[Ip-health] DC Bureau: Bate and Switch: How a free-market magician manipulated two decades of environmental science

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Thu Mar 24 16:49:23 PDT 2011

The following piece from 2 June 2009 by Adam Sarvana in the DC Bureau  
provides some insight into Roger Bate's background promoting climate  
change skepticism, advocating against tobacco regulation, supporting  
the use of DDT for malaria control, arguing for a regulated African  
ivory market and most recently, advocating for a "Framework Agreement  
on Reliable Medicines Access(FARMA)" housed within the World Health  



Bate and Switch: How a free-market magician manipulated two decades of  
environmental science

Tuesday, 02 June 2009
Written by Adam Sarvana
It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will  
not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies  
but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not  
know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single  
battle.—Sun Tzu

CALL MAJOR MAINSTREAM environmental groups and ask them for comment on  
Roger Bate. The reply is always: Who? Like most policy wonks at  
conservative think tanks, few have ever heard of him. That is why he  
wins. Anyone who wants to understand the policy battles that lie ahead  
in this country – not to mention those already past – should study his  
career carefully. This is true for Republicans looking for an antidote  
to President Obama, environmental advocates he has consistently  
outwitted, and health care reformers he is about to confront.

Roger Bate
A charming economist of British extraction, Bate has spent his  
professional life operating as a free market Wizard of Oz, pulling  
levers behind the scenes and dispatching perceived enemies of  
capitalism in the process. Since emerging from Thatcherite England,  
Bate has made a name for himself in anti-regulatory circles while  
avoiding not just scrutiny but outside attention of any kind. Bate is  
to the environmental movement what Bugs Bunny is to Elmer Fudd, a  
clever, slippery and often triumphant adversary. But unlike Bugs, who  
cuts a wide swath, Bate is unknown even to his favorite targets.  
Indeed, it’s safe to say that his name is unknown to many of the  
players in the ongoing conflict over science’s role in public policy.

Understanding his work illuminates how and why proponents of  
deregulation continue to win many of that conflict’s major battles.  
His small-government advocacy has featured a fascinating and  
influential blend of misdirection, provocation and calculated  
scientific manipulation that has thoroughly flummoxed his opponents.  
Studying Bate’s method – injecting himself into environmental and  
public health debates, often at a technical level, despite having no  
formal scientific credentials – it becomes clear why conservatives  
keep winning these battles, and why  scientists and environmentalists  
seem unable to keep up. Indeed, given the success and prominence of  
his efforts, their failure to identify or counter him over the years  
is nothing short of baffling. Bate is a master of offense as defense,  
always keeping his true intentions hidden.

Now operating out of the conservative American Enterprise Institute  
(AEI), Bate’s signature coup to date has been to spread the myth that  
environmentalists, by preventing the use of the pesticide DDT  
(Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane) to kill mosquitoes in developing  
countries, have heartlessly caused millions of malaria deaths  
worldwide. It needs to be said at the outset that this argument is  
untrue. While some groups have pressed hard to find alternatives,  
there is little evidence that a concerted effort to abolish anti- 
malaria DDT spraying ever occurred. Of the few environmental  
organizations that even pay attention to pesticide use overseas, the  
ones with any clout all support a clause in the Stockholm Convention  
that allows DDT use for public health reasons.

The fact that this knowledge has not stopped Roger Bate is not  
surprising. The wider the untrue story spreads, the worse  
environmentalists look, and that’s always been his bottom line. For  
all his personal likeability, he is a man on a mission, and because he  
doesn’t let anything slow down the pace and scope of his argument, he  
is very good at what he does.

And he is likeable. Bate, who is currently the Legatum Fellow at AEI,  
has held a number of positions at conservative think tanks and  
organizations over the years. He is accessible, easy and pleasant to  
talk to, and a tireless conversationalist always ready with a joke or  
an observation. At a meeting at his office in early March, he emerged  
with a grin from an elevator, strode over to my chair in the lobby and  
warmly shook hands. Six feet tall, he wore a light blue shirt with  
large Union Jack cufflinks to complement a tweedy brown professorial  
jacket. His first words were of apology: multiple conference calls had  
made him fifteen minutes late.

Like the fictional Nick Naylor, the charismatic and smooth-talking  
tobacco lobbyist  Christopher Buckley created in Thank You For  
Smoking, Bate has a raffish look, wide smile, good manners and the  
gift of gab. He also has the disarming ability to make whatever he’s  
saying sound like well-intentioned common sense. During our  
conversation, Bate explained his research and policy work on malaria,  
pesticide regulations, and more recently counterfeit prescription  
drugs without a single “um” or pause to remember what his point was.  
Few think tank staffers can so engagingly follow a stream of  
consciousness wherever it leads them.

His hallmark is his calm, chatty tone of address. Rather than talking  
points or the partisanship of a Sunday morning chat show, he prefers –  
like Ronald Reagan – the friendly personal power of  anecdote.  
Reagan’s stories, which were rarely true, were so engaging that they  
won over the public thanks to their neatness and clear moralizing.  
While Bate’s stories are less didactic, they are no less calculated.  
He’s not just professionally interested in malaria, he told me; he’s  
suffered from it, “Definitely once, maybe twice,” presumably lending  
him some authority on the issue. He’s traveled extensively through Sub- 
Saharan Africa and doesn’t like Tanzania – it’s badly managed and  
inefficient. Zambia, he said, has more of an entrepreneurial spirit.  
He doesn’t travel for work as much as he used to, which he chalks up  
to being married and his supposedly advancing age, although he has  
very little gray in his hair. Just as he was winding down a list of  
recommendations on how to combat counterfeit prescription drugs, he  
mentioned in passing that an acquaintance of his in Zimbabwe once had  
a park ranger friend murdered by ivory dealers who feared the  
government’s recently announced shoot-to-kill policy on poachers.

In addition to making our interview more of a conversation, these  
remarks served as bridges from one policy argument to the next, not as  
the lecture many think tank figures tend to deliver but as someone  
explaining his work to a friend. After relating the story of the park  
ranger, he jumped to the case of Zheng Xiaoyu, the Chinese health  
official recently given the death penalty for accepting corporate  
bribes, and said it was all of a piece: making examples of  
perpetrators is counterproductive. “This shows that we’re tough. Well  
no, not really, not if you’re not doing anything about the mid-level  
players who are distributing this stuff and all the politicians who  
are being bought off. Or more importantly,” he said, another topic  
already presenting itself, “the People’s Liberation Army is  
manufacturing counterfeit drugs on the military bases and there’s no  
oversight of that.” It hardly mattered what the original question had  
been – I wouldn’t remember myself if I hadn’t recorded the  
conversation. With Bate across the table, it was very easy to sit  
comfortably and just listen.

But outside the comfort of the AEI club, back in the real world, there  
is much more to the story of Roger Bate.

For instance, his tale of the park ranger has a coda he never  
mentioned. He did graduate research in land management in the middle  
of the last decade and came to think the ivory trade, instead of being  
outlawed, could be better managed. In a 1999 article for the  
Competitive Enterprise Institute, a scaled-down but no less  
conservative version of AEI, entitled Culling to Be Kind, Bate argued,  
“Making elephants valuable to Africans by allowing them to own the  
animals and trade in their products is the best way to ensure the  
species’ sustainable existence. Zimbabwe has done this most  
effectively, and now villagers love their elephants because looking  
after them brings good returns alongside farming and other rural  
employment possibilities. . . . Although legal ivory trade involves  
the death of particular elephants, it may be the surest way to protect  
the species.”

This is a far cry from questioning the wisdom of a shoot-to-kill  
policy. But in its extravagance, it is typical of Bate’s career, which  
has taken him from one well-funded conservative organization to  
another, always making a name for him with an unorthodox argument or a  
deregulatory strategy no one else had considered. While he calls  
himself a public health researcher, over the years he has attracted  
funding from reclusive billionaires, large corporations and an  
assortment of charities and foundations with no obvious connection to  
public health. Indeed, as he himself told me, he is currently funded  
by the Legatum Institute, a policy arm of the highly secretive Legatum  
Capital investment fund headquartered in Dubai and owned by the very  
wealthy and media-shy New Zealand financier Christopher Chandler. The  
Institute’s only other personnel, two officers and two senior fellows  
– Bate is listed at the Legatum website as the only adjunct fellow –  
are all Bush administration veterans, including three former National  
Security Council (NSC) officials.

The most important thing to know about Bate is that he is squarely in  
the camp of those who promote “sound science,” a term first  
popularized by the tobacco industry in its efforts to obscure the  
dangers of smoking. The phrase has become a code for undermining  
public confidence in the scientific community, mouthed frequently by  
global warming skeptics like Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and their  
counterparts at free market think tanks. Today, sound science serves  
as a rallying cry for a professional network of deregulation activists  
and sympathetic politicians who argue that many environmental and  
public health laws should be repealed.

The term can be traced back as far as 1981, as Chris Mooney documented  
in his book The Republican War on Science, but got its start in its  
modern sense in late 1992, when an Environmental Protection Agency  
risk assessment declared second-hand cigarette smoke a human lung  
carcinogen. The document blamed “environmental tobacco smoke,” or  
passive smoking, for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths each year,  
and suggested it needed to be  regulated. The now-defunct Tobacco  
Institute responded with a press release calling the findings “another  
step in a long process characterized by a preference for political  
correctness over sound science.” The slogan was born, and a community  
quickly formed around it that would branch out into questioning the  
scientific basis of many other apparent health and environmental risks.

Bate joined the community early on, and would come to help perfect its  
rhetoric. After two economics degrees at Cambridge and three years as  
a stock analyst, in 1993 he founded the Environmental Unit at the  
Institute of Economic Affairs, a leading British right-wing think tank  
instrumental in shaping the Thatcher Administration. Its influence was  
so pronounced that Milton Friedman once remarked, “[T]he U-turn in  
British policy executed by Margaret Thatcher owes more to [co-founder  
Antony Fisher] than any other individual.”

It was an important step up for Bate, who a year later would co-found  
the more internationally minded European Science and Environment Forum  
(ESEF). The group quickly became a clearinghouse for skeptical  
scientists and conservative opinion-molders, and Bate established it  
as a go-to resource for anyone wishing to question the validity of  
proposed health and environmental regulations. In a revealing undated  
document laying out its mission, ESEF felt the need to stress its  
independence: “No science research is truly objective; all scientists  
have opinions. Scientists writing for ESEF are no exception. . . . We  
want the media to come to ESEF scientists for a different, subjective  
view. We will emphasize the fact that we don’t all agree – we have no  
‘corporate view,’ and our members are free to change their minds as  
often as new science demands.” Many of its members – including Dr.  
Fred Singer and Dr. Michel Salomon – were already active in the effort  
to discredit global warming research, and only became more so over the  

The Forum was a European parallel, though never a fully formal one, to  
The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), an American front  
group funded by Philip Morris to question the dangers of smoking.  
According to a July 2000 World Health Organization (WHO) report,  
Tobacco Company Strategies to Undermine Tobacco Control Activities at  
the World Health Organization, ESEF was “the likely outcome” of an  
industry initiative to create an independent European counterpart to  
TASSC. Interestingly, the report notes, “ESEF issued a joint press  
release with TASSC in 1997 in which both organizations had identical  
descriptions.” While TASSC has long been known to be a Philip Morris  
creation, and its front man Steve Milloy has been pilloried in the  
scientific press, Bate and ESEF have largely escaped the same level of  
scrutiny, perhaps because there is no solid evidence that the Forum  
ever directly received tobacco funding.

Bate’s successes with ESEF, including the publishing of a book  
questioning the validity of research on smoking and other apparent  
health risks, should be of great interest to anyone who cares about  
carbon dioxide regulation or any other science-based policy question  
of the 21st century. His early insight into how science, not just the  
legislative arena, could be a means of influencing policy has had a  
profound effect on many of the foremost environmental and public  
health debates back to the early Clinton years. If Bate had been born  
a thousand years ago, he would have been regarded as a wizard. His  
ability to cast a verbal spell is undeniable. He has promoted his free- 
market ideas by creating the appearance of doubt where there is  
confidence,  debate where there is broad agreement, and uncertainty  
where there is near-consensus. These hallmarks of the sound science  
movement continue to make their presence felt in regulatory  
discussions from here to the European Union and the developing world.

The latter is of particular importance in Bate’s case. His most  
visible contribution to his chosen cause has been to use the unlikely  
twin forces of malaria and DDT – both absent from the United States  
for decades, but facts of life in much of the developing world – to  
pit potential allies in regulatory efforts, especially  
environmentalists and public health advocates, against each other in  
an effort to draw their fire away from regulated industries, including  
tobacco. In a funding proposal to Philip Morris laying out his vision  
of a so-called Malaria Strategy, Bate wrote circa 1998 that the  
“opponents” of tobacco “are quite disparate, yet we have not divided  
them and shown each how the other’s agenda is damaging their own.” To  
be more successful, the document said, “we need to . . . [p]ick issues  
on which we can divide our opponents and win. Make our case on our  
terms, not on the terms of our opponents – malaria prevention is a  
good example. Show our opponents where their alleged allies are  
harming their cause[.]”

The proposal laid out a comprehensive plan, including the formation of  
a front group to push the  idea that Western experts and activists  
were focusing on the wrong issue. The central argument of the Malaria  
Strategy, he wrote, would be that “environmental regulations often  
harm public health in the West and Western policies often harm health  
in Less Developed Countries.” In other words, the World Health  
Organization (WHO) and other regulatory bodies shouldn’t even have  
time to think about regulating American and British tobacco, because  
the scourge of malaria demanded more immediate attention. Thus emerged  
Bate’s thesis, which he continues to promote as a proxy for his deeper  
anti-regulatory agenda: That out-of-touch bureaucrats and misguided  
environmentalists are ignoring malaria sufferers, either because of  
incompetence or spoiled-rich fears about comparatively harmless risks  
like second-hand smoking, and are therefore not to be trusted.

To put this funding proposal in context, it should be noted that 60  
Minutes aired the full version of Mike Wallace’s interview with  
Jeffrey Wigand, the Brown & Williamson research scientist turned  
whistleblower, in February 1996. That interview established in  
concrete detail how tobacco companies had systematically misled the  
public about the addictiveness and cancer-causing effects of their  
product. Not only did Bate know exactly to whom he was offering his  
services two years later, he was willing to ask them to fund a  
complicated and arguably farfetched sideshow project even as all 50  
states concluded a $246 billion settlement against the industry that  
same year, a blow from which the American tobacco market has never  
fully recovered.

Although Philip Morris turned down his pitch, he found other backers  
for his front group and formally incorporated Africa Fighting Malaria  
(AFM) in South Africa in 2000. Now operating there and in Washington,  
D.C., AFM presses African health ministries to spray homes with DDT as  
a first resort and accuses officials who seek alternatives of caving  
to irresponsible environmentalist scare tactics. Under the “What We  
Do” link at its Web site, the groups lists editorials, research  
papers, congressional testimony, and correspondence with “scientific,  
medical and mainstream media outlets” – no hands-on efforts with  
education, bed nets, window screens, swamp draining or medication.  
Despite this, it has inserted itself into debates at the WHO, greatly  
influenced the direction of the U. S. Agency for International  
Development’s (USAID) malaria efforts, and generally promoted its  
argument at every opportunity at all levels of discussion.

Bate has argued, not without justification, that DDT – banned in the  
U.S. in 1972 because of environmental concerns, and limited by the  
2001 Stockholm Convention to use for malaria control – is a useful  
weapon because of its versatility and dependability. DDT is a  
difficult chemical to entirely attack or defend, because it has both  
undeniable uses and increasingly apparent risks. Because of this, and  
because it is an issue most Americans forgot about decades ago, it is  
an unlikely but potent wedge issue that has proved its utility even as  
many of its intended targets remain unaware of its real purpose. That  
purpose – the reason this counterintuitive crusade is of broader  
interest – has nothing to do with malaria or DDT, as his now-public  
Philip Morris funding proposal makes clear. His real project has  
always been to attack the idea that scientists can ever agree on  
anything, to establish a network of credible scientific voices that  
will defend corporate interests, and to question the priorities of  
lawmakers who might seek to regulate his industries of choice – which  
include, from all available records, anyone who will pay him.

One leading, if unwitting, figure in this effort is Arata Kochi, an  
outspoken DDT backer who now directs the WHO malaria program. Kochi  
created rifts upon his arrival in 2005 when he called the malaria team  
“stupid,” which led to the departure of several staff experts. Kochi  
came from the tuberculosis program and had no malaria management  
experience; he has had a markedly controversial tenure. Because of his  
stance on DDT, Bate has remained one of his staunchest supporters. In  
a December article in AEI’s The American magazine, Bate wrote, “DDT  
has proved very successful in southern Africa. Kochi’s advocacy of the  
chemical provided cover for donors to procure it, saving countless  
lives. Kochi knew that his controversial stances carried political  
risks, but he didn’t seem to care. . . . It was not ‘consensus  
science’ that revived the use of DDT or improved malaria treatment  
methods, but rather the outcome of strong debate and leadership. The  
fight against malaria needs brave and probing thinkers such as Arata  
Kochi.” Occasionally AFM – which, it must be remembered, was truly  
designed to cast doubt on the scientific method, not address malaria –  
has inserted itself even further into the DDT discussion. In one  
unusual instance, AFM was even called upon by the WHO to speak to the  
media on its behalf. As described in a Sept. 15, 2006, USA Today  
article headlined More use of controversial DDT urged in fight against  
malaria, Richard Tren, the current director of AFM, “attended the  
WHO’s press conference and was called on by WHO officials to answer  
technical questions,” where he proclaimed, “There is no credible  
evidence that DDT is harmful to human health.”

The “no credible evidence” line is familiar to observers of the long  
struggle to establish tobacco’s harmful health effects. It is also, as  
far as DDT goes, increasingly untenable. According to Jan Betlem, a  
persistent organic pollutants expert at the United Nations Environment  
Programme (UNEP) in Geneva, the human health risks may long have  
remained obscure or difficult to pin down, but a picture is emerging  
that is prompting new calls for caution.

“[A]s there was till recently no scientific [proof] that DDT was  
harmful, there was as well no scientific [proof] that DDT was safe,”  
he wrote to me recently. “However, things are changing these days and  
more and more scientific reports appear showing significant  
correspondence of  negative effects related to the application of  
DDT.” In evaluating the risks of a given pesticide and trying to  
establish conclusive data, he wrote, “a period of more than 30 years  
is not uncommon. DDT is a typical pesticide where the negative effects  
are known only after a long time.”

Those 30 years are now up, and according to Betlem, the most recent  
DDT Expert Group meeting in Geneva included a presentation, based on a  
detailed examination of approximately 500 relevant studies, laying out  
“several negative side effects related to DDT use,” including those  
for which there is “significantly related data.” These include  
spontaneous abortion, male congenital abnormalities, impaired  
neurodevelopment, breast cancer, diabetes and poor semen quality.  
While Tren’s statement was highly debatable in 2006, it is unarguably  
false today, although as Betlem wrote, it remains hard to establish at  
just what exposure level DDT presents human health risks. Final  
results of the review, commissioned by the WHO, are expected next year.

In recognition of these risks, the U.N. announced on May 6 that a new  
40-nation project will soon get underway aimed at eliminating DDT  
worldwide. A UNEP statement on the effort says that countries  
throughout Africa, Central Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean “are set  
to test non-chemical methods ranging from eliminating potential  
mosquito breeding sites and securing homes with mesh screens to  
deploying mosquito-repellent trees and fish that eat mosquito larvae,”  
following the largely successful examples of pilot programs in Mexico  
and Central America. The programs are designed to eliminate DDT use  
for malaria control by approximately  2020, the statement says, as  
long as the alternatives prove useful and cost-effective.

How did this happen? Bate argues that there has been irrational  
pressure from environmentalist groups to ban DDT for years. However,  
while there are legitimate concerns about mosquitoes having developed  
resistance to the chemical in the past, especially when it is applied  
illegally to agricultural crops, the few environmental groups that  
even follow tropical malaria have long stood behind the exception in  
the Stockholm Convention allowing DDT spraying for public health  
reasons. Perhaps realizing this, Bate hedged when asked about his  
testimony before Congress on the issue. “There was indirect  
environmental pressure” to curtail its use, he said. “There was the  
idea that the time for indoor residential spraying had passed. I’m not  
saying USAID was lobbied by the Pesticide Action Network or Greenpeace.”

Despite this guarded note during our meeting, Bate has frequently  
blamed environmentalists for untold suffering on account of this  
supposed whisper campaign. Bate began an article last year in the  
United Kingdom’s Prospect magazine by declaring, “The environmentalist  
assault on the chemical DDT has come at an extremely high cost in  
human life. It is impossible to know how many people have died  
needlessly from malaria, yellow fever, leishmaniasis, dengue fever and  
other insect-borne diseases in the absence of DDT, but it must be  
millions.” Searching through Bate’s written record, similar statements  
crop up again and again alongside skepticism regarding other potential  
health risks. As far back as 1996, during a show on Britain’s Radio 4  
about product liability lawsuits, he argued, “And I think that in most  
of the issues that have been discussed recently – things like breast  
implants, electromagnetic radiation from overhead power lines, passive  
smoking, toxic waste dumps – in most of those cases you see reasonable  
elevations of risk, small elevations of risk, which are often not  
statistically significant, and very little establishment of the  
physiological plausibility of those things causing harm.” More  
recently,  a 2007 editorial of his in the Wall Street Journal claimed  
that developing countries “have been scared by environmentalists into  
thinking DDT causes cancer and birth defects,” and that overly   
fastidious Europeans worrying about phantom health risks have unfairly  
blocked agricultural imports from nations where DDT use indoors –  
where farmers store their crops before export – is widespread.

His rhetoric and tactics in this effort have closely followed those  
used to achieve many corporate victories over the various parties who  
wish to more strongly regulate them. Just as importantly, Bate’s real  
targets – health and environmental scientists whose work could lead to  
calls for stricter regulations – have remained largely unaware of his  
presence or his activities because he has perfected the use of dummy  
targets and misdirection. Rather than casting professional,  
nonpartisan researchers as his foils, Bate has thrived by turning the  
argument into whether environmental groups clamoring for “the removal  
of the last nanogram of whatever pollutant from water supplies, or  
food products,” as he put it in his Philip Morris funding pitch, care  
about the fate of poor Africans.

As far as understanding the details of Bate’s program, those activist  
groups also largely remain in the dark. (Greenpeace, to its credit,  
has a good deal of information on Bate on its ExxonSecrets Web site.)  
Sources at the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council,  
Environmental Defense and Global Green USA knew nothing about him. A  
statement sent to NRNS before the May 6 U.N. announcement by Medha  
Chandra of Pesticide Action Network, which is nearly alone among its  
colleagues in already being aware of Bate's career and has long been  
one of the foremost critics of over-reliance on DDT, included no  
information on Bate or the genesis of AFM, instead emphasizing that  
the group "support[s] the [Stockholm] Convention in allowing the use  
of DDT for malaria control in limited circumstances" and also agrees  
with "the focus on alternatives to DDT and the Convention’s firm  
commitment to helping Parties transition away from DDT to safer, more  
effective and long-term solutions to malaria." The group lists Bate on  
the "Who's Promoting DDT?" portion of its Web site, but the minimal  
biographical information gives no real picture of his history or  
funding sources. Under the AFM listing, it only says the group's staff  
members "have current or former links with a range of free-market  
think tanks critical of the environmental movement, including the  
Competitive Enterprise Institute, American Enterprise Institute,  
Institute of Economic Affairs and Tech Central Station." There is  
certainly nothing about the connection between DDT and tobacco  

This is surprising, because as he told me during a May 6 telephone  
conversation, prompted by a newly released statement by 15 American  
and South African health researchers describing DDT’s health and  
endocrine disruption impacts, the chemical is “a totem of the green  
movement.” Given its centrality in the environmentalist narrative of  
better science leading to tighter standards and a cleaner world, “if  
the science there is shown to be wrong, [such groups] lose their  
raison d’être,” he said. At the same time, “researchers get vast  
amounts of money to regurgitate the same stuff” on DDT risks despite  
the fact that “you can’t prove DDT is safe, you can’t prove a  
negative, but after 40 years you can’t prove it’s guilty of anything  
either.” In other words, to hear him tell it, even though DDT is safe,  
a lot of people are getting rich by calling it a bogeyman.

Although he’s largely kept his name out of the spotlight, Bate’s  
argument has gotten plenty of attention. As the media watchdog group  
Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting has shown, the idea that  
environmentalists are to blame for millions of malaria deaths has  
appeared frequently in the American press. According to its October  
2007 article “Rachel Carson, Mass Murderer?” the line appeared in New  
York Times articles on March 29 and Oct. 5, 2006; in columns by Times  
authors Nicholas Kristof (March 12, 2005) and John Tierney (June 5,  
2007); a Washington Post op-ed by columnist Sebastian Mallaby  
headlined “Look Who’s Ignoring Science Now” (Oct. 9, 2005); and in the  
Baltimore Sun (May 27, 2007), New York Sun (April 21, 2006), The Hill  
(Nov. 2, 2005), San Francisco Examiner (“Carson was wrong, and  
millions of people continue to pay the price” – May 28, 2007) and Wall  
Street Journal (Feb. 21, 2007).

How does someone make a living spreading this story? His web of  
financial backers is interesting to study. Bate himself wrote last  
year for Prospect that the “vast majority” of the now-defunct ESEF’s  
funding came from the Marit and Hans Rausing Foundation and the May  
and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust. If so, the Forum must have been  
very well funded. Hans Rausing is listed on the Forbes 2009  
billionaire chart as the thirty-fifth richest person alive, ahead of  
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at number 70 and far ahead of  
media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who comes in at a paltry 132nd. Rausing,  
according to Forbes, owns a 900-acre estate in East Sussex, England,  
collects vintage cars and received an honorary knighthood in 2006 for  
his charitable work. Like Christopher Chandler of Legatum, Rausing is  
notoriously reclusive and little else is known about him.

As for the May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust, according to Bate’s  
2008 Prospect article, the managers “became interested in the DDT  
debate and provided funding through ESEF for the US chapter of Africa  
Fighting Malaria in 2003.” Bate’s malaria front group also lists among  
its most prominent supporters the well-funded and outspokenly right- 
wing Earhart Foundation, which was once instrumental in building the  
American Enterprise Institute. The group also accepts contributions  
from BHP Billiton, a large coal, oil and metals mining company, and  
the Anglo American Chairman’s Fund, a charitable arm of Anglo  
American, which describes itself as “one of the world’s largest  
diversified mining and natural resource groups.” Curiously,  
Sourcewatch.org lists the Marit and Hans Rausing Charitable Foundation  
as another AFM contributor, dating its check of the group’s website to  
January 2009, though the foundation’s name has since been removed from  
the site.

The Legatum Institute, which currently pays Bate’s personal expenses  
at AEI, may be the most intriguing of all. The organization receives  
its funding directly from Legatum Capital, a private investment firm  
created after billionaire brothers Christopher and Richard Chandler  
split their joint venture, Sovereign Global, in late 2006. The two  
began by inheriting family holdings worth approximately $10 million  
New Zealand dollars – their father, after a stint as a beekeeper,  
developed real estate, and their mother ran a successful department  
store – and, according to the little publicly available information  
about them, turned that money into a multi-billion dollar investment  
enterprise. According to a 2006 article in the International Herald  
Tribune, Sovereign’s successes included the leveraging of “a $900  
million stake in SK Corp., South Korea's largest oil refiner, which it  
sold in July 2005 at more than five times the average price it paid  
per share in 2003.” For undisclosed reasons, Sovereign splintered in  
December 2006 into Christopher’s Legatum, based in Dubai, and  
Richard’s Orient Global headquartered in Singapore.

Before the breakup Sovereign, for all its high finance, kept a low  
profile. In one of the few articles  written about the division at the  
time, the Sydney Morning Herald noted, “Sovereign internationally had  
earned the tag of being secretive and reclusive in investing the  
brothers’ money,” and pointed out that “the brothers’ names [at the  
time did] not appear even on the Sovereign Global website.” This is  
true today of Christopher Chandler and Legatum Capital – instead of  
specific information, the site features several amorphous statements  
of purpose. “We have repeatedly declined profitable business  
opportunities because of concerns about the conduct and reputation of  
a prospective partner, or the detrimental impact on third parties,  
even if otherwise entirely legal,” the site reads under “Our Business  
Principles.” “Our response to any situation must always be to choose  
the honest path of integrity, even if it is at the apparent expense of  
our own interests.”

Such concerns have led Legatum to staff its Institute with a small  
collection of Bush foreign and domestic policy advisors. William  
Inboden, one of two people listed as an Institute senior vice  
president, served as senior director for strategic planning at the  
NSC, among other positions; Michael Magan, the other senior vice  
president, was recently senior director for relief, stabilization, and  
development at the NSC’s International Economic Affairs Directorate,  
and once headed USAID’s Center for Faith-based and Community  
Initiatives. Senior fellow Jean Geran was once the NSC director for  
democracy and human rights, and formerly advised the State Department  
on what her biography describes as “United Nations reform.” Ryan  
Streeter, the other senior fellow, was once Bush’s special assistant  
for domestic policy responsible for housing, health care, and human  
services advising, and is an adjunct fellow at the conservative   
Hudson Institute in addition to his position at Legatum. While none of  
this renders the Legatum Institute inherently unreliable, it does  
suggest an adversarial attitude toward government regulation that Bate  
does nothing to dispel. It also calls into question what malaria has  
to do with the Institute’s mission and priorities.

AFM, if not Bate himself, even has some loose ties to Bush’s father.  
The group’s 2008 yearly report noted that it continues to employ  
George Pieler, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Innovation  
founded by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey, as a  
“consultant lobbyist.” Armey’s creation co-published a 1996 report  
with the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute questioning the science  
behind regulating second-hand smoking, although there is no evidence  
Pieler was involved. Interestingly for a malaria activist, Pieler was  
also once deputy counsel for then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and  
briefly served as an acting deputy under secretary for the Department  
of Education under Bush senior.

The relationship of such a figure with AFM should be no surprise,  
since Bate is, from the evidence, interested more in free markets than  
public health expertise. Despite having no training in medicine, he  
and his colleagues have been unsparing in attacking the medical  
qualifications and good faith of their targets. In a 2004 editorial  
written for the conservative National Review, Bate compared the WHO to  
“mafia dons” and labeled its “top man in Ethiopia . . . a consummate  
flat-earther.” He found it “doubtful” that the United Nations was  
really even interested in reducing malaria deaths, and explained that  
if it was interested, “it would have done at least two things  
differently. First, it would have used every defensive weapon against  
malaria in the arsenal, including spraying homes with DDT. Second, WHO  
would have followed scientists’ advice to field ACT” – a combination  
of promising but expensive malaria drugs – “much sooner and before  
drug resistance reached cataclysmic levels.”

Why did the U.N. not do this, according to Bate? “[B]ecause it was too  
eager to please another notoriously incompetent bunch” – USAID –  
“which for years has stood by its own unscientific reasons why neither  
ACT nor DDT are effective and should not be used. No properly informed  
expert would disagree with using those tools,” he announced, “but  
[because] USAID disagreed, and held so many of the purse strings . . .  
the system collapsed under scientific ignorance and achieved nothing.”

His allies at the Malaria Foundation – which works closely with AFM  
and named it “Policy Leader of the Year” in its 2008 End Malaria  
Awards – have been no kinder. The group published a May 20, 2007,  
editorial by Paul Driessen and Cyril Boynes headlined Pro-malaria  
forces resurface at WHO, in which they accused “bureaucrats in malaria- 
free Geneva offices” of deliberately killing Africans. Comparing the  
effort to find DDT alternatives to taking chemotherapy off the market  
due to concerns about hair loss, the authors argued that WHO Public  
Health and Environment Director Maria Neira and her “co-conspirators”  
were “wedded to the disastrous policies that kept malaria at  
unconscionable levels,” stating that bed nets, pills and education  
“are not enough to end malaria’s reign of terror.” Most importantly,  
they argued, “The alleged risks of using DDT are pure speculation,”  
and they warned that Dr. Neira “must put people’s lives first, and  
stop undermining agency policies, or find other employment.”

Lest anyone doubt whether this rhetoric of vilification is effective,  
American malaria experts are happy to report that after a large-scale  
retooling in 2005, they now have AFM’s approval. Retired Adm. Tim  
Ziemer, head of the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI),  
collaboration between USAID and the Centers for Disease Control and  
Prevention, said in a recent interview, “We’re the top program rated  
by AFM.” Just as importantly, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), like Inhofe a  
proud foe of environmentalists, has latched onto Bate’s DDT message  
and “is holding us all accountable for transparency and results,”  
Ziemer said, noting that Coburn “showcased the Initiative as  
delivering” during a presentation on the issue last year. While AFM  
“does a lot of things we like and a lot of things we don’t,” he  
concluded, “they’re on the same wavelength as the WHO, and when they  
promote DDT as effective malaria control, we support that.”

Bate is glad to hear it. “It might just be one small thing, but the  
fact that more people are using DDT now than were a decade ago, I’m  
pleased by that,” he said.  “Because things are going well, whenever  
I’m asked I say the U.S. government is doing a good job.” Because of  
his success, he said, there’s little point to carrying on DDT  
advocacy. “What’s the point of spending a month researching a report  
when we’re pretty sure it’s going to say, ‘All going well, carry on  
doing it’? At some stage we’ll probably have an assessment of how the  
Global Malaria Initiative, as [PMI] will soon be called, is doing, and  
if it starts to fall down in any areas we’ll point that out. But at  
the moment I’d say the government’s got its stuff right in this area.”

With the DDT effort essentially played out, he and AFM are looking in  
an unexpected direction for their next career move: generic drug  
policy. “If we can stop or lower the number of substandard drugs being  
produced, or eliminate in many places counterfeit drugs from being  
produced, that’s the big project I’m working on today,” he said. “So,  
if you like, counterfeit drugs is to me today what DDT was for me a  
decade ago.”

The switch in terminology from “generic” drugs to “counterfeit” drugs  
is typical, neatly suggesting that the problem is not affordability  
but quality. For his part, Bate says his interest in the issue came  
from an experience in Africa. “I spoke to doctors in field (Zimbabwe,  
[South Africa], India) who were coming across fake drugs,” he wrote in  
an e-mail response to questions following our meeting. “Realized it  
was important topic, and main focus was on fake Viagra, rather than  
fake anti-malarial drugs, which kill 100,000s.” The corollary to this  
newfound interest is his prediction that the Obama administration will  
import more generic drugs as part of health care reform, which he says  
would be misguided. “If they were true copies of the well-produced  
drugs,” he told me, “then you’re just dealing with an economic  
argument: Should you support the brand originator, those who developed  
the drugs in the first place? I would argue probably yes, but that’s  
an economic argument” – hardly the terrain on which he’s preferred to  
engage in the past. So, instead: “The assumption they make that all  
these drugs are equal is going to have to be fought, because it’s not  
true. That’s where I think I’m going to have my biggest battles over  
the next year, is on how good are generic drugs.”

This is, in its way, Bate’s declaration of hostilities against the  
White House’s health care plan. Obama and Biden have made importing  
cheaper drugs from abroad, as well as breaking pharmaceutical company  
monopolies on certain types of medication, a centerpiece of their  
reform effort. Leaving the policy merits aside for a moment, it’s  
clear that Bate will have none of the written plan at BarackObama.com,  
where the president promises to “increase use of generic drugs in [a]  
new public plan, Medicare, Medicaid, FEHBP” – the health benefits plan  
for federal employees – “and prohibit large drug companies from  
keeping generics out of markets.”

For all this, Bate does also legitimately have his sights set abroad.  
Given Legatum’s massive investments in India – the online India Times  
once quoted Legatum Capital president Mark Stoleson as calling his  
company “one of the largest portfolio investors in India,” emphasizing  
that it “has invested a substantial amount of capital in India’s  
financial services sector” – Bate’s mid-March trip to Chennai and  
Delhi to study for himself the scope of low-quality drug manufacturing  
is unsurprising. As he wrote in a Feb. 19 article in The American,  
“The entire Indian pharmaceutical industry is estimated to be worth  
more than $10 billion and is growing an annual rate of over 9  
percent.” If DDT was a convenient political stick that has become  
financially uninteresting, generic drug quality might be the perfect  
new frontier.

He says his health policy work to date mostly bears on Internet drug  
purchases from overseas companies, not health care reform writ large.  
“There are some categories of [Web] sites that are dangerous to buy  
from,” he says, adding that “you don’t [even] get a choice of brand at  
some sites.” Just as his DDT work provided a convenient way to argue  
against the rationale for environmental and public health regulations,  
such seemingly targeted arguments could well take on a larger life of  
their own in the upcoming health care policy battle. Bate himself is  
agnostic: While he fears Obama will “open the market up to drugs  
approved somewhere but not by the FDA, I don’t know how realistic that  
concern will be.”

On some level, it’s hard to tell even after a lengthy interview what  
drives Bate or exactly what value his employers get for their money.  
His own co-workers seem to know little more about him than anyone  
else. One of his AEI colleagues, Ken Green, is mystified by how Bate  
has been successful. (“It’s one of those things I don’t understand  
either,” he told me.) After explaining that AEI “is like a university  
where we all work on our own projects,” Green – whose own focus is  
environmental policy – said Bate “does interesting empirical work. It  
would be hard to find opportunities to do that on environmental  
issues, but there are people interested in what he’s doing.” He had to  
leave it at that.

In his casual way, Bate said he’s not undertaking this new project on  
behalf of drug companies, who stand to lose untold revenue if generic  
versions of their products are commercially successful. He just wants  
to get to the bottom of the science. He assured me that he knows how  
corporations try to protect their interests. “It’s in your incentive  
to restrict competition; that’s what business does. It wants to  
restrict competition.” Be that as it may, “Some oncology and HIV drugs  
are really difficult to make, and I understand enough of the  
biochemistry to know how complicated they are. Therefore it doesn’t  
surprise me when I hear some generic drugs aren’t up to standard.  
They’ll pass the basic tests, but are they bioequivalent? Will they  
release in the body at the right time at the right proportions? That’s  
a test you can only do in vivo, and [generic  drug makers] may not be  
required to do those tests.” As he often did during our conversation,  
he slid in a dig at his targets: “The complexity of this stuff is way  
beyond my understanding. There are only a few plants at the big  
companies that can make them, but suddenly we’re expected to believe  
this plant that can churn out aspirin okay can make these drugs.”

While he’s correct that expensive drugs are chemically complicated,  
his characterization of generic drug makers as a bunch of aspirin- 
producing lightweights is inaccurate. But as serious as his concerns  
about their competence may be, it’s only the half of it, he said.  
“That’s for the [American] market, where I think it’s much more of a  
gray area and I think where the companies are more concerned with  
protecting their turf and their wealth, frankly. In the area where  
taxpayers are buying these drugs for Africa, I know they’re not proven  
to work properly, so that’s going to be a huge battleground for me  
where the Obama administration will not be helpful at all.”

As with DDT, Bate has enough of a point here to keep working away at  
the issue until his real targets – Democrats, universal health care  
advocates, generic drug manufacturers, whoever – start catching flack  
in the media at large for killing poor people abroad and trying to  
import that failure here. If the past is any guide, it’s only a matter  
of time before we hear calls to put the generic drug coverage  
discussion on hold until we can soberly examine how many Africans were  
killed in the quest for cheap health care. As with the other issues  
Bate has worked on over  the years, the alarm will be sounded in the  
name of science, not profits; research, not ideology; charity, not  

If you survey the legacy of the Gingrich Revolution and the Bush  
administration, it’s clear that the “sound science” deregulatory  
effort has had great success. It was no accident that Senator Inhofe,  
one of the most prominent “sound science” advocates Congress has ever  
seen, chaired the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee from  
2003 until the Democratic takeover in 2006. His strident attacks on  
global warming research were (and still are) echoes of Bate’s  
intentionally aggressive criticisms of environmental activists, and  
his word still carries great weight on the political right. During his  
chairmanship, Inhofe dramatically slowed the pace of environmental  
regulation by calling global warming an unscientific bogeyman, and  
rarely missed an opportunity to accuse the media of a conspiracy to  
stifle honest scientific debate.

Indeed, his July 28, 2003, speech to the committee on the evidence for  
global warming was straight out of the sound science playbook: “Today,  
even saying there is scientific disagreement over global warming is  
itself controversial. But anyone who pays even cursory attention to  
the issue understands that scientists vigorously disagree over whether  
human activities are responsible for global warming, or whether those  
activities will precipitate natural disasters. . . . [N]ot only is  
there a debate, but the debate is shifting away from those who  
subscribe to global warming alarmism.” Tellingly, Inhofe pleaded for  
sound science not once but twice in his tone-setting speech.

To find where this vocabulary comes from – “disagreement,”  
“controversial,” “even cursory attention,” “vigorously disagree,” “the  
debate is shifting” – you need look no further than tobacco company  
memos and the stacks of ESEF and TASSC editorials of the previous  
decade. The bricks and mortar of the sound science edifice came not  
from Senate press shops but from economists, conservative activists  
and other partisans committed to producing an alternate scientific  
view of reality. This is the real interest of Roger Bate’s career: If  
Inhofe remains the public face of the sound science crusade, Bate has  
always been one of its silent operators, and over the years he and his  
ideological compatriots have achieved, on a larger scale, much of what  
he set out to accomplish with the Malaria Strategy. Debate about not  
only global warming but even tobacco ground to a halt for much of the  
past two decades. Congress has declined to pass any carbon dioxide  
legislation, and the Environmental Protection Agency has demurred on   
whether to apply the Clean Air Act to carbon emissions. Perhaps most  
damning, even with the clear, uncontested evidence on tobacco’s health  
risks, the Food & Drug Administration continues to vacillate on  
whether to regulate it under existing health laws.

Whatever Bate may do in the coming years to fight generic drugs, his  
malaria foundation, AFM, is facing hard times and a drop in  
sponsorship. After drawing $100,000 a year for 30 hours of AFM work  
per week in 2004 and 2005, Bate is now less involved with the group,  
having handed over the chairmanship of the board to director Richard  
Tren. Although Bate remains on the board, AFM does not seem to have  
the clout he was once able to muster. Whether conservative think tanks  
will continue to fund such groups through a recession and a period of  
political decline remains to be seen. What is clearer is that in  
health care reform, Roger Bate has once again found a signature issue  
and staked out a comfortable, lucrative position that will keep him  
active for years to come.


Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)
thiru at keionline.org

Tel: +41 22 791 6727
Mobile: +41 76 508 0997

More information about the Ip-health mailing list