His Jan. 5 column was the last to move on SHNS.”

Dave Astor (dastor@editorandpublisher.com) is a senior editor at E&P.

© 2005 VNU eMedia Inc. All rights reserved

Business Week did the investigate spadework which unearthed the conflict, and their story shows that it did not and still does not trouble Fumento:

Fumento insists that disclosure of financial transactions between op-ed columnists and the companies they cover wouldn’t be practical. The op-ed money trail is only now getting attention, he argues in an e-mail, because of BusinessWeek Online’s recent revelation that Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff had paid two columnists for years to deliver good press to his clients (see BW Online, 12/16/05, “Op-Eds for Sale”).

“We’re in a witch-hunting frenzy now but, as after all witch hunts, people do return to their senses and regret the piles of ashes at their feet,” Fumento writes. “Often it happened fast enough the witch hunters found themselves tied to the stake. I do hope that happens here.”

Fumento also points out that he criticized Monsanto publicly in a 1999 Forbes magazine column, calling the company “chicken-hearted” for caving in to pressure from environmentalists to terminate a seed program. “I acted completely ethically, and within a month or two nobody will doubt that,” Fumento says.

While Fumento doesn’t think he should have disclosed the payments to his readers, Hudson’s CEO Kenneth R. Weinstein is less sure. Asked if the scholar should have disclosed his financial relationship with Monsanto, Weinstein pauses and says, “that’s a good question, period.”

The Business Week article, A Columnist Backed by Monsanto, appeared on Friday (Jan 13). Fumento is saying he is the victim of a witch-hunting frenzy because of the other revelations along these lines in December:

Fumento insists that disclosure of financial transactions between op-ed columnists and the companies they cover wouldn’t be practical. The op-ed money trail is only now getting attention, he argues in an e-mail, because of BusinessWeek Online’s recent revelation that Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff had paid two columnists for years to deliver good press to his clients (see BW Online, 12/16/05, “Op-Eds for Sale”).

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Business Week

JANUARY 13, 2006

NEWS ANALYSIS

Eamon Javers

A Columnist Backed by Monsanto

Michael Fumento’s failure to disclose payments to him in 1999 from the agribusiness giant has now caused Scripps Howard to sever its ties to him

Scripps Howard News Service announced Jan. 13 that it’s severing its business relationship with columnist Michael Fumento, who’s also a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute. The move comes after inquiries from BusinessWeek Online about payments Fumento received from agribusiness giant Monsanto (MON ) — a frequent subject of praise in Fumento’s opinion columns and a book.

In a statement released on Jan. 13, Scripps Howard News Service Editor and General Manager Peter Copeland said Fumento “did not tell SHNS editors, and therefore we did not tell our readers, that in 1999 Hudson received a $60,000 grant from Monsanto.” Copeland added: “Our policy is that he should have disclosed that information. We apologize to our readers.” In the Jan. 5 column, Fumento wrote that St. Louis-based Monsanto has about 30 products in the pipeline that will aid farmers, “but also help us all by keeping prices down and allowing more crops to be grown on less land.”

He listed some of the products Monsanto has on tap: drought-resistant corn, crops that could reduce the need for environment-damaging fertilizers, and soybeans that might reduce heart disease.

“YOU SHOULD CONTRIBUTE.” In his career at Hudson, Fumento has carved out a specialty debunking critics of the agribusiness and biotechnology industries. In 1999, he says, he solicited $60,000 from Monsanto to write a book on the business. The book, entitled BioEvolution was published in 2003. A spokesman for Monsanto confirmed the payments to the Hudson Institute.

Asked about the payments, Fumento says, “I’m just extremely pro-biotech.” He says he solicited several agribusiness companies to finance his book, which was published by Encounter Books. “I went after everybody, I’ve got to be honest,” Fumento says of his fund-raising effort. “I told them that if I tell the truth in this book, the biotech industry is going to look really good, and you should contribute.”

The Monsanto grant, he says, flowed from the company to the Hudson Institute to support his work. A portion went to overhead and “most of it” went into his salary. He says the money was simply folded into his salary for that year, and therefore represented no windfall to him personally.

“STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS.” The book’s acknowledgements cite support from The Donner Foundation and “others who wish to remain anonymous.” Fumento didn’t disclose the payment from Monsanto either in the book or in at least eight columns he has written mentioning Monsanto since 1999. He explained in his recent column that he focused exclusively on Monsanto due to a “lack of space and because their annual report was plopped onto my lap while I was hunting for a column idea.”

The author says he sees no conflict of interest in his recent columns because the grant came several years ago. “If you’re thinking quid pro quo,” he says, “I think there’s a statute of limitations on that.”

BioEvolution argues that advances in biotechnology are overwhelmingly positive for humanity, and it quotes Monsanto scientists, along with those from other companies, at length. In one section, Fumento writes that Monsanto allowed outside researchers to use plant patents it had developed without a licensing fee, to help alleviate suffering in the Third World. “Has this all been good PR for Monsanto?” Fumento asks in the book. “Yes it has, as headlines have made clear. But a good deed is a good deed.”

ONGOING RELATIONSHIP. Monsanto spokesman Chris Horner acknowledges two 1999 payments to Hudson of $30,000 each, but he says the company’s records don’t indicate whether the payments were expressly for the book, as Fumento says. “It’s our practice, that if we’re dealing with an organization like this, that any funds we’re giving should be unrestricted,” Horner says.

He adds that Monsanto maintains an ongoing financial relationship with Hudson, but explains that the company did not pay for the recent Fumento op-ed or any others he has written. “He received a press release from us, as did lots of others in his profession, and he chose to write about it on the basis of that,” Horner says.

New York-based Encounter Books says it doesn’t have an immediate response to queries about the book’s funding.

“WITCH-HUNTING FRENZY.” Fumento insists that disclosure of financial transactions between op-ed columnists and the companies they cover wouldn’t be practical. The op-ed money trail is only now getting attention, he argues in an e-mail, because of BusinessWeek Online’s recent revelation that Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff had paid two columnists for years to deliver good press to his clients (see BW Online, 12/16/05, “Op-Eds for Sale”).

“We’re in a witch-hunting frenzy now but, as after all witch hunts, people do return to their senses and regret the piles of ashes at their feet,” Fumento writes. “Often it happened fast enough the witch hunters found themselves tied to the stake. I do hope that happens here.”

Fumento also points out that he criticized Monsanto publicly in a 1999 Forbes magazine column, calling the company “chicken-hearted” for caving in to pressure from environmentalists to terminate a seed program. “I acted completely ethically, and within a month or two nobody will doubt that,” Fumento says.

While Fumento doesn’t think he should have disclosed the payments to his readers, Hudson’s CEO Kenneth R. Weinstein is less sure. Asked if the scholar should have disclosed his financial relationship with Monsanto, Weinstein pauses and says, “that’s a good question, period.”

Javers is BusinessWeek’s Capitol Hill correspondent

Copyright 2000- 2006 by The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.

All rights reserved.

Some people on Duesberg’s side of the HIV?AIDS issue are delighted that Fumento has suffered a bad tumble, even though they appreciate his achievement with his The Myth of Heterosxual AIDS, which was widely scorned at the time but has proven to be exactly right – right, that is, on his theme that heterosexual AIDS was never going to happen, but wrong about HIV causing AIDS, according to the scientific literature which Fumento cannot credit, for some reason, and which excites him to strange and rather unpleasant fulminations against Peter Duesberg.

In one email he sent last year which has made the rounds and horrified many observers with its inaccurate and oddly vindictive hostility toward Duesberg, Fumento expressed himself as follows:


I sure hate being cited in the same piece as Duesberg. He truly is the crackpot people claim. He didn’t invent the theory that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS; his claim to fame is adopting it after every other scientist abandoned it in light of the obvious. His cancer work is also junk. I was actually an evaluator of a grant proposal of his on the subject. He quite plainly lied throughout it. And finally as to this Nobel stuff, that’s what his apostles say ? and have been saying for the better part of two decades. Even if he were right on both AIDS and cancer, the fact that the medical establishment believes he’s utterly cracked would preclude him from ever being considered.

Best,

Mike Fumento

In case anyone is influenced by this, we can note that it is almost entirely misleading as well as uncalled for.

Duesberg, a member of the National Academy of Science, is no crackpot, as his many impeccably argued and finely phrased papers attest. None of his papers have ever been questioned on the grounds of quality or fact, or hidden interest, and indeed Walter Gilbert, the Nobelist who discovered how to efficiently sequence DNA, used Duesberg’s work to show his graduate students at Harvard how paradigms might be expertly challenged.

Duesberg never claimed to have invented the theory that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, one reason being that it really isn’t a theory so much as the review and rejection of a theory of HIV as the “virus that causes AIDS” which has no basis that Duesberg could discover in scientific reason or evidence, either epidemiological or in the lab.

As to Duesberg’s cancer theory being junk. as we have noted in previous posts his approach (aneuploidy) has won the respect and interest of senior researchers at major institutions around the world, some of whom attended his conference at the beginning of 2004 on the topic, and this respect has been evidenced in Scientific American coverage of the field (for these references it is enough to go to the Peter Duesberg site, where you can also see the quality of his papers, which even the most belligerent Fumento fan is going to have a hard time characterizing as “crackpot”).

That Fumento was asked, among other people, to advise a foundation as to whether they should support Peter Duesberg in his research is true. But the idea that Duesberg would lie in describing his research is preposterous – no one has ever publicly accused Duesberg of improper behavior or research in any respect in his entire career, we are certain, and there is certainly no record of that anywhere. One suspects that this behind-the-back calumny says more about Fumento than about Duesberg.

His final thought is of course prima facie nonsense. If Duesberg was accepted as right on both AIDS and cancer the medical establishment would back his Nobel to the hilt, since one could hardly imagine a greater contribution to human welfare, which is what Nobels are all about. That Fumento’s sources in medicine tell him that Duesberg is “cracked” only suggests that his sources are people who have never met Duesberg or read his work and are probably no guide to reality on any level.

Like the entire message, the last thought raises the question as to what sources Fumento uses in his odd hostility to Duesberg and his contradiction of HIV=AIDS ideology. Whoever they are, it seems clear that they have beguiled him into a view which only suggests he is motivated by political and emotional factors, some of which may be private, not his usual productive public skepticism.

This is a pity, since Fumento does quite well when he is critiquing alarms, as he did for example in downplaying the mega-scare over bird flu in this piece, Bird flu: Much ado about nothing. However, it is clear that like virtually every other pundit commenting on science from a media or think tank perch, he is generally incapable or unwilling to read the scientific literature, which gives the simple answer to bird flu that we have so often noted in previous posts (see Bird flu flap continues needlessly. The antidote is Vitamin A, it’s clear):

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Bird flu: Much ado about nothing

By MICHAEL FUMENTO

Jan 1, 2006, 00:59

Feathers are flying anew over so-called “bird flu.” Researchers have reported that four Vietnamese patients suffering from it and treated with an antiviral drug have died. Perhaps two received it too late, but the others had resistance to the medicine. The drug? Roche’s Tamiflu, which the media have anointed with almost mythical properties.

But if this has you running around like an infected chicken with its head cut off, stop it. You’re scaring the eggs.

The first reason not to panic over Tamiflu is that there’s no reason to panic over a pandemic.

It’s true that avian influenza type H5N1 is constantly mutating. But the best-kept secret of the flu fright-fest is that it’s been doing so since at least 1959 when it was identified in Scottish chickens. Despite unsupported claims from the World Health Organization that it will almost inevitably become transmissible from human-to-human, if it hasn’t yet it probably never will. If it did, it wouldn’t let media hysteria dictate its appearance and therefore be upon us before effective vaccines become widely available.

As to that resistance, this almost always means simply that more of the drug must be administered than was previously required. Health officials say that applies here. Granted, since there’s already a shortfall of Tamiflu, it’s bad if we’ll need even more. But that’s a lot better than finding that Tamiflu’s only purpose now would be as landfill to build New Orleans back up above sea level.

Further, so far at least, Tamiflu-resistant H5N1 appears to be limited to part of Vietnam. Tamiflu may be fully effective everywhere else, although this serves as a sharp warning of what’s possible.

Now smooth those feathers a bit more: Tamiflu isn’t the only antiviral game in town.

GlaxoSmithKline’s drug Relenza also appears effective in reducing avian flu symptoms and death after exposure to the virus. Its seeming weakness proves to be its strength here. While Tamiflu is easily taken either as a pill or an oral suspension, Relenza is inhaled. Because that’s bothersome a lot fewer people have been using Relenza, thereby giving H5N1 less chance to develop resistance to it.

Indeed, there are no identified cases of Relenza-resistant avian flu.

Yet another drug has, in some animal trials, proved equal to both Tamiflu and Relenza. Called peramivir, in pill form it proved safe in all phases of human clinical trials. But it wasn’t effective enough. Inventor BioCryst Pharmaceuticals wanted to test it as an injection, but its partner with the money bags pulled out.

Of course, that was before pandemic panic. Suddenly peramivir was back big time, and on Dec. 22 the FDA granted verbal approval to begin human injection tests. BioCryst claims peramivir would be far easier and cheaper to produce than Tamiflu and that, with an emergency FDA waiver, it could start producing 10 million treatments a month.

Like Relenza, injected peramivir would have the counter-intuitive advantage of being relatively difficult to administer.

Drug resistance such as we’re seeing here occurs when bacteria or viruses in the body are exposed to the drug in absence of disease. The Vietnamese who died were almost certainly taking Tamiflu as a preventative, rather than waiting for symptoms. Pill availability encouraged them; a needle probably would have stopped them.

As I warned in a recent article, “Prophylactic panic-popping of Tamiflu like Chiclets, as happened with the antibiotic Cipro during the U.S. anthrax scare, could encourage viral resistance to the drugs. By the time we would need them, they might not do any good. This is but one price tab for avian flu hysteria.”

Yet even as you read this, based on Roche’s sales reports, many Americans are doing just this. As such, they’re not only abandoning a defense against the very avian flu they fear so much, they would also be denying it to others by spreading a resistant strain.

They could also be making themselves and others Tamiflu-resistant to the seasonal flu, which kills an estimated 36,000 Americans annually.

So put the pills down on the ground and then slowly step back with your hands in the air. Or just put the pills down. Panic kills; don’t be a victim.

(Michael Fumento is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail fumento(at)pobox.com.)

© Copyright 2006 by Capitol Hill Blue

Perhaps it is just in the nature of things that those who make a living from criticism are often curmudgeonly in person, but Fumento does seem to be an extreme case. A blogger who clashed with him was served a put down recently which has boomeranged on Fumento rather quickly, to the great satisfaction of the blogger, Deltoid (Tim Lambert) on Scienceblogs:


When I criticised Michael Fumento’s innumerate writing about the Lancet study he responded with this:

You can blog all you want, but my next column is also on this. It goes out to over 350 newspapers

Not any more:

Scripps Howard News Service (SHNS) announced Friday that it severed its relationship with Michael Fumento — a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute — for not disclosing he had taken payments in 1999 from agribusiness giant Monsanto. The payments were revealed by BusinessWeek Online.

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January 14, 2006 09:26 PM Sat eve !

DELTOID Tim Lamberts blog

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Tim Lambert Tim Lambert (deltoidblog AT gmail.com) is a computer scientist at the University of New South Wales.

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* January 2006

When I criticised Michael Fumento’s innumerate writing about the Lancet study he responded with this:

You can blog all you want, but my next column is also on this. It goes out to over 350 newspapers

Not any more:

Scripps Howard News Service (SHNS) announced Friday that it severed its relationship with Michael Fumento — a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute — for not disclosing he had taken payments in 1999 from agribusiness giant Monsanto. The payments were revealed by BusinessWeek Online, which also broke a similar story revealing columnist Doug Bandow receiving payments. Copley News Service subsequently dropped Bandow.

In a statement released Friday, SHNS Editor and General Manager Peter Copeland said Fumento “did not tell SHNS editors, and therefore we did not tell our readers, that in 1999 Hudson received a $60,000 grant from Monsanto.” Copeland added: “Our policy is that he should have disclosed that information. We apologize to our readers.”

SHNS sent out an advisory to subscribers last night that read: “The Jan. 5 column by Michael Fumento about new biotechnology products from Monsanto should have included more information. We believe the column should have disclosed a $60,000 grant from Monsanto that Fumento received in 1999 for a book about biotechnology. Fumento’s column will no longer be distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, but is available from Michael Fumento at fumento(at)pobox.com or www.fumento.com.”

In his Jan. 5 column, Fumento wrote that the St. Louis-based Monsanto has about 30 products in the pipeline that will aid farmers “but also help us all by keeping prices down and allowing more crops to be grown on less land.” He said he was only writing about Monsanto “because their annual report was plopped onto my lap while I was hunting for a column idea.”

Maybe Tracy Spenser could sign up with SHNS instead?

Posted on January 14, 2006 09:26 PM

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Comments

So if you’re a completely science ignoramus, you can make 60 grand just by saying DDT is wonderful? Bloody hell, does it never depress you to see idiots like this get so much money?

Posted by: Martin Wisse | January 14, 2006 08:17 PM

Nice company you keep, Tim.

Marty Wisse, the first poster to this thread thinks the US is a terrorist nation while proudly showing off this link to his visitors.

http://web.archive.org/web/20030525223748/goatse.cx/

In a couple of weeks you’ll be turning this into a porn site.

I guess it’s the quality of the reporting that gets the quality readers.

Posted by: JC | January 14, 2006 09:28 PM

Nice of Fumento to provide an endcap to National Unethical Writers Week.

Read the Editor & Publisher article, which includes his cheerleading for Monsanto as well as remarks about Cindy Sheehan:

“Arrest her? Goodness, no!” Fumento declared. “That’s her exit plan from the fence. Leave her there [chained to the fence] and maybe the crows will do the world a favor and eat her tongue out.”

Charming fellow.

Posted by: Robert S. | January 15, 2006 02:33 AM

Do we know whether Monsanto was paying him to be innumerate?

Posted by: Dr. Free-Ride | January 15, 2006 03:29 AM

Fractal-like, we see the nutbar right is similar at all scales of study.

Posted by: z | January 15, 2006 08:07 AM

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As one of the blog comments notes, Fumento is given to expressing himself rather savagely.

“Arrest her? Goodness, no!” Fumento declared. “That’s her exit plan from the fence. Leave her there [chained to the fence] and maybe the crows will do the world a favor and eat her tongue out.”

Wait a minute, though, is it that simple?

On the other hand, to give the man his due, we believe there are two sides to this issue. In the first place we retain a certain skepticism about the inevitability of compromise when critical thinkers are handed money from patrons with an agenda. It may induce a certain tactful politesse when there is something to criticize, but we doubt if it turns a fierce, even rather nasty temperament a la Fuming Fumento into a public relations flack.

For however unvarnished his style we believe that Fumento believes what he writes, and we are pretty sure that whatever he wrote, he meant it. And we are sorry to see any science skeptic shot down, since there are all too few out there. And we appreciate that given the economics of opinion these days, it is generally a hard thing for any writer to work independently as a science anti-alarmist unless they are entertainers of the calibre of Michael Crichton or John Stossel. If they are not, the only patrons they are likely to find are those who directly (like Monsanto) or indirectly (like the Hudson Institute) are attached to a politico-economic agenda. Fumento took money to promulgate views he already believed in.

Certainly to demonstrate our thesis and in support of Fumento’s right to take money from industry without being necessarily compromised we are willing to offer ourselves as a willing subject for a test study. Since Monsanto makes DDT, and that substance as we have said seems to be unjustly blocked from saving millions of children’s lives from malaria, we encourage whoever it is at that company who is writing the checks to send $60,000 our way immediately, in return for our willingness to repeat this opinion if it seems relevant to a topic we are writing about. In other words, exactly what we would do anyway.

What we don’t guarantee to do is to keep it secret, however. Nor do we contract to keep the same opinion if we find out differently. We may even bite the hand that has fed us. Sorry about that, since we came up with the suggestion in the first place. But we aren’t offering to sell our souls, only asking for support because we just happen to want to write in line with their agenda, and we need to feed our family too. And who else is going to pay for what a writer writes, unless he is a crowd pleasing entertainer? Bosses are no different from patrons in demanding work in line with their views, for the most part.

We can imagine that Michael Fumento said something like that to his conscience as he worked for Monsanto. But then, he found he had overlooked one thing. It’s not so much whether you can trust yourself, it’s whether other people who don’t know you can trust you to remain independent of your enabling patron. You can’t trust others to believe you are not influenced, that’s the rub. So you keep it secret, and perhaps soon curse your predicament as you realize you have made yourself a hostage to your friendly corporate sponsor. Then people find out, as they inevitably do, and you are scuttled.

So we sympathize, Michael. A good advisor would have ensured one thing. That you made it very clear that you were being sponsored by Monsanto, and you took the consequences up front. They would never be as bad as the consequences of a cover up. This is a general principle of national politics, Michael, after all. As a resident of Washington we are surprised you haven’t cottoned on.

But, you naively say, everyone does it, everyone finds sponsors in this way for op-ed pieces. Well, if some do it is not accepted in journalism, not directly, not yet. Journalists sell out a little to editors and publishers, cutting their cloth to suit those bosses, perforce. But as yet they don’t sell out to other corporations, unless they go public with it and call themselves pr.

As is perhaps natural for someone who works in a think tank and is also an author and syndicated columnist, you may be confusing the academic/think tank world and the press. The way it works in the press as we understand it is that if you want people to trust that you are reaching your conclusions without fear or favor, ahead of and regardless of the payment, then you have to trust them with the information that you have taken money from Monsanto. You don’t let Monsanto off the hook with the phrase “others who wish to remain anonymous.” Why would they want to conceal it? That in itself is a recognition of underhand influence, or will be viewed as such.

In fact, of course, it might simply be that they also know very well you cannot trust people to accept that you are not influenced. But that’s a fact of life. That’s politics. That’s the abysmal lack of faith of other people in our integrity. Everything is seen as self-interest. No one realizes that for men and women of character, you can pay us as much as you like and we won’t bend in your direction one degree. The only reason we accept money is that we already agree with the patron or boss who gives it to us. To those who distrust us, we say the heck with you, stop judging others by yourselves!

So we say right on, Michael, stick it to the witch hunting mob that uses spurious accusation to defeat your intellectual points and your reasoned point of view, and sail on proudly as a man who sets your own course, regardless of payoffs of any kind, from money to something sexier, like invitations to the inner circle, or even the approval of the mob. Just try not to be so nasty to people you don’t agree with.

And Mr. Monsanto, please send along that check, we already agree with you, by lucky coincidence, so we can accept it without qualms. Unlike the weaseling hypocrites of Scripps Howard, we stand up for our principles, Michael and I, our character and our integrity. Scripps Howard weasels may fly their flag in the wind of public opinion, in their desperate and rather pathetic attempt to keep their market and ensure their own salaries, but we stand upright in the hurricane, unbending.

Test us! $60,000 will not alter our opinion one iota. We stand as firm as a mountain in support of the health of the public as regards DDT. In fact, we are even going to change our name to the Monte Sanito Review, regardless of whether you send any money or not, (Monte… Sanito .. Get it? Mont for mountain, Sanito for…)

No wait, we don’t have any money at all right now, so we can’t afford to do that – until the check arrives. Then we will. But we can assure the mob, and our enemies, and the enemies of your distinguished corporation, that there will of course be no connection whatsoever, political speaking, between the two.

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