Derek Hunter

According to one conflict of interest statement, vom Saal “consulted for an attorney involved in civil litigation regarding the health effects of BPA.” Another conflict of interest statement from 2008 showed that vom Saal had been, “serving as a consultant for in-preparation litigation regarding BPA; serving as chief executive officer of XenoAnalytical LLC, which uses a variety of analytical techniques to measure estrogenic activity and BPA in tissues and leachates from products.”

For all the vitriol spewed against studies and researchers with even the most tangential connection with the plastic industry, how is it that vom Saal escapes criticism with his direct involvement with trial lawyers and labs that stand to make a profit from demonizing BPA? Another potential motivating factor is the fact that junk science showing harm from BPA is one way to keep a controversy – and the research money that goes with it – alive.

He even argues his case the same way global warming advocates argue theirs. Any study that supports him is accurate, regardless of methodology, assumptions, expertise or execution. Any that opposes him is discredited – compromised by ignorance, influence from the evil chemicals industry or willful neglect.

The problem, of course, is these controversies take on a he said/she said character that assumes the data is more or less equal on both sides. And this is simply not the case with BPA. The study that led to vom Saal’s takedown in Forbes illustrates the point. The research – conducted by scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration on behalf of the EPA – found the levels of BPA in the blood claimed in vom Saal’s studies simply weren’t possible. And if scientists couldn’t detect BPA in all those people who were put on a high-BPA diet, there was no way the chemical could pose a threat to humans.

It’s like the old studies that said shampoo could cause cancer... if you drank 98 bottles of it per day. Or saccharin... if you drank 158 cups of coffee a day. OK, that second one could be a problem.

Poor Frederick vom Saal. His evangelical belief in the harm of BPA, which has been disproved time and again by independent research, has turned him into the Harold Camping of science. Prophesies of doom, whether from Camping or vom Saal, are always more likely to get traction in the media. But at what cost to consumers and science itself? Many people of faith have denounced the false pronouncements of Camping and it will be interesting to see if the scientific community follows suit with vom Saal.


Derek Hunter

Derek Hunter is Washington, DC based writer, radio host and political strategist. You can also stalk his thoughts 140 characters at a time on Twitter.