BROOKE GLADSTONE: Public relations people know the best way to get you to buy is to put the pitch in the mouth of someone you trust -- a neutral party -- better yet an expert. In the new book called Trust Us, We're Experts, Sheldon Ramden [sp?] and John Starbor [sp?] examine how supposed bona fide experts are bankrolled and found that frequently they are anything but neutral. John Starbor joins us now. John, the use of the so-called third party ploy seems to have sky-rocketed lately. I assume that's because so much commerce is based on the idea of better living through chemistry?
JOHN STARBOR: If a chemical company says a pesticide is safe, we tend not to trust them because what else are they going to say? It's - it's their product - they have a vested interest. So the public is naturally skeptical. But if a scientist who's with an apparent public interest organization like the American Council on Science and Health says the same thing and it's reported in the media, we tend to trust that third party expert because after all they've been vetted by journalists, they're with a non-profit organization, it has a noble-sounding name. However if we knew that the American Council of-- on Science and Health was heavily funded by industry, that the scientists had a pro-industry bias and that in fact the journalist who had written the story wasn't revealing this and had just simply taken the information and passed it on, that would certainly make us skeptical.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:One place where we see a lot of experts used -- I assume a lot of third party technique is being employed as well -- is in the area of health and food and drugs. Any campaigns from any of those areas that would illustrate this point?
JOHN STARBOR: Well these, these campaigns are, are very ongoing; these days Dennis Avery [sp?] who's with the Hudson Institute is promoting the idea that food grown without pesticides and fertilizers that's certified organic, we might think it's safer but actually it's more likely to kill us with the deadly e coli. What happened with this issue is that-- John Stossel of ABC's 20/20 featured Dennis Avery in a report that aired more than once-- and it just scared the bejeebers out of people who figured that John Stossel's a good investigative reporter and here's somebody presented as an independent expert who's telling us that organic food is going to kill us! Well what John Stossel didn't point out was that Dennis Avery is with this industry-funded think tank - that he's on a crusade to smear organic food and what was even more interesting - eventually the New York Times revealed this is that the information was completely concocted, and John Stossel was forced to issue a retraction.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Now you mentioned that there are several front groups that have authoritative-sounding names like the American Council on Science and Health for instance and the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, but there are groups that we know about that we have come to trust -- the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society -- when they give their seal of approval to something, can we believe it?
JOHN STARBOR: Well it's very possible that they're receiving hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in exchange. The American Cancer Society, for instance received a million dollars from SmithKline Beecham [sp?] for allowing SmithKline Beecham the right to use its logo, and Bristol-Myers Squibb paid 600 thousand dollars to the American Heart Association for the right to display their logo in ads for the drug Pravacol [sp?]. This I can assure is just the tip of the iceberg, and it's one reason why I think it would be very helpful for all of us --consumers, journalists, the public at large --if non-profit organizations that have tax-exempt status were required to reveal payments from industry.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So are there such things as truly independent experts?
JOHN STARBOR: [LAUGHS] These people if they do exist are, are very difficult to find.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thank you very much!
JOHN STARBOR: Thank you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:John Starbor with his colleague Sheldon Ramden wrote Trust Us, We're Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future.