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Industry Friendly

The term "industry friendly," or "pro-industry," is often used as an insult, a term of derision, it is commonly heard these days in response to appeals to authority, and sometimes it's justified. It is reasonable to consider that those with a financial interest, or some other personal interest may be biased, and because of that bias, dishonest.

T Edward Damer author of Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments adds a caveat:

In determining whether an authority is biased, you should be careful not to disqualify a source too quickly by claiming that he or she is prejudiced. Unfortunately, it is all too common a practice to find or fabricate some reason why the judgment of almost any authority might be biased. Such a charge should be registered against an authority who is otherwise qualified only when the possibility of bias is clear and might impede the discovery of the truth. If you suspect that an authority may have a conflict of interest, you might point out the presence of that possible conflict, without in any way accusing the authority of either bias or dishonesty. That will at least get the issue out on the table so that it can be directly addressed. p. 104 Attacking Faulty Reasoning- Damer

Merrilee Salmon in the book Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking says:

It is reasonable to take the word of an authority if

(i) the authority is an expert on the matter under consideration, and

(ii) there is agreement among experts in the area of knowledge under consideration.

It is also worth remembering that even though an argument is made by an authority, an expert in a field, the argument may very well stand entirely on its own. If the form is correct and the evidence provided is verifiable and supports the conclusion, then it's not an appeal to authority. The fact that the argument is made by an authority is irrelevant, and so to is any possible bias.

There are entire PR organizations with their troop of advisors who contribute daily to the flood of misinformation, distortion, and half-truths. It happens on both sides of almost any question, but simply making the charge "industry friendly," or "tree-hugger," is not enough, one still needs to consider the argument.

There are some who think that any connection, however remote, however insignificant, and with no evidence that the claimed bias results in any dishonesty, is grounds for leveling the "industry friendly" charge as if that should be the end of the conversation. I'm not sure they'd even be satisfied with six degrees of separation.

I recently received an email from a reader charging Pam Ronald, with being "industry friendly," as a term of derision, he wrote:

Pam Ronald, who, according to the about-the-author blurb on the back of Tomorrow's Table, works for something called the Joint Bioenergy Institute, which is a research division of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which, in turn, receives research grants from the DOE, which, in turn, has a history of carrying water for big oil, nuclear and coal companies.

The implication seems clear, she too carries water for big oil, nuclear and coal companies. He provides no evidence of such complicity, he doesn't demonstrate her bias by citing anything she's written, nor does he provide evidence that anything she'd said demonstrated the bias, for him it was enough that she had any connection to industry however remote. Contrast that with Orac who accused the ACSH of having a distinct pro-industry bias. He spelled it out and he gave examples of the bias in action.

I asked Pam Ronald for a response to my readers charge, she wrote:

Well, if we exclude non-profit government agencies (NSF, NIH, USDA and DOE) from funding scientific research in non-profit institutions then who will fund basic research in the US?

If we exclude these agencies (that have made US science the best and most envied in the world) then the only groups left to fund scientific research are for-profit corporations (eg big Oil and monsanto) and non-profits like Bill Gates.

Here is a recent piece that appeared in the New York Times by Pam Ronald and James E. McWilliams, does it sound like they're carrying water for industry? It doesn't to me, It sounds like a well-balanced article on an important topic.

Remember all arguments need to be evaluated independently of their source, since even a biased source may be correct.


 

Comments

I would agree that an implication that Dr. Ronald carries water for big oil just because she got funding from Lawrence Labs is clearly a 'guilt by association' argument - a tactic made infamous by old Sen. McCarthy, and more recently by Ms Palin.

It is also clear from reading Dr. Ronald's views, that she is a passionate advocate for Genetic Engineering, that she has devoted many years to work on developing rice strains she hopes might help 3rd world farmers faced with flash flooding. She considers her work to be a good thing considers herself to be a good person. Does the humanitarian intention behind her work make it necessary for us to agree? Well no. Does it make her a GE Marketer's dream of an advocate? Well yes. Is this a conspiracy? No. Is it very good marketing? You bet.

Objectivity is a tricky critter. You can say, well, if one presents both sides of an argument (like Evolution and Intelligent Design?)then that counts as objectivity. But no matter how hard you try, if you think one side is correct and the other actually silly, then it will show. It's hard to be informed on a subject and still be some tabla rasa. Fair discourse reasonable includes an understanding of who has which dog in the fight.

signed: Organic Farmer.

My contention isn't that Pam Ronald is guilty by association, but that she might be myopic by association.

Years ago, there was a bit of a dust-up among paleontologists regarding the Tyronasourous Rex. Early T. Rex models had the dinosaur standing upright like Godzilla, and T. Rex was portrayed as a fearsome hunter. Then a young paleontologist whose name escapes me now did some research and arrived at the conclusion that T. Rex probably ran with its body parallel to the ground and not upright, and that T. Rex was probably a scavenger and not a fearsome hunter. It took years for this to become the accepted view. The original paleontologists were offended by these revelations -- not because they were bad people or liars or whatever, but because they had invested so much time and effort into their conclusions (widely accepted conclusions, mind you) that it was excruciating for them to accept the new findings.

Could it be that Pam Ronald and other researchers are so enamored of the field of genetic engineering, which is undeniably neat-o, that they find it difficult to accept the fact that many of their objectives can be met without using GMOs?

I didn't use "industry friendly" as a "term of derision;" I used it as an adjective.

Comparing "industry friendly" and "treehugger" is false equivalency since "treehugger" is an epithet and "industry friendly" is demonstrable.

Pam Ronald's response dodges the issue. My suggestion wasn't that we should exclude government agencies from funding research, my contention was that government agencies are beholden to the taxpayers and not to industry, and that the research they fund should have the taxpayers' and not corporations' best interests in mind, and that they (especially the ones she mentioned) have a history of advancing narrow corporate and/or political interests rather than those of the public they supposedly serve.

Here is a good example of the NIH serving narrow political interest.

Here is a good example of the FDA serving narrow corporate interest.

Allow me to employ yet another analogy to illustrate what I think is going on: Let's say your 16-year-old wants to borrow the car. He tells you he will pick up some bread while he's out. He doesn't want to borrow the car so he can pick up bread; he wants to borrow the car so he can cruise around with his friends and pick up chicks or whatever. You might actually get the bread if he doesn't forget or crash the car or something, but that isn't the reason he wants to borrow the car. If, in your judgment, getting bread is worth the risks of letting him cruise around with his friends, that's fine. In this analogy, GMO advocates are the 16-year-old and the general population is the parent. We might actually get increased yield or drought resistant crops or whatever, but that isn't what GMO advocates are after. They are simply using those possibilities to sweeten the deal. Just as you can get bread without letting your 16-year-old borrow the car, we can address issues of yield, drought and malnutriton without using GMOs.

Givin Monsanto's poor driving record, good judgment suggests it might not be a good idea to let them borrow the car.

Comparing "industry friendly" and "treehugger" is false equivalency since "treehugger" is an epithet and "industry friendly" is demonstrable.

Bullshit, "industry friendly" may have at one time been merely an adjective. That time is long past, it is often used as a term of derision, and yes qualifies as an epithet, to claim otherwise is imply disingenuous.

Well Treehuggers don't actually hug trees, but industry friendly scientists and regulators are actually friendly with industry.

I am sure we could come up with some examples of offshore oil drilling regulations, and inspections written by the "industry friendly".

I'm sure you can, but you don't attack individuals with the charge of "industry friendly" without providing evidence that their claimed bias compromises in some way what they have to say on a topic. That they distort or lie about something or intentionally leave out negative results in their research. The term "industry friendly" is used as a pejorative these days. Do a little google search on the term if you doubt it. I don't know about you but my mother taught me not to make unsubstantiated charges. The reader who wrote those words about Pam Ronald did exactly that. He painted her with the pejorative "industry friendly," without providing a shred of evidence.

If you don't think the term tree-hugger was a good one how about activist, that certainly gets used as a pejorative these days.

There are certainly times when the pejorative "industry friendly" is justified I don't think this was one of them, do you?

Yeah, I get you. My point is that they are different kinds of accusations and there are degrees to which one can be industry friendly, while the term "tree hugger" is simply meant to imply the target is a nut that loves nature more than people.

Reading Ronald's bio it does seem she isn't a neutral 3rd party in regards to this topic. I don't mean that to say she has done dishonest research, simply that if I was putting together a panel to regulate or judge the safety of GMO's she wouldn't be someone I would choose. She seems to have made a significant amount of her income developing GMO's and belongs to an org that looks like pro-gmo advocacy group.

Seeds of Doubt by The Sacramento Bee A special report Published Sunday, June 6, 2004

In licensing their discoveries to industry, universities have turned over the fruits of taxpayer-funded research to private biotechnology companies, where earning a profit can eclipse the public good.

“There is enormous pressure for fast results, for blockbusters,” said Pamela Ronald, the UC Davis scientist who cloned the gene from Mali and encouraged the university to create the benefit-sharing fund. "If something doesn't yield in six months, it's out."

...

Like most UC Davis professors, Ronald is a public employee, paid by the state. Her research was partly funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, which has a mission to help feed poor nations.

But as word of her success spread, the private sector rushed in.

Monsanto and Pioneer negotiated options to license the gene, hoping to turn it into a blockbuster. Monsanto would pursue work on barley and rice, Pioneer on corn.

To the University of California, it was a natural fit. “We are good at basic discovery. We are not good at commercial development,” said Bennett, the technology transfer director.

“It seemed like a good situation,” Ronald agreed. “I was thrilled.”

...

Ensuring that developing countries are rewarded for genetic resources was a key provision of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity - a global treaty signed by more than 160 nations.

It was Ronald's mission, too: “It just seemed such common sense.”

But she wasn't sure how to proceed. Using a biotechnology patent to help an impoverished African nation was unprecedented. Ultimately, in a plan approved by UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef, the university decided it would award scholarships funded by the gene's expected future corporate profits.

“Education - in all its forms - is the thing we do,” Vanderhoef said. “We felt this was something that certainly couldn't hurt.”

Then something unanticipated happened: Monsanto and Pioneer didn't commercialize the gene.

“They never started any research at all - zero - as far as I can tell,” Ronald said. “One day, businesspeople are in the mood to do one thing. And the next day - something else.”

Monsanto said its priorities did, in fact, change. “It was an interesting technology at the time,” Monsanto spokesman Bryan Hurley said of Xa21 in an e-mail. “Disease resistance isn't something we're focusing on within our pipeline today.”

So, to summarize, Ronald's department at UC Davis licensed their discoveries -- discoveries paid for by charitable foundations and tax dollars, mind you -- to multinational corporations that then decided to sit on the patents because the weren't instantly profitable. Again, I'm not "attacking" Pam Ronald; maybe she was just naive about the way business works. But I think if I were in her shoes, a significang portion of my books and blog posts would be spent excoriating Monsanto and Pioneer for delaying aid to Mali's poor. Moreover, I think this episode amply demonstrates that genetic engineering's promise to feed the poor is only so much PR bullshit.

Some might say it's reasonable to characterize licensing charity- and taxpayer-funded research to multinational corporations as "industry friendly." Do you?

I think you may have attacked Pam Ronald.

It also seems pretty likely that you are right.

Equivocation

Definition: Directing another person toward an unwarranted conclusion by making a word or phrase employed in two different senses in an argument appear to have the same meaning throughout. Attacking Faulty Reasoning p.121 Damer

There are two meanings of the term industry friendly, one pejorative the other not. One can be said to be industry friendly if industry profits from their work in any way. The other meaning is to not only does industry benefit, but the person is an apologist for industry, they dishonestly defend industry, to benefit themselves

You claim to be using it in the first sense (I'm not attacking Pam Ronald) and then shift to the other sense in your conclusion. You even try to avoid responsibility for the shift by prefacing the charge with (Some might say) a thinly disguised effort to have it both ways. It's not me, wink wink nudge nudge. You still refuse to admit that your statement was pejorative. I think it's clear to most that you intended it that way in spite of your attempts to have it both ways.

Do I think that the pejorative "industry friendly" was justified in the case of Pam Ronald. No I don't. Could licensing, not giving, the technology to a corporation ever be a case of being "industry friendly" in a pejorative sense, certainly. It would depend on the details.

You're right about one thing genetic engineering doesn't feed the poor, but then genetic engineering is a method not a product. It is a method that can create plants with higher yields, if those plants reach those who need them then yes indeed they can help feed the poor, but you don't want them even to get that chance if a corporation might make money on it, and you extend it to even if the corporation doesn't earn royalties on the the technology. Let me repeat, the technology, genetic engineering is a method not a product.

And there's more:

The whole point of this was to NOT exclusively license Xa21 to for profit companies who might just sit on the patents. instead we made sure XA21 was freely accessible to less developed countries. Xa21 has always been widely available. —Pam Ronald

If BigDaddy had read Pam's book he would know that, wait a second, what's that he has read the book. I suppose he just forgot that part, and as the church lady would say how convenient .

I think there is some gray area between the two definitions of "industry friendly" that you are offering.

For example, I don't think Pam Ronald is going, "Bwahahaha...I'll take public money and use it to enrich evil corporations." That would be "industry friendly" in the pejorative sense. I do, however, think she knowingly rationalized a process of putting profit above principle. Someone as smart as Pam Ronald and her colleagues at UC Davis would not have been so easily gamed by Monsanto and Pioneer if their motives were completely pure.

Sorry, I don't have the book at hand to quote from, and I don't have a photographic memory with which to pull exact quotes whenever it's...how would the Church Lady put it? Convenient?

A careful reading of the article you cited makes it clear that the licensing wasn't exclusive.

Also, unlike partisan Norm, I've been trying to give Pam Ronald the benefit of the doubt. But to take Norm's partisan approach, if anyone is trying to have it both ways, it is Pam Ronald and her colleagues at UC Davis, who are trying to profit from publicly funded research while still appearing to be concerned for Mali's indigent population.

One institution remained keenly interested in Xa21 - IRRI, the nonprofit Philippine research center, wanted the cloned gene for its own biotechnology program. The center has a humanitarian goal: "to improve the well-being of present and future generations of rice farmers ... particularly those with low incomes."

And Ronald's work, too, had a charitable theme. As a Rockefeller Foundation memo put it: "Rice biotechnology grantees will share materials and technology at zero royalty for use in developing countries. Grantees should not enter into agreements that conflict with this obligation."

Yet when the Philippine center - which had given the rice to Ronald in the first place - asked for a clone of Xa21 back, UC wanted to negotiate.

Although it agreed to provide the gene, UC wanted to make sure IRRI's research did not conflict with the U.S. commercial licenses. "We had legal obligations," said Bennett. "It was a challenging thing - a situation the office had never faced before."

As the haggling dragged on, something else drew Ronald's attention. In year three of the negotiation, she said, the university "put a $10,000 fee in there, after everybody had agreed there would be no charges at all."

Bennett, who had just become director, does not remember a fee. But Rockefeller's Toenniessen does. He called Bennett's office after hearing about it from IRRI. "I talked to a lady who said: 'Our job is to process the agreement and get as much money for the university as we can.' "

As the Xa21 fund foundered, it caught the attention of Gupta - the Indian agricultural specialist - who in 1999 traveled to UC Davis, later visited Mali and wrote his report for the U.N. Environment Program and the World Intellectual Property Organization.

"Pamela deserves credit for what she did," Gupta said. "I greatly admire it. But the community that is conserving the gene - the Bela - does not have children who will ever qualify for scholarships. Scholarships will only help the children of the bureaucrats."

Gupta maintains UC should make contributions mandatory for all scientists working with genetic material from Third World countries and put the money to work on the ground protecting biological diversity. He also said UC Davis administrators should have consulted with officials in Mali.

Chancellor Vanderhoef said UC Davis was "quite dependent on somebody who understood - or felt they understood - that circumstance," referring to Ronald.

Ronald, though, figures doing something was better than doing nothing. "I am not the kind of person where everything has to be perfect before you go forward," she said. "As soon as you go forward, you are going to get criticism."

I've been trying to give Pam Ronald the benefit of the doubt. But to take Norm's partisan approach, if anyone is trying to have it both ways, it is Pam Ronald and her colleagues at UC Davis, who are trying to profit from publicly funded research while still appearing to be concerned for Mali's indigent population.

And in fact you're still trying to have it both ways. You use the same tactic you used before you make the attack but pretend you're just demonstrating what I'm doing. It's transparent and it's disingenuous.

As the haggling dragged on, something else drew Ronald's attention. In year three of the negotiation, she said, the university "put a $10,000 fee in there, after everybody had agreed there would be no charges at all."

Isn't it obvious that she was opposed to the fee.

Fallacy of Division:

Definition: Assuming that what is true of the whole is therefore true of each of the parts of that whole.

The University of UC Davis, Pam Ronald, her colleagues.

A "partisan" like Norm would never make an argument like that because he would recognize it as being fallacious. He's not perfect and I'm sure he's committed some of the common fallacies at one time or another, but he would never do it intentionally and if someone pointed out that he had. He would apologize and correct the record.

I love the out-of-context cherry-picking you're doing.

My suggestion wasn't that we should exclude government agencies from funding research, my contention was that government agencies are beholden to the taxpayers and not to industry, and that the research they fund should have the taxpayers' and not corporations' best interests in mind, and that they (especially the ones she mentioned) have a history of advancing narrow corporate and/or political interests rather than those of the public they supposedly serve.

So why attack Dr. Ronald at all, since you failed to show any actions on her part to demonstrate any bias. You have a habit of labeling those with views you disagree with as industry friendly, when you fail to provide evidence along with your charge you're using the term as a term of derision. it doesn't make sense in any other way. In the other examples you provided evidence that the connections resulted in actions that were favorable to specific industries in the same way Orac did in his attacks on industry friendly, the fact you included Dr. Ronald in the group without evidence makes it clear what your motive was.

I never "attacked" Pam Ronald. You're becoming hysterical, Norm.

I see it as an attack. You claim you don't use the term industry friendly in a derisive way, though the context in this case and your penchant to make such attacks in the past belies your claim of using an innocent adjective. Others will undoubtedly come to their own conclusions as to whether my use of attack is justified or not.

Wait wait! When did tree-hugger become an epithet?

signed: tree-hugger and proud of it.

:) What you've never seen the sneer on their faces when they call someone a tree-hugger. I usually use it as a term of endearment.

Re: "while the term "tree hugger" is simply meant to imply the target is a nut that loves nature more than people."

Well see, that's a big part of why sides get so far apart on GMO.

There is a mindset/worldview that separates "humans" from "nature". Maybe it originates in the "WE'RE born in GOD'S image, everything else here on earth is for us. There's another mindset that says we cannot separate ourselves from nature. What we do affects the other life forms on the planet (whether they be plant, insect, or protozoa). And, though we like to think we're bigger and stronger and smarter, it actually has to matter to us that when we poison the earth and spew oil in the gulf, we're the ones gonna be so sorry too.

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