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Saturday, July 06, 2019

Bad science and woke corporations

By mixing bad science and woke ideology, corporations ensure that no one will be left to support them

morphine, codeine, and oxycodone structure
Structure of morphine, codeine, and oxycodone. Oxycodone is a μ-opioid receptor agonist marketed as OxyContin, or as a combination with aspirin as Percodan or combined with acetaminophen as Percocet. Structurally and pharmacologically very similar to codeine and mor­phine, it is classified in the USA as a Schedule II controlled substance.

T wo months ago, while everybody else was having fun at the beach in the Dominican Republic, I took a vacation in Oklahoma.

The stuff in the minibar, whatever it was, wasn't as tasty, but the state is otherwise amazing. I missed most of the tornadoes and floods, but the plague of gigantic carpenter bees was impressive, the Indians were all fabulously rich, and the college students in Stillwater were all amazingly healthy, relaxed, and suntanned.

Oklahoma was, and still is, one of the most reliably Republican states, but its culture is rapidly changing. Spearheaded by their attorney general Mike Hunter, Oklahoma sued Purdue Pharma and Teva Pharmaceuticals for selling oxycodone, collecting $355 million for the state. Hunter is now going after Johnson & Johnson. Coupled with the talcum powder lawsuits, these lawsuits could drive the pharma giant, which employs 134,000 people, out of business.

I spoke with several people at some of the universities in Oklahoma about this, and they were all excited about this new source of free money. The ethics of suing a manufacturer for selling and promoting a legal product that was fully approved by the US FDA didn't seem to be an issue.

Three dozen other states have filed lawsuits in state courts, hoping to play on sympathy for victims to get more money for their own bureaucrats. West Virginia has already started: one university there (WVU) has virtually dismantled its own neuroscience department to focus on opioid addiction, the assumption being that there is still some­thing to discover about opiates and that jury awards are a good way to fund it.

The concern of the states for their citizens is genuine, and the opioid crisis is real, but that doesn't change the fact that suing the manufacturers is a questionable response. Blaming the manufacturer is a response that seems to be motivated by the convergence of two powerful forces: anticapitalist sentiment from the left and anti­globalist sentiment from the right. It's an enormously destructive combination that the companies brought on themselves, and it shows what can happen when corporations lose the respect of their customers.


The situation with glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is similar. There is general agreement among scientists that there's no credible evidence that glyphosate, a herbicide that blocks the shikimate pathway in plants, causes illness in humans. But lawyers know that after decades of hostile news coverage about chemical companies, juries don't care: they'll side with the victim—more out of hatred for the corporation than out of sympathy. Monsanto, which originally produced glyphosate, has been the focus of a negative PR campaign in the press for decades, and is especially hated in Europe for producing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This month the Austrian parliament banned all uses of glyphosate. In the US, our TVs are drowning us with ads from lawyers seeking clients for class-action suits against its manufacturers.


It might not be fair, but it's increasingly hard, even for someone who has many friends in indus­try, to work up much sympathy for corporations. Anyone who's ever worked for one knows firsthand that employ­ees aren't free to speak publicly on any controversial topic, even one unrelated to their work. Their bean­count­ers fire the most knowledgeable employees and outsource their jobs overseas to increase short-term profits. Their HR departments are hotbeds of politi­cal activism, actively seeking out and firing any employee who privately or publicly expresses an opinion with which they disagree.

Even worse, they no longer stop at firing their employees; corporations are now firing their own customers for expressing unapproved opinions on the Internet. Nike, which recently had what looked like an orches­trated campaign to label the historic Betsy Ross flag racist, thereby driving away its few remaining patriotic customers, is only the latest example. Is it any wonder that conserv­atives and libertarians are beginning to mistrust corporate America as much as leftists do?

glyphosate structure
Glyphosate (N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine) inhibits 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase, an enzyme found only in plants.

Conservative firebrand Ann Coulter once wrote that President Nixon lost the Right by creating massive new bureaucracies like the EPA. When the Democrats came for him, said Coulter, there was no one left to defend him. Like Nixon, American corporations are taking the support of conservatives and libertarians for granted. It could be a fatal mistake.

These examples show that political actions aren't just a calculated response to somebody's stated position; often they're based on the adversary's ‘image,’ which is a euphemism for a collection of things the adversary does, or is claimed to have done, which the activist doesn't like but which are irrelevant to the issue at hand. Recognition of this may be why companies are increasingly trying to advertise their virtue on issues that are irrelevant to their product. To an executive, it's just another form of branding; but by antagonizing their allies, advertising themselves as ‘woke’ could backfire.

Universities are starting to realize that their suppression of free speech on campus creates a movement determined to reform or replace them. Likewise, by creating the perception that they're waging economic warfare against the only people in America who still believe in free enterprise, woke corporations like Nike, Bank of America, Mastercard, Google, and Facebook will create enemies of their own.

No matter how much companies try to appear hip, sooner or later the anti-capitalists, the culture warriors, and the ambulance-chasers will come after them. When that happens, they'll discover that their former allies are sitting back, eating popcorn, and laughing about how it serves them right. It might seem illogical, but that's how people see it: stab your friends on your way up, and the best you can hope for is that they'll pretend to care about you on your way down.

jul 06 2019, 11:52 am. last edited jul 12 2019, 7:48 am

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