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Manufacturing Doubt on Toyota Unintended Acceleration

I’ve been reading an interesting book, Doubt is Their Product – How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health (Oxford University Press 2008). It is about the for-profit science companies that develop the “science” to defend their clients against claims that their products are unsafe, such as cigarettes and medicines that increase the incidence of heart attacks. One of the stars of the book is Exponent, the company Toyota has turned to for an “independent” analysis of its unintended acceleration problem. The book is by epidemiologist David Michaels who directs the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. Dr. Michaels knows what he is talking about. He served as Assistant Secretary at the Department of Energy, with responsibility for the safety of workers and residents near nuclear weapons plants. He has seen first-hand industry trying to buffalo underfunded and beleaguered bureaucrats with baloney masquerading as science.
About Toyota’s choice of consultants for its “independent” analysis, Dr. Michaels writes: “Exponent’s scientists are prolific writers of scientific reports and papers. While some may exist, I have yet to see an Exponent study that does not support the conclusion needed by the corporation or trade association that is paying the bill.”
For example, he describes how Exponent was hired by the chrome industry to counter a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University researchers for the EPA regarding risks to workers at currently allowed exposure levels. In 2002, Exponent’s “re-analysis” of the EPA-Hopkins data minimized the risk to all but the most heavily exposed workers, disagreeing with the Hopkins scientists’ findings supporting stronger worker protections. And yet in 2004, working for a different trade association, “Exponent praised the same EPA-Hopkins study. Whatever serves the interests of a given client – that’s the rule for the product defense firms.” Id. at pp. 97-104.
There is nothing independent about Exponent, and nobody who has seen them in action over the years will be at all surprised when they conclude that there is no problem with Toyota’s cars, and when they criticize the work of the good, objective scientists who show the opposite.
- Stuart Ollanik
Related posts:
“Independent” Outside Consultant?, Product Liability Law Blog, April 6, 2010
Toyota’s “Independent” Investigation Not So Independent, Product Liability Law Blog, April 2, 2010

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