Will Obama’s OSHA Nominee be the Right’s Next Smear Victim?

Lindsay Beyerstein

President Obama's nominee to head the Occupational Safety and Health Agency, David Michaels, who is currently a professor at George Washington University's School of Public Health and Health Services.

Industry-funded front groups are preparing to make a stink about Obama’s nominee to head the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), which is the federal agency charged with enforcing safety and health legislation.

Why do business interests oppose him? Because nominee Dr. David Michaels wrote a book about how industry-funded front groups deflect blame from their polluting corporate sponsors.

Michaels’ book, Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health (2008), is an expose based on secret industry documnents. The book reveals that industry is resorting to a new breed of scientist, the product defense specialist.”

These specialists are charged with spreading pseudo-science to defeat regulation and lawsuits. Michaels calls them mercenary scientists.” These professional denialists strive to cast doubt on everything from global warming to smoking to the link between asprin and Reyes Syndrome in children.

Doubt Is There Product is a mainstream work of scholarship published by one of the most prestigious academic presses in the world, Oxford University Press. After the book came out, Michaels was invited to speak at Google. You can watch his lecture here.

But industry will try to paint Michaels as the next Van Jones. They will face an uphill battle: Michaels is a distinguished epidemiologist who spent three years protecting workers from nuclear waste at the Department of Energy, after being confirmed by the Senate under former President Clinton in 1998.

He has been strongly critical of the state of OSHA under the Bush administration, which, as Stephen Franklin reported on this site in August, the Government Accountability Office found had failed to adequately enforce various laws — and thus protect workers.

Here’s what Michaels wrote about OSHA back in 2005:

Some changes must wait their turn in Washington. But fixing OSHA is one that can’t. Not when you consider estimates that 15 workers are killed daily on the job, and every four minutes another worker suffers a significant job-related injury.

The Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has yet to schedule a confirmation hearing for Michaels. Let’s hope Michael’s nomination isn’t derailed by another smear campaign from conservatives in the meantime. American workers can’t wait for OSHA to fixed

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.
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