Government, industry using clergy to promote faulty science

by Dr. David Lewis | TLB Science Advisor

Churches, synagogues and other religious organizations are increasingly being used by government and industry to support government policies and industry practices that harm public health and the environment. At a conference I spoke at sponsored by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, for example, local activists in North Carolina complained about preachers thwarting their efforts to protect economically depressed communities targeted for disposal of pig wastes from concentrated animal feeding operations. Waste disposal companies hired local clergy to promote industry-sponsored studies concluding the wastes are harmless.

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In the U.K., the Church of England recently criticized environmental activists protesting the effects fracking is having on their communities. An adviser to local archbishops was quoted in the media as saying: “There is a real danger of distorting the arguments through protest … if you just take the very limited views being expressed by some opponents of fracking at the moment… I don’t think that is at all sound scientifically.”

Even the CDC uses clergy to promote the vaccines it recommends, which generate supplemental funding for the agency. In 2011, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services held an off-the-record phone conference with churches, synagogues, and mosques to have pastors urge their congregations to get vaccinated at their local pharmacies. In a newsletter to its faith-based and neighborhood partnerships, HHS stressed the important role religious leaders play in keeping their communities and congregations healthy during flu season. It stated: “As trusted messengers, you are able to spread important information about healthy practices and the need for vaccination.”

In an article titled “Influenza: marketing vaccine by marketing disease” published in the British Medical Journal, Peter Doshi at Johns Hopkins University disagreed. He concluded: “Closer examination of influenza vaccine policies shows that although proponents employ the rhetoric of science, the studies underlying the policy are often of low quality, and do not substantiate officials’ claims.”

Ever since the White House began supporting faith-based government partnerships with religious organizations in 2001, clergy have grown to become important mouthpieces for parroting scientific studies in which government and industry fund universities to support certain government policies and economically important industry practices. As the examples above illustrate, their goal is to create and promote faulty research to discredit credible scientists and community activists who raise concerns about government policies and industry practices.

It’s easy to understand why government agencies and big corporations are employing influential religious leaders as spokespersons. What higher moral authority could they choose? And who else could possibly be less equipped to understand how science is becoming increasingly controlled by government and industry for their own purposes?


David Lewis, Ph.D.

Former U.S. EPA Research Microbiologist

David Lewis is an internationally recognized research microbiologist whose work on public health and environmental issues, as a senior-level Research Microbiologist in EPA’s Office of Research & Development and member of the Graduate Faculty of the University of Georgia, has been reported in numerous news articles and documentaries from TIME magazine and Reader’s Digest to National Geographic.

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