Liza Gross

Political journalist and activist Liza Gross. Link: New York University Journalism department

Liza Gross is an “independent journalist” who covers the intersection between science and society. Despite holding a B.A. in political science, she claims that her specialties are environmental and public health. Her writing is more editorial than journalism, however, and she rarely discusses any substantive science topics. Like the work of most progressive activists today, Gross writing is mostly a combination of conspiratorial insinuations and self-righteous moralizing about the evils of corporate America.

Well Poisoning: The Go-To Rhetorical Trick For Conspiracy Theorists

Gross does little more in her opinion pieces than poison the well. Corporations are evil, she tells us, because they try to influence the regulatory process by having their scientists publish research articles and serve on government panels. Gross never gets around to explaining why working for industry is a bad thing, let alone addressing the scientific arguments of the researchers she libels. Apparently, though, her audience is supposed to take it on faith that industry scientists are untrustworthy.

She also never criticized Natural Resources Defense Council or the Obama administration when NRDC wrote actual government policy, nor does she protest Center for Biological Diversity sue-and-settle tactics or Environmental Working Group trying to influence the regulatory process by having their political science majors publish research articles and serve on government panels.

Recent Hypocritical Complaints About The EPA Shake-Up

Gross was especially annoyed by changes made at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2017, under the bureaucracy’s new Administrator Scott Pruitt. In a November piece that year, Gross complained that “Pruitt transformed the [EPA’s Science Advisory] board from a panel of …top environmental experts to one dominated by industry-funded scientists and…officials who have fought federal regulations.”

She again made no argument as to why these changes are cause for concern, except to suggest that government-funded environmentalists and environmental non-profit-funded researchers are more objective than experts in the private sector. Naturally, Gross again didn’t mention that President Obama’s EPA let environmentalist groups craft agency policy and write statements for the president, nor that EPA prearranged lawsuit settlements with these activist NGOs, such as the Sierra Club.

For a journalist who makes a pretense of being concerned about transparency and objectivity in the federal government, these are curious omissions. But her silence could be explained by the fact that Gross was a writer and editor at Sierra Magazine, the Sierra Club’s publication, for three years. Given this past association, perhaps Gross is more partisan than she lets on in her articles – at least if you believe her claims that anyone who has ever worked in the private sector or gotten a private sector grant is forever stained by such association.

Attacks on Pro-Science Groups Over E-cigarettes, Science Funding

The scientific evidence surrounding the safety of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) as valuable harm reduction and smoking cessation tools to stop cigarette smoking continues to pile up. Yet Democrats have remained staunchly opposed to them, preferring Big Pharma solutions such as nicotine gums and patches, who are heavy donors to their political campaigns. More recently, government agencies previously hostile to any non-Big Pharma nicotine use have begun to concede the point. But Gross claims to know the real truth. In a piece for The Verge, Gross flips the story around. It isn’t Big Pharma promoting fear and doubt about other nicotine-based smoking cessation techniques, it is instead that the consensus on e-cigarette safety is an orchestrated attempt by tobacco companies and their “front groups” to suppress the dangers associated with newer smoking alternatives.

Just like her other conspiracy narratives, such as EPA reforms above, Gross story here is plagued by a number of crippling factual errors, the least of which is that these so-called front groups are actually staffed by scientists and doctors who side with the data. For example, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) has been campaigning against smoking since 1978, they have noted the lives saved with gums, patches and more recently come out in support of e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to cigarettes based on research which shows that e-cigarettes could prevent 1-6 million premature deaths over a 10-year period. Gross mentions neither of these important facts, content to label the pro-science advocacy group a front organization for “Big Vape.” A cabal which does not even exist.

ACSH microbiologist Dr. Alex Berezow responded to Gross allegations later in November 2017. Berezow rightly argued against what she was really claiming, that only government-funded academics or environmental groups do real science and that the private sector is uniformly unethical. He pointed out that the majority of medical research today is financed by private firms. Far from harming the public, these studies often lead to the development of life-saving medicines. The private sector funded two-thirds of all science in America, including 50 percent of basic research. Gross refuses to roll back her claims that industry scientists are less ethical than their peers in academia, many of whom actually have higher salaries than private-sector counterparts.

By ignoring these pertinent yet inconvenient facts, Gross disqualifies herself as a serious journalist and remains firmly stuck in the realm of partisan blogger trapped in a bygone era. By labeling anyone who disagrees with her as an industry shill, Gross exposes herself as a scientifically-illiterate activist with an ideological ax to grind.