Predictable Outcomes: How To Skew Experiment Design To Produce Predictable Results

Second in a three-part series

Note: Eastman Chemical is also the manufacturer of MCHM, the chemical in the huge West Virginia river pollution incident. The company has been accused of inadequate testing of that chemical and deliberately downplaying its toxicity in official documents. For more, see: MCHM could be more toxic than reported, new study says.


By Lewis Perdue

The first installment of this article described how two small start-up companies — PlastiPure and CertiChem — had come out of nowhere as a marketplace threat to Eastman Chemical and as a whistleblower on the safety claims of its Tritan plastic.

In that article, we examined how Eastman panicked when asked by customers and potential customers to prove their advertising claims.

Unable to substantial their claims, Eastman turned away potential customers rather than offer straight answers.

Now, to part 2:

Eastman Chemical may have continued to tolerate PlastiPure/CertiChem as all bark and no bite until October 2010 when CertiChem attended a Las Vegas childrens’ products trade show — Kids Expo — and passed out a trade brochure  “EA-Free Plastics: Beyond BPA-Free.”

The CertiChem brochure drew an uncomplimentary contrast between Tritan’s Estrogenic Activity and a new plastic from Plasti-Pure: PlastiPure-Safe EA-Free.

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(Click here to view the rest of the CertiChem brochure.)

The brochure was completed after CertiChem had  finished the NIH-funded study of plastics, but five months before it was first published online in Environmental Health Perspectives (“Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals: A Potential Health Problem That Can Be Solved”).

What To Do About Tritan’s Vulnerability

The question of Tritan’s vulnerability to EA issues by PlastiPure/CertiChem  begun to make  inroads among Eastman’s sales leads.

The fact was, Eastman personnel had known since at least 2008 that the separate Tritan monomers (a subset of chemicals in finished plastics), when tested individually, would be EA-Free. But they also knew that finished Tritan plastics with all of the additional chemicals did exhibit Estrogenic Action. More explanation on this distinction, below.

“Do Everything Possible To Convince The Customer NOT To Do EA Testing”

Nothing illustrates the corporate anxiety level better than an email exchange on Jan. 28, 2010 when senior Eastman Executive Emmett O’Brien learned that the Dutch conglomerate Philips was a potential customer.

Of most concern was the fact that Philips wanted EA testing for its division that made food appliances and infant care products.

O’Brien’s email — which included Eastman’s senior toxicologist James Deyo — was a succinct warning:

“I’ll tell you right away, we need to do everything possible to convince the customer NOT to do EA testing.”

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Despite other language about the need to provide customers with “the most reliable of tests,” the company had already embarked on a campaign to nuance the EA-free characteristics of the monomers and make it seem like that purity applied to Tritan-based plastics as well.

Half-Science Is Better Than No Science At All

At that time, Eastman had no peer-reviewed science of their own that could be used to counter PlastiPure/CertiChem’s NIH-funded study. In fact, in 2010, the company had nothing regarding Tritan but confidential internal studies done by contract labs. They had no credible third-party, peer-reviewed science at all.

(For more on non-peer-reviewed corporate confidential studies used for regulatory approval, see: “Bad Science Thrives When Corporations & Government Regulators Deny Peer Review”).

Court testimony from Eastman executives indicted that the company had spent “millions” developing  Tritan and marketing it as a safer, “EA-free” alternative to polycarbonate plastics.

Something had to be done to protect those millions from the revelations of PlastiPure/CertiChem.

The record shows that the counterattack included a coordinated combination of scientific half-truths, obfuscation, misleading marketing, mercenary science and a lawsuit designed to kill PlastiPure/CertiChem once and for all. (Eastman Ekes Out Equivocal Lawsuit Win, Judge Says Verdict Not Necessarily Based On Trial Evidence)

Scientific Half-Truths The Foundation Of Counter-Attack

Court documents we have obtained are incomplete as to when the effort started. However, court testimony transcripts and emails we did obtain indicate that the first step in Eastman’s counter-offensive against PlastiPure/CertiChem was a “poster” — a non-peer-reviewed presentation similar to what undergraduate college science students use to display their personal research at seminars and conferences. Part 3 of this series discussed the questionable ways that corporations produce posters and used them at seminars, conferences and sales opportunities.

Test Only The Parts That Make You Look Good, Discard The Rest

The first rule in custom science designed to make your product look good is to test where the problems are not found using techniques that will not uncover unwanted data.

The poster was the first use of  the strategy that understood finished Tritan plastics did exhibit EA, while the underlying three monomer chemicals did not.

The testing of the monomers — not the finished plastic — dodges an important issue because plastics are a lot more than the sum of their basic monomers.

According to the American Chemistry Council (an industry trade group which helped pay for Eastman’s covert study), plastics contain a wide variety of additives. These additive chemicals are used “to alter and improve basic mechanical, physical or chemical properties. Additives are also used to protect the polymer from the degrading effects of light, heat, or bacteria; to change such polymer processing properties such as melt flow; to provide product color; and to provide special characteristics such as improved surface appearance, reduced friction, and flame retardancy.”

As Eastman’s “Oh shit” moment (described below) illustrates how the additives themselves can exhibit EA.

Because Eastman knew that finished Tritan plastics exhibited EA, their strategy, was to:

  • Test only the three monomers,
  • Design the testing procedures to make sure they did not produce signs of EA and,
  • Pay commercial labs and hired gun scientists who willingly test materials according to the directions required by their customers.

To give the poster’s conclusions the imprimeur of  broad support and the appearance that these opinions came from disinterested third parties  Eastman, in 2008,  hired a company called CeeTox, which, at the time, was a prominent science-for-hire consulting firm.

While often referred to as “independent” labs, firms like CeeTox are service providers who must meet the requirements  of their clients if they want return customers.

Court testimony and documents show that Eastman senior toxicologist James Deyo and other Eastman personnel worked with Colleen Toole at Ceetox to create the scientific conclusions needed for the poster.

Sciences International Study Finds Tritan EA Positive

While Ceetox was working on Eastman’s poster, a parallel effort was underway that would cause discomfort to the Eastman effort.

In 2008, the corporation hired another science-for hire firm, Sciences International (Part of TetraTech Since 2001) to conduct a computer-modeling study designed to predict EA based on the chemical structure of compounds.

That computer modeling study indicated that one monomer ingredient — TPP (triphenyl phosphate) — was highly estrogenic.

That study was buried. Such private studies, conducted under strict non-disclosure agreements, do not legally need to be disclosed. A subsequent private test on breast cancer cells also showed EA. But Eastman discarded the EA-positive data.

Significantly, in 2007 — the year before the Eastman Study — Sciences International had been fired by the National Institutes of Health for  conflicts of interest.

The “Oh Shit Moment”

In a Dec. 1, 2010 email to Eastman colleagues, Deyo mentioned his anxiety at what the Ceetox preliminary results might reveal and alluded to his “Oh shit” moment over the Sciences International results.

Deyo Court Exhibit #57. Click to enlarge.

Deyo Court Exhibit #57. Click to enlarge.

 Carefully Tweaked Tritan Poster Goes Live

The Ceetox poster was eventually finished and widely distributed. Its original format was once widely distributed and available on the web.

The Poster

The image, below, is the only image of the poster in question that could be found online or in court records. Click image to enlarge.

Eastman-CeeTox-Poster-Repurposed-For-Osimitz-Paper

The original poster seems to have been scrubbed from online searches about the time it was recycled as the core of a science-for-hire journal article. More on that, below.

A Peer-Reviewed View Of Non-Peer-Reviewed Marketing Science

Eastman and other chemical companies have proved that they can excel at the art of selective presentations along with stretching and bending science to their marketing and legal goals.

The following article from the peer-reviewed journal, PLoS Biology explains, the pharmaceutical industry is also a top-seeded player in this ethically questionable practice: “How Basic Scientists Help the Pharmaceutical Industry Market Drugs

“Selective presentations and publications are important tactics for industry.

“Industry relies on abstracts and posters to convey marketing messages at scientific meetings, because abstracts and posters are usually not peer-reviewed and can be easily altered up to the time of presentation.

“Posters and abstracts are often used for preclinical studies, case reports, or preliminary results of clinical trials.

“Promising preliminary results might be presented as a poster, and the results may be publicized, but if the final results of the study do not support commercial goals, the full study may never be published – or may be buried in an obscure, low-impact journal.

In either case, scientists may have a positive impression of a therapy from a poster, and never learn that the therapy failed to show efficacy in the final study.”

In the next installment, we will visit another unethical practice that some in the scientific community feel constitutes fraud.

Part 3: Covertly Stretching “Peer Review” Until It Breaks

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