Science

This Earth Day, Let's Scrape off the Greenwash

Today marks the 38th annual celebration of Earth Day, and once again the event comes with its fair share of PR hype and misleading marketing campaigns. In the spirit of dedicating ourselves to genuine concern for the planet, today is therefore a good time to look carefully at corporate environmental claims, some of which consist more of empty rhetoric than real substance. Companies like Wal-Mart are announcing environmental initiatives. General Electric has its "Ecomagnation" advertising campaign. In Singapore, a shopping center is advertising that customers can "shop to save planet earth" -- and if they buy enough, they might win a new car! The ritual of green hypocrisy frequently requires that companies and politicians redefine environmental progress in increasingly creative ways. Last week, for example, George W. Bush announced a plan to address the problem of global warming by "halting the growth" of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2025. Beyond the fact that this target date is 17 years in the future, what really means is that during those 17 years not only will greenhouse gas emissions continue, the amount of those emissions will continue to grow. As columnist Gail Collins observed in the New York Times, this would be akin to having an overweight person announce a plan to achieve "an 18 percent reduction in the rate at which he was gaining weight, to be reached within the next decade."

Audit Reveals the PR Machine Behind Canadian Global Warming Skeptics

An audit review (pdf) of over $507,000 (Canadian) contributed to two University of Calgary "research accounts" has revealed that C$123,427 was routed to Friends of Science (FoS) -- a group lobbying the Canadian government against taking action on global warming.

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Obama and Clinton Get Down & Dirty with "Clean" Coal

The Associated Press reports, "Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are walking a delicate line as they promise to aggressively tackle global warming while trying to assure voters that they continue to believe in the future of coal," the energy source responsible for "nearly 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, each

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More Heart Attacks for Merck

Prescription pillsTwo studies of internal Merck documents concluded that the pharmaceutical company had "violated scientific-publishing ethics by ghostwriting dozens of academic articles, and minimized the impact of patient deaths in its analyses of some human trials." The internal documents surfaced during l

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Lawsuits, Light Cigarettes and Fear-Based Marketing Strategies

Fear-driven marketing gets resultsThe Second Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals missed a great opportunity this week to hold the tobacco industry accountable for one of its worst marketing tactics -- positioning cigarette brands in response to smokers' medical concerns. The April 7, 2008, issue of the New York Times has an article about the dismissal of a huge, class-action lawsuit against the tobacco industry that was brought by smokers of "light" cigarettes who claimed they were misled about the relative safety of "light" cigarettes compared to regular, "full flavor" cigarettes. The suit, and its dismissal by the court, brought to mind a little-recognized tobacco industry marketing survival tactic that weighs heavily on the public's perception of exactly what "light" means.

The tobacco industry has long had a remarkable ability to rescue itself from damaging health claims by turning allegations against its products into marketing opportunities. Inside the industry, the fact that cigarettes cause widespread illness and death is referred to as the "smoking and health" issue, or "S&H issue" for short. Tobacco marketers consider "S&H issues" to be little more than "external marketing forces" that require re-positioning of products, through changes in advertising copy strategy, so that smokers will get an illusion of safety from the dangers they perceive.

New Participatory Project: Maximum Weirdness: Tobacco Industry Brainstorming Documents

brainstormA rock cocaine cigarette filter? A cigarette that delivers birth control and sexual stimulant drugs to the smoker at the same time? A geriatric brand? All of these are actual ideas for new products and promotions that were recorded at cigarette company "brainstorming" meetings.

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University Helps Censor "One-Sided" Science

Administrators of "Popline," the "world's largest scientific database on reproductive health," which is housed at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Public Health, "blocked the word 'abortion' as a search term after receiving a complaint from the Bush administration over two abortion-related articles listed in the database." The search block has since been

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Indian Point on the Potomac: Entergy's New Safety Panel and PR Firm

Entergy's Indian Point nuclear power plantThere's no question that New York's Indian Point nuclear power plant could use some public relations help. But Entergy, Indian Point's owner, might have chosen their new PR firm a little more carefully.

Last year, the state of New York asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to deny the plant's license extension application, citing "a long and troubling history of problems." It was "the first time that a state had stepped forward to flatly oppose license renewals," according to the New York Times.

Then, in January, the NRC proposed a $650,000 fine against Indian Point, for having repeatedly missed deadlines to install a new emergency siren system. The fine is "10 times the normal size" of such sanctions, reported the Times.

To address such criticisms, Entergy has retained the Burson-Marsteller firm, funded the pro-nuclear "New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance" and brought Greenpeace activist-turned-PR consultant Patrick Moore to New York. Last month, Entergy made another effort to, in their own words, "provide public assurances about the operation and protection of New York's largest nuclear power facility." They announced the formation of an "Independent Safety Evaluation" panel to investigate Indian Point.

Lavishing Doctors with Drug Money

Medicines Australia (MA), the peak drug industry lobby group, has unveiled details of how much its 42 member companies (and one non-member) spent in the last half of 2007 on each one of over 14,000 events that were designed to promote their drugs to doctors.

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