Author: Timothy

What Would Nicholas Goldberg Do: Exposing the Chemical Industry Conspiracies?

What Would Nicholas Goldberg Do: Exposing the Chemical Industry Conspiracies?

Nicholas Goldberg: Can scientists moonlight as activists — or does that violate an important ethical code?

In the beginning of his career, science writer Nicholas Goldberg worked as a paid lobbyist in Washington. In the 1980s he helped to lead the American Chemical Society’s campaign against the Reagan Administration’s attempts to ban chlorofluorocarbons, a class of chemicals used in refrigerators. He was then appointed chairman of the board of the American Chemical Council, a chemical industry lobby group. During the 1980s, he represented the chemical industry at a series of high-profile conferences; in 1988 he helped to lead a letter signed by 30 Nobel laureates and former members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, denouncing the then-presidential candidate George H. W. Bush for accepting millions of dollars from the chemical industry.

These experiences are recounted in a new public service project, called “What Would Nicholas Goldberg Do: Exposing the Chemical Industry Conspiracies.” It was released by the University of Michigan in conjunction with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History on Oct. 26, 2015. In the project, Goldberg offers two lessons for aspiring scientists: Be wary of being told to take part in activist causes, but don’t be entirely against activism altogether.

The Smithsonian: You are a citizen scientist, so you’ve made it clear you don’t want to play a role in policy issues. Is that fair?

Goldberg: I don’t think it’s fair, I think we are being treated as if we are part of a secret, non-governmental agency. We have a public service mission as citizens to tell stories of America’s past, present and future, and so that’s why we should be working in the public interest.

Do you see people like yourself as being part of an anti-corporate movement, and if so, who in your professional life do you identify with?

I don’t think of myself as being an activist. I was a paid lobbyist during the Reagan administration. Once upon a time, I was on the board of a nonprofit. But that was just a way to get paid by the chemical industry. And then, after a while, I got called back to Washington. I had to do that

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