Sunday, May 26, 2013

Some Thoughts on Monsanto

This week someone forwarded me an article entitled “The Goodman Affair.”  (I hadn’t had one, but read the piece anyway.)  It concerned further efforts to insulate Monsanto’s genetically-modified corn from scientific scrutiny – and provided a context in which to contemplate the NMSU Regents’ vote elevating Garrey Carruthers to University President.

Monsanto has tinkered extensively with “genetically modified” corn and other seeds.  A major genetic modification is to make the corn survive the use of a particular Monsanto herbicide, Roundup.

Many folks would prefer not to eat genetically modified food.   There’s been a move to require labeling, to retain people’s freedom to choose.  Monsanto has strenuously opposed labeling, insisting that since there’s no possible health danger, labeling would be wasteful.

The Goodman Affair?  In October 2012 a team of scientists published in a scientific journal a study in which rats given the genetically-modified maize and Roundup developed tumors and died prematurely at a faster rate than rats fed more normal food.  Monsanto experienced a storm of negative publicity.

Other scientists, many or all with undisclosed ties to Monsanto, immediately criticized the French study.  I don’t know who’s right, but the disputed study followed rats for their full two-year life span, not for just a few months.  Earlier studies relied on by Monsanto apparently took the shorter view.

The most disturbing thing is that within months former Monsanto employee Dr. Richard Goodman suddenly held a newly-created position (“Associate Editor for Biotechnology”) at the journal.  He’ll be in charge of deciding which biotechnology studies get published.  Although usually those journals promote from within, and slowly, Dr. Goodman apparently had no previous tie to the journal.   Monsanto ain’t gonna have to worry about Food and Chemical Toxicology anymore.

This is no isolated incident.  Monsanto has consistently used its astonishing political clout (with both parties) and its wealth to evade objective scrutiny.   Initial approval of GMO seeds in the U.S. came in a proclamation by the first President Bush (at Monsanto’s request) that no special Government safety tests would be done because the President deemed GMO seeds “substantially equivalent” to non-GMO seeds; Monsanto’s  contracts for the sale of seeds flatly prohibit use of the seeds for independent research; and recently Congress slipped into emergency legislation on another subject a law allowing farmers to plant genetically modified crops even if a court orders suspension of planting pending environmental review!  The Government has still done no testing of the GMO seeds.

Monsanto’s questionable conduct strengthens my support of required labeling, the way a TV detective’s eyes narrow when someone objects violently to a perfectly reasonable question, or runs down the alley at the first sign of a squad-car.

Monsanto reminds me of the scientists in a bad 1950's sci-fi movie, who have discovered what’s best for us and don’t care what we might think about it.  If we had free choice we’d only act like immature barbarians, so they save us from ourselves, even if that requires killing or reprogramming dissenters.

I’m sure Monsanto has invented or could invent things that could help us negotiate the tough decades ahead, with crazy weather, drought, rising seas, food shortages, and what-not.  I know some pretty good people who collaborate with Monsanto on projects.

But I’d like the freedom to decide what I’ll eat.  When I interviewed farmers’ market customers for a video project recently, many stressed that they liked locally-produced food “because I know what’s in it” or because there were “no pesticides.”

Unfortunately, scientific research more and more depends on industry funding.

In earlier centuries, scientific truth was what a prince or king said it was (or the Church or local medicine man).  Briefly, after the Enlightenment, it was what objective scientists, struggling to understand our complex world, seemed to be finding out, although there was a lot of uncertainty.  Now it’s not unreasonable to fear that truth will be what the wealthiest corporations say it is.

At a minimum, objective science is under siege, particularly in the U.S.  Industry hacks spending a few years with the FDA or EPA often make the rules.  Politicians beholden to Monsanto, the oil industry, and other deep pockets make the laws and appoint the judges.  Now even university science and administrative posts, and the editorships of scientific journals, belong to industry people with vested interests.

There’s an ongoing battle over whether universities and scientific journals will retain at least some semblance of objectivity.  In that contest, how can one be pleased that the NMSU regents have chosen a fellow who attacked good science for the tobacco companies and still apparently doesn’t get it about global warming?  Nothing personal.  It’s just wrong.

I’m not saying Mike Cheney got a call from Monsanto.  Cheney’s just a small-time businessman who saw his pal Carruthers as good for business: a man who’d bring in money.  Whose money, and for what, Cheney probably doesn’t much care.  The university reputation is a resource, and if it can be rented out for some quick cash, why not?

Cheney’s university-as-business view is sad.  I know the Socratic model of teacher and students questioning and arguing all day is no longer feasible.  But couldn’t we dream of a university somewhere between that and the business model – where learning mattered and science at least tried for objectivity and high competence?

[The foregoing column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 26 May.  As always, it represents my views and not necessarily those of the newspaper.]

There were marches against Monsanto in much of the world yesterday, including El Paso, Texas, and Albuqerque, Santa Fe, Silver City, and Taos, New Mexico.  In Las Cruces, there were scattered individuals trying to start something but not able to find each other.  One man did play a guitar and hand out leaflets at the Farmers' Market.

GMO's, and the larger issue of the attacks on objective science by Big Pharma, the Oil and Gas Industry, and Monsanto, need to be raised more and more often. 

With the GMO's, I'd like to belief Monsanto's claim that there's no problem.  But we've heard that repeated so often with all sorts of things.  A few years ago an interesting memoir by the son of a scientist with a major asbestos manufacturer reported playing with pieces of asbestos -- and his mother growing tomatoes in pots made from asbestos.  More recently, ten years ago I probably laughed at a co-worker, Charles, who refused to own a cell-phone or even talk on mine when we had to talk with someone about Charles's field of expertise, and I probably cursed him for objecting to my use of my cell-phone while driving us to court.  Now science seems to be suggesting that overuse of cell-phones can be a health hazard, and cities and states are outlawing the use of cell-phones.  

Monsanto's own conduct discourages me from believing much that it says on this subject.  Its unusually secretive mode, its extensive steps to avoid independent scrutiny, and some of the conduct discussed in the column sure suggest it has something to hide.  Too, "the Goodman affair" is just one example among many, too many to fit into a newspaper column.

Right after posting this I read allegations that Facebook had suspended a woman for posting photographs of her children holding signs at a rally against GMO's yesterday.   I read the allegation on something called -- and read it with some skepticism.  Here are the photographs:
They show the two children of Andrea Lalama.  Almost immediately her account was suspended, with a message on her account that read, "FACEBOOK: You have been restricted from Interacting With Pages until Saturday, June 8, 2013 at 6:47 p.m."

My first reaction was to wonder if maybe there was something else -- something Ms. Lalama either had forgotten, didn't realize, or wasn't mentioning.  However, the same apparently happened to a lady named Georgia Gallucci, for repositing a friend's photos from the Monsanto March; and the same happened to an account called "Reversing Autism."

In each case, the photographs were labeled "abusive."  


I'll be curious to hear more, one way or the other.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Thanks for the Epitaph!

Writing newspaper columns leads to reading some interesting commentary on oneself, in letters to the editor and even full-on responsive columns.   A fun variation here is the anonymous “Sound Off” section, which may be my favorite section of the Sun-News.

Until recently, one of my favorite “Sound Off’s” was one that opined that I would likely move downward from Earth, rather than upward, after death, because of my views on same-sex marriage.
Recently a Sound Off delighted me even more.  It read:

"In Sunday's Sun-News, Their View, Peter Goodman sounds like a person who is always learning but never comes to a knowledge of the truth."

I read it two or three times.  It was thoughtful, in an interesting way.  I decided that if I were planning to have a tombstone, I’d like this chiseled on it.  “Here lies a man who always kept learning but never reached the truth.”

Although "truth" wasn't capitalized, I'm guessing the paragraph wasn't intended as a compliment.  It might have been; but the column referenced,Opponents of Marriage Equality Seek Governmental Support for Intolerance, probably offended some people.

Whatever the author’s intention, I decided that if I were planning to have a tombstone, I’d like that chiseled on it.  “Here lies Peter Goodman – who always kept learning but never reached the truth.”

I certainly hope I'm always learning.  I feel as if I am.  Albert Einstein wrote, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.  The important thing is not to stop questioning.” He also wrote, “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”

I assume the reference to my inability to come to a knowledge of the truth was meant to chide me in some way – though the neat thing about this particular Sound-Off was that it might have been a kindred spirit’s gentle praise.   Either way, it’s a keen observation.

I do believe in truth-telling.  Or, rather, I have a taste for telling truths, or what seem to me to be truths, particularly those that aren't recognized as such by the world around me.

Yet even when I’m passionately involved in telling what I see as “truths,” I do not forget to doubt.  I keep in mind that great line from F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

Whatever I believe I immediately challenge.  The woman I love has an old VW bug with a bumper sticker that reads, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

“The Truth” as a concept troubles me.  There are so many conflicting truths!

I know many people who believe they know “The Truth” and are virtuous, strong, happy, and committed people who do a lot of good in the world.

There are also people who bomb abortion clinics or Boston Marathons in the name of The Truth.

Many of both the do-gooders and the bombers would say that faith or religion or God makes them do what they do.  I tend to doubt it’s God’s doing at all.  I tend to think the people who do good are built that way, wanting to do good, and that the particular religion or system they follow is rather like a language they use to express their goodness, The twisted folks who bomb and shoot people do so out of some sad inner need, and Jesus or Mohammed or patriotism is how they rationalize their actions.

The less dramatic problem is that people settle on “the truth” and stop thinking.

Sometimes I envy them.  It must be relaxing to believe one central thing so deeply.

But from a very early age I understood life’s central challenge to be recognizing how futile most everything is and yet continuing to struggle as if one had no idea of that futility.  (The Fitzgerald quote, I learned the other day, continues, “One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”)

In my view, one ought to face without flinching the world’s cruel absurdity, and our own insignificance in the universe, neither denying reality nor becoming embittered by it.  Yeah, without a comprehensive code of conduct, deciding what’s right can be troublesome; but even with some religious or legal code, individual cases have a nasty way of being difficult anyway.  Often stray facts make it unjust in a particular case to apply the rules of Justice.

We are curiously resilient creatures.   Knowing full well that we face a potentially disastrous drought and woefully insufficient water, we can still take joy in the blooming and breeding flora and fauna of our corner of the desert.  (Researchers we know unwittingly echo the Fitzgerald quote, explaining the desperate nature of our situation while choosing hope.)  On the point of death, we can laugh and joke.

I criticize no one who chooses to take refuge in a particular creed or practice or belief system.  Part of “never coming to a knowledge of the truth” is never being so proud or condescending as to suppose my way is somehow best for everyone, that it is necessarily “the right way” for someone else.
Somehow I can’t take any such refuge.

Anyway, my heartfelt thanks to the “Sound Off” contributor, for helping me continue the journey.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 12 May.]

If you're from beyond the county: as you likely inferred from the above, the Las Cruces Sun-News runs a daily feature, "Sound Off", which consists of emails and transcriptions of phone calls on various issues of the day.  As a columnist, I read my name in Sound Off comments now and then. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Is Garry Carruthers Telling Us the Truth about His Tobacco Company PR Work?

   This post continues the discussion of Garrey Carruthers's work on behalf of Philip Morris during 1993-1998, and focuses on Dr. Carruthers's possibly misleading or incorrect statements about that work.

  [Sorry this post is so long and detailed!  I've been working my way through a massive set of documents and other information, in too short a time.]

   Certain facts are clear: on behalf of Philip Morris and funded by Philip Morris, a PR firm called APCO (related to the large Washington law firm Arnold & Porter) formed a front group called The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) to mount a masked attack on scientific findings that environmental tobacco smoke (second-hand smoke) could harm people.  Those findings were sparking calls for state, city, and national regulations on smoking, which would hurt corporate profits.

   Garrey Carruthers was the TASSC's founder, face, and first chairman. 

   The idea was to attack the science on second-hand smoke as "unsound" and driven by governmental desires to regulate.

   Obviously it wouldn't work very well if reporters and the public were aware that Phlip Morris was paying the bill.  In Philip Morris's own words, the idea was to "hide the PM fingerprints."  As one Philip Morris exec, Victor Han, said in his sworn deposition, "  Thus an internal memo notes regarding calls to certain members of the media, "We thought it best to remove any possible link to PM, thus Boltz is not making the calls."  TASSC - and quite likely Carruthers -- apparently did so.

   Therefore the connection between Philip Morris and the group was masked.  At the direction of the company and APCO, TASSC and Carruthers approached scientists, without mentioning Philip Morris, and sought donations from other companies that were trying to fight other regulations. 
Carruthers's Recent Statements
First of all, Carruthers doesn't include TASSC at all on his public bio on-line.  Secondly, on his resume he buries it in the list of his "public service" work, even though it was a paid position.  Whether or not he sought to mislead NMSU only he can say.

Secondly, he denies that he was aware that Philip Morris was behind TASSC.  Given that Philip Morris and APCO documents mention him as chairman even before TASSC's public launching, this seems unlikely.
As one expert on the tobacco companies told me, "I find it hard to believe that Carruthers did not know what TASSC was and who was funding it.  On the other hand, if his statement is true, that is even worse.  What kind of a person goes to work for an allegedly non-profit organization, promoting 'sound science' in public policy, and doesn't ask who the sponsors and funders are?"

Third, he told the Albuquerque Journal that he was "four-square against second-hand smoke." 
That statement's truth is undermined by his participation in efforts to discredit the scientific findings regarding environmental tobacco smoke.  Although TASSC fought other environmental or safety findings, it definitely characterized the "environmental tobacco smoke" findings as unsound.

According to the Albuquerque Journal:
"In an interview this week, Carruthers, 73, downplayed his role as the public head of TASSC and distanced himself from Philip Morris' agenda.  Carruthers said that he is and was unaware of the tobacco company's role in creating TASSC, that pushing back against smoking restrictions was not something he did, and that he did not 'lobby' for Philip Morris.  'I'm four-square against second-hand smoke,' Carruther said."

With regard to the second-hand smoke issue, it’s instructive to review the script for a November 18, 1994 Reuters TV report of a press conference held by Carruthers and his group.

It ends:
Dr. Garrey Carruthers
We have created a great problem in this country by allowing poor science to be that science that is being used in public policy. The pressure that is coming for example from regulators who decide that I want this regulation to be in place but can’t justify it. So they summon up a scientist to develop a body of science to support their preconceived objective.
Dissolve to shots of scientists at work and then to poster of principles at press conference

If you’re "four-square against" second-hand smoke, you don’t hold a press conference in which your organization claims the scientific evidence that second-hand smoke hurts people is faked by the feds.

 - http://legacy.

An October 26, 1993 letter from APCO to Matt Winokur, Director of European Regulatory Affairs for Philip Morris, Inc., arranges for Carruthers “to assist in Philip Morris’ international efforts to promote the use of sound science” through a news briefing in Washington. “Our Chairman, Garrey Carruthers” would brief the reporters.
The APCO plan for the public launching of TASSC (Prepared October 15, 1993, written with guidance from a meeting with Philip Morris PR executives) lists under "Goals and Objectives" to “lay the groundwork and provide an environment for a successful grassroots mobilization effort to assist Philip Morris with its issues nationally and in target states.” The strategy is to “build upon coalition work done to date . . . and establish credibility . . . through media attention and position TASSC to assist Philip Morris in its target state and national efforts.” This will involved “a targeted national media campaign” and “media kits” that include examples of unsound science, “bad science anecdotes”, and “Garry Carruthers biography and letter of invitation to join TASSC’s cause.”

A February 22, 1994 inter-office Memo within Philip Morris USA discusses TASSC’s 1994 budget. APCO had requested $632,500. The memo notes, "First, $70,000 must be attributed to Carruthers for his fees and projected expenses."   Another letter recites that APCO (and thus TASSC) will "perform services for Philip Morris in connection with issues relating to promoting sound science and public policy, including but not limited to, enfironmental tobacco smoke, indoor air, and related issues."

Carruthers also publicized a "poll" (done for TASSC by a Republican polling firm from Texas) that claimed  "62% of scientists believe public confidence in scientific research has decreased in the last 10 years and 83 per cent agree that policy makers use science to achieve their policy goals in controversial issues such as asbestos, dioxin, environmental tobacco smoke, or water quality."  The press release included his own view. 
"The poll shows an even deeper concern than I imagined over the conduct and use of government scientific research," said Dr. Garrey Carruthers, TASSC chairman.
Although environmental tobacco smoke was, by design, just one scientific target of the poll and TASSC, there's no indication that Carruthers -- who now claims to be "four-square against second-hand smoke" suggested to his tobacco company employers that the survey should focus on other "unsound" scientific findings.

In short, Carruthers was for five years an integral part of a media campaign designed to trash government science generally and ultimately to help Philip Morris with its fight against smoking bans. Is it credible that Carruthers would not have been aware whom he was working for?
Further, he says he still is unaware of the connection.  Yet there's an abundant on-line library on the subject, it was discussed in depositions in a case brought by the Depart of Justice against Philip Morris, and (as Rene Romo's Albuquerque Journal article notes), "TASSC's role in Philip Morris' then-secret campaign to push back against smoking regulation has been cited in chapters in several books, such as "Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco to Global Warming," by Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes."
That article also quoted one of the authors on the subject of Carruthers as NMSU President:
"TASSC was an organization whose goal was not to advance science, but to challenge and impede it.  The idea that a former chairman of TASSC could be put forward to head a university system, which should be dedicated to information, not disinformation, is truly frightening."

Let's Take Carruthers's Story As True
Dr. Carruthers founded TASSC.  He doesn't and can't claim it was his idea.  APCO reached out to him, suggested the group, and offered him fairly healthy financial compensation.  Dr. Carruthers went along with the idea, worked fairly hard on the project for five years, but never inquired who was funding it or why.  Just, a law-firm-founded lobbying/PR firm, on behalf of unidentified clients.
That is, he is spectacularly uncurious.  Does that recommend him as president of a university?

A Hint of Our Future?

Does it seem farfetched that Carruthers might permit or arrange for corporations to get their wish lists translated into "scientific findings" by NMSU researchers?

Well, consider this:

As noted above, he worked five years with APCO Associates, the PR and lobbying firm founded by the big Washington, D.C. law firm Arnold & Porter. APCO arranged for him to be the Chairman of TASSC. One of his pals at APCO, Tom Hockaday, wrote a 1993 memo listing people who could be approached to lend their names to ghost-written op-ed pieces on the subject of tobacco smoke and the environment. More recently, APCO, acting on behalf of the Kazakhstan government, paid "experts" at Johns Hopkins University to author three reports about the country. The reports were published, but without revealing the connection with Kazakhstan. The Johns Hopkins spokesman said the Institute’s "relationship was only with the lobbying firm and not directly with the government."
(See )

In short, secretly arranging for clients to fund university "studies" saying what those clients want said is something Dr. Carruthers' former associates have been caught doing.

We can hope that Dr. Carruthers won't do likewise if elevated to the NMSU Presidency.

For Further Reading
This post is already way too long.  Mostly I've quoted original sources, rather than secondary.  However, anyone who wants to delve deeper could either search the UCSF Tobacco Library or read relevant articles, including these two:

"Constructing 'Sound Science' and 'Good Epidemiology': Tobacco, Lawyers and Public Relations Firms, by ME Elisa K. Ong and Ph.D. Stanton A. Glantz. quotes a lawyer from the tobacco industry’s Washington, D.C. law firm, Covington & Burlington, as writing “No one would tke seriously a meeting even partially sponsored by PM.” Thus letters to scientists went out over the signature of Dr. Carruthers.  As the article notes, the “prominent scientists and policymakers” drawn in by these letters “would be provided PM’s secondhand smoke agenda suggestions through APCO but made to feel the agenda was their own.”

The same story is told in "How Big Tobacco Helped Create 'the Junkman'" ,  by Sheldon Rampton and John. Stauber, which calls TASSC “an organization that was covertly created by Philip Morris for the express purpose of generating scientific controversy regarding the link between secondhand smoke and cancer.”
This article recites a stop on Carruthers’s “barnstorming tour” in which:
“In Denver, Carruthers told a local radio thation that the public has been ‘shafted by shoddy science, and it has cost consumers and government a good deal of money.’  When asked who was financing TASSC, Carruthers sidestepped the question.  ‘We don’t want to be caught being a crusader for a single industry,’ he said.  ‘We’re not out here defending the chemical industry; we’re not out here defending the automobile industry, or the petroleum industry, or the tobacco industry; we’re here just to ensure that sound science is used.”

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

NMSU Regents: Please Look before You Leap

[the following is a letter I plan to send Thursday to the NMSU Board of Regents as feedback regarding the search for New Mexico State University's next president.]

My comments concern the possibility that you folks may name former Governor Garrey Carruthers the next NMSU President.

Nothing against Mr. Carruthers – whom I knew slightly as a reasonably affable gentleman when I was a newspaper reporter in Las Cruces during the mid-1970's, and when I worked briefly as a film-maker for U.S. Senator Pete Domenici during that same era.

But a little study suggests that Carruthers is a questionable choice who could embarrass the university in serious academic and scientific circles.

Carruthers has spent too much of his life sponsoring cynical attacks – paid for by industry solely to suit industry’s convenience – on scientific findings that could limit corporate profits in the name of safety and environmental protection.

Specifically, Carruthers spent several years during the 1990's as a paid flak for Philip Morris, arguing that “second-hand smoke” studies were “shoddy science.”

More specifically, Philip Morris founded TASSC (The Advancement of Sound Science Center) to undermine public confidence in findings that second-hand tobacco smoke could be harmful to people.  The group fought various efforts to ban smoking in public buildings, for example.  (Here's Wikipedia's take on the group.)

 Carruthers was TASSC's first chairman, and was identified as such in internal Philip Morris memos planning the group's public launch.  He was its main public face.

Philip Morris used lawyers and PR firms to mask the fact that TASSC was solely a tobacco industry creation.  It sought donations from other industries troubled by safety and environmental regulations – and attacked as “shoddy science” whatever those contributing industries pointed them toward.  The Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, enhanced automobile safety, and the dangers of silicone breast implants were all targets of Carruthers's TASSC, as was climate change.  Essentially, TASSC was an corporate hit squad attacking whatever sicence might be inconvenient for an oil company, a tobacco company, or Monsanto.

The effort to fool the public about tobacco failed miserably.  Smoking in public buildings is prohibited in most cities – and, ironically, a recent Sun-News headline says NMSU may go “tobacco-free” throughout the system.  About 71% of faculty and students favor the move, and a task force is expected to recommend it . . . but that may be subject to the whim of the next NMSU President.

Just as Philip Morris dissembled about TASSC, and its mouthpieces, Carruthers may not have been entirely honest about this aspect of his career.  There’s abundant evidence in the public record; but I didn’t find it on his biography on the NMSU website, although that covered other activities from the same time-frame.  (His 12-page resume does not include TASSC among his professional positions, but vaguely lists under “Public Service”  “The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, founded April, 1993 to 1998, National Chairman.”)

Maybe he plays it down because he’s a bit embarrassed, and regrets that he let corporations pay him to attack honest scientists.

His comments at a recent session with New Mexico students suggest he's still in the anti-science game.  On global warming, he mouthed the party line that there’s no consensus that the climate is changing and that human activity is at least partially responsible.  "It's a scientific judgment I can't make," he added.

But there is a consensus among scientists with serious credentials who aren’t in the pay of corporations with a vested interest in denial.  That is, among independent or neutral researchers, there’s no serious doubt.  Corporations manufacture an appearance of doubt by finding unqualified, greedy, or past-their-prime “scientists” to argue denial, even though they have no peer-reviewed published studies to support them.  (An NMSU professor noted this consensus, in response to Carruthers, adding that it was "pretty appalling" that the candidate for university president had no "vision for dealing with the most serious environmental crisis that humanity and the Earth have ever faced.")

What’s all this go to do with the University?  Plenty.

NMSU is known for its scientific research.

Carruthers and TASSC were part of the corporate move to pay commentators and scientists of questionable credentials to say pretty much anything Big Tobacco, Big Oil, Detroit, Monsanto, or another industry wanted said.  The point was to throw as much mud as possible at legitimate scientists, and even intimidate them, to undermine public confidence in legitimate science.

As president, would Carruthers continue that effort?  Would he bring in more industry-sponsored research, while weakening controls designed to ensure scientific objectivity?

Even if he would not do so, would reasonable observers beyond Las Cruces assume he was doing so, undermining national and international respect for NMSU?

  Put another way, should a university that prides itself on high-quality scientific work be headed by a man whom tobacco companies and others paid to attack financially inconvenient scientific research -- high-quality or otherwise -- on any grounds available?

Finally (and closest to my own heart): the fact that our climate is changing rapidly, at least in part because of our own activities, is as scientifically well-accepted but politically undecided as tobacco issues (whether cigarettes did people any harm; later, whether even second-hand smoke could harm people) were in the past.  Corporate interests will delay the effort to face the facts, as they did then; but this time the delay will be measured not in a vast but finite number of additional cases of lung cancer but in closing the last window we have to deal with a situation that will plague our children and grandchildren.  Time is passing. It's possible, even likely, that even if humanity began its best efforts tomorrow, it could at best reduce the scope of the disaster. Does NMSU wish to particpate in that effort or help put on the brakes?

         UNM has a Sustainability Plan.  Dr. Carruthers, unconvinced of climate change, may not see the need for one at NMSU.

         These are serious concerns.  Please do not ignore them by rushing to a decision on this matter.

         Depending on the nature of your own conversations with Carruthers, his reticence about TASSC might itself be worthy of further study before you decide to entrust our university to him.  (For example, was he -- as one assumes -- paid for his extensive TASSC work? If so, is listing it under "Public Service" quite accurate?)

         I understand that this information has come to light fairly recently -- after the search committee vetted the candidates, after news media had profiled the candidates, and largely after Carruthers met with students.  Particularly if the significant facts about Carruthers's involvement with TASSC have not been known to you and to the search committee members, any move to hand the NMSU presidency to Dr. Carruthers should, at best, be delayed to permit full investigation.

[Note: I only recently began looking at this issue.  My research is incomplete, but I believe the foregoing to be accurate.  Below, I've included some links to relevant articles and documents.  They are not well-ordered, partly because I'm still looking at further materials; but some of them help support the points made above.  I'll try to supplement it if I come across additional documents of potential use.]

some materials on TASSC, in addition to the Wikipedia article to which there's a link above:

A 2001 article in the American Journal of Public Health notes the tobacco industry attack on 'junk science'  and that Philip Morris "used public relations firms and lawyers to obscure the tobacco industry's role.  The European 'sound science' plans included a version of 'good epidemiogical practices' that would make it impossible to conclude that secondhand smoke -- and thus other environmental toxins -- caused diseases."

The article then warned that "Public health professionals need to be aware that the'sound science' movement is not an indigenous effort from within the profession to improve the quality of scientific discourse, but reflects sophisticated public relations campaigns controlled by indusry executives and lawyers whose aim is to manipulate the standards of scientific proof to serve the corporate interests of their clients."
This article provides the history of the Philip Morris "Sound Science" organization and its objective, flatly stated in Philip Morris documents 

An "Opinion Editorial from Garrey Carruthers, Chairman of TASSC" on TASSC letterhead, "Are We Being Exploited by Shoddy Science?":
Here he opposes the Clean Air Act as applied on Dallas-Fort Worth, not by reasoned discussion but by dredging up the Alar banning.  The Alar situation is also brought up at the start of an interview of Carruthers  by a friendly radio host at WBAP-FM in Dallas.. The transcript, available on-line.isn't too interesting because he's tossed softball-type questions by a political ally, but he states his opposition to the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and claims that growth hormones in cattle might not be a great thing for the folks who eat them.  (The Alar situation appears in a lot of the group's materials, suggesting the dearth of additional strong examples of their criticism of public science.)

The Catalyst, a TASSC Newsletter, (Volume I (Fall 1994) No. 3) contains a poll purporting to establish
public and even scientific lack of faith in government-sponsored research, and also reports written testimony by a TASSC Scientific Advisory Board Member (Dr. Alan Hedge) to a New York City hearing on "legislation that called for unreasonable restrictions on smoking in buildings," and a "Letter from the Chairman" (Carruthers).

The "unreasonable restrictions" Carruthers's group protested are now law pretty much everywhere.  Hedge's view that smoking policies had little or no effect on indoor air quality obviously didn't convince many decision-makers, despite the best efforts of the tobacco industry.

The poll Carruthers had done, and discusses proudly, was not, of course, done by an unbiased group, but by a rightist group that works for Republican candidates and groups.

An article on the web-site of the Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch, Inside the Tobacco Industry's Files documents that fighting the science on silicone gel breast implants was also part of Carruthers's work at TASSC. In 1995, Carruthers announced a TASSC award to a journalist for "having responsibly detailed in a series of stories how science has been distorted and manipulated to fuel litigation concerning silicone breast implants."  By 2006, the date of the article, the reporter notably did not mention TASSC or this wonderful ward in her CV.

You can also read the initial Philip Morris Plan for the Public Launching of TASSC.  It identifies Carruthers as Chairman, but doesn't say how much or by whom he's being paid.