Trust Us We're Experts

APRIL 25, 2007

Trust Us We’re Experts (subtitled: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future), by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber.

I haven’t yet read all of this but a couple of interesting items that caught my eye.

The Independence Institute

Many years ago when I first got interested in the Microsoft Antitrust case I remember running across a book entitled Winners, Losers and Microsoft authored by Liebowitz and Margolis and published by the Independence Institute. The book too a very pro-Microsoft line and I wasn’t very convinced by its arguments and I remember wondering who this Independence Institute was and if they had any relation to Microsoft (with a name like that one really had to wonder). And then right on pp. 9-10 I find the answer:

  • In 1999 the Independent Institute (of which Microsoft was a member) paid for the publication of an ‘Open Letter to President Clinton from 240 Economists’ as full-page advertisements in the Washington Post and New York Times. At the bottom of the Ad readers were advised to see Winners, Losers and Microsoft for more information.
  • “Newsbytes magazine, a computer industry news service, noted that the Independent Institute’s position ‘sounds like a brazenly partisan argument for Microsoft’, but checked with a spokesman for the Independent Institute who said that Microsoft did not pay for either the Open Letter advertisements or the publication of Winners, Losers and Microsoft. The spokesman acknowledged that Microsoft was a member of the Institute and ‘said membership dues for corporations start at approximately $1000, but he would not comment on how much Microsoft has contributed to the institute over time’, Newsbytes reported.” p. 9
  • However in September 1999 a new of documents were leaked and were picked up by Joel Brinkley of the NY Times. These demonstrated that:
    1. During 1999 fiscal year Microsoft had provided 20% of the Independent Institute’s budget
    2. Microsoft had helped pay for the publication of Winners, Losers and Microsoft.
    3. Microsoft had fully funded the advertisements (the President of the II, Paul Theroux had billed Microsoft Attorney John Kelley, $153,868.67 for running the ads and associated expenses).

Of course this does not create a direct line of causation as the authors write:

It would be a little too facile to portray the Independent Institute as a mere mouthpiece for the company [Microsoft]. As Theroux pointed out when its funding sources were uncovered, the institute was on record opposing antitrust laws since 1990, long before Microsoft came under federal scrutiny. And while professors Liebowitz and Margolis have worked on occasion as paid consultants to Microsoft, the positions they espouse in Winners, Losers and Microsoft were likewise developed years before the company became a target of government investigations.

Yet is also ridiculous to pretend the Independent Institute is truly independent. … David Callahan, a writer who has researched the relationship between corporate funders and conservative think tanks, notes that … " … It is naive to imagine that conservative think tanks aren’t extremely beholden to their funders in the business world or to the corporate leaders on their boards. That is simply the way that the power of the purse works.

Bernays Quote

The average citizen is the world’s most efficient censor. His own mind is the greatest barrier between him and the facts. His own ‘logic-proof compartments’, his own absolutism, are the obstacles which prevent him from seeing in terms of experience and thought rather than in terms of group reaction.’

Edward Bernays, *Crystallizing Public Opinion’, New York (NY) 1923. p.122 quoted on p.43.