Editor’s Desk: Shining A Light On Hidden Influence

President-elect Donald Trump has stayed true to his word and appointed a prominent climate-change denier to head the transition at the EPA. This is simply the latest move in a long, institutionalized effort to spin science to favor industry, whether oil and gas, sugar, tobacco, or even asbestos. This influence has often been so subtle it isn’t even noticed, as Liza Gross makes clear in FERN’s latest investigation, “Seeding Doubt: How self-appointed guardians of ‘sound science’ tip the scales toward industry.”

In this remarkable story, published with The Intercept, Gross uncovers the links between the defense of the tobacco industry and similar efforts, such as defending BPA, a key ingredient in plastic food packaging that many scientists deem toxic. She draws the connections between the people and organizations involved in these efforts over decades.

One of the key protagonists is a group known as Sense About Science, which “does not always disclose when its sources on controversial matters are scientists with ties to the industries under examination,” Gross writes. As she points out, in several examples, “the group is known to take positions that buck scientific consensus or dismiss emerging evidence of harm.”

Although you’ve probably never heard of this group, or others in its network, it has forged numerous partnerships and has been cited by media outlets time and again – and in this way, it has attempted to undermine conclusions even on issues that scientists thought were long ago settled. Those organizations in its orbit also have a history of receiving funding from foundations backed by right-wing billionaires and their libertarian interests.

Although such groups work assiduously in the background, their messages will likely come to the fore in the months ahead, if only because the incoming Trump administration has been clear about its anti-regulatory stance. Science will face continued attack and the type of investigative and explanatory journalism at the heart of FERN will become an even more vital counterweight.

Deeply reported stories such as “Seeding Doubt” take time and money. In this moment, we hope you see its value. And if you do, please consider a donation so we can continue the important work of questioning institutional motives, revealing influence and defending against special interests.