On Monday, Dr. Joseph Perrone, the chief science officer at Center for Accountability in Science (CAS), implored readers of the Detroit News to “evaluate the research” behind the latest scientific news since “the scientific research behind those news stories doesn’t necessarily support those conclusions.” That’s not bad advice in today’s world of clickbait headlines, but readers should follow another bit of Dr. Perrone’s advice when evaluating his work: “consider the source of your information.”
CAS is the latest project hatched by corporate PR man Richard Berman, who over the years has used a series of shadowy nonprofits to defend the interests of restaurants, food and booze companies, and the tobacco industry. Instead of being a standalone organization, it is housed in Berman’s Center for Organizational Research and Education, the successor nonprofit to Berman’s Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF). CAS’s website claims the project “provides a balanced look at the science behind these news stories and examines the organizations behind the effort to scare consumers.” In reality, CAS is another venue for Berman to use his old playbook of shooting the messenger and muddling the facts. CAS’s targets include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – all previous Berman targets.
One aspect of CAS’s rhetoric doesn’t track with Berman’s past work, though. As CREW detailed in its recent report, Burned By Berman: A Special Interest PR Campaign Gone Wrong, Berman’s firm once produced a campaign for the Indoor Tanning Association that questioned the link between tanning and skin cancer, calling claims that tanning causes melanoma “hype.” “Dermatologists and the sunscreen industry have spent millions on a deceptive campaign to scare Americans away from the sun,” claimed one of the ads in the campaign.
Now, however, Berman is seeking to undermine the credibility of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which regularly releases a guide about the potential risks of some chemicals in sunscreen, so he’s singing a different tune about the cancer threat posed by prolonged sun exposure. In his op-ed, Dr. Perrone painted EWG’s sunscreen concerns as a scientific outlier by noting how the American Academy of Dermatology and the Food and Drug Administration “stand by sunscreen’s safety and urge consumers to use the product to protect from skin cancer — a much larger threat.” A post on CAS’s website declares, “It’s the Environmental Working Group vs. Dermatologists on sunscreen safety.” Apparently, now that he is no longer working for the tanning industry, Berman agrees that UV rays increase the risk of skin cancer.
Flip-flopping on tanning isn’t the only new aspect brought to the table by CAS. The involvement of Dr. Perrone in Berman’s PR efforts is an interesting development. Berman’s nonprofits usually don’t employ any actual experts. Instead, they dress up employees of his for-profit consulting firm, Berman and Company, as “senior research analysts.” For instance, when MSNBC’s Chris Hayes asked Berman employee Michael Saltsman how many economists work at Berman’s vehicle for opposing minimum wage increases, the Employment Policies Institute, Saltsman admitted the answer was none.
Who is Dr. Perrone? According to CAS, he used to be an executive at the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute and he served as an advisor to the World Health Organization. Unmentioned by CAS, however, is the fact that Dr. Perrone also has a long record of industry work. He used to run a consulting company, previously worked at Becton, Dickinson, and Company, a medical technology company, and has been an adviser to several other companies, including Biomedical Enterprises and FASgen. It’s surprising that Berman’s staff neglected to mention this part of Dr. Perrone’s biography. It’s not like they take a dim view of industry-backed research. In fact, CAS has a page on its website highlighting “the importance of industry-funded research.”
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