Aaron Wildavsky

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

Prof. Aaron Bernard Wildavsky was born on May 31, 1930, in Brooklyn, New York, and died on September 4, 1993. Aaron Wildavsky was Class of 1940 Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, where he had been teaching since 1962. He was also a tobacco industry consultant.

He was a founding director of the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) [1] and he was on May 10, 1993 one of the keynote speakers at a conference in Paris organized by SEPP and the International Center for a Scientific Ecology (ICSE). His speech was called "Do Rodent Studies Predict Human Cancers?". [1]

[SEPP, which became the main climate-denial organisation in the USA, was run by S. Fred Singer and his wife Candice Crandall. It was actually created by APCO, the PR firm totally controlled at this time by Philip Morris (as was TASSC at the same time). Wildavsky would have been little more than a paid supporter, willing to have his name on the foundation documents.

Widavsky was a supporter of TASSC, the The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, a front group set up by Philip Morris through a public relations firm.

The Independent Institute, where he was listed as a Research Fellow and a member of the Board of Advisors, published this speech in spring 1996 under the title "Regulation of Carcinogens: Are Animal Tests a Sound Foundation?". This work was later cited in a work titled "Passive Smoke: The EPA's Betrayal of Science and Policy" authored by two other tobacco industry scientific lobbyists, Gio Batta Gori and John C. Luik [2][3]

Wildavsky is perhaps most famous for his role in developing the Cultural Theory of Risk. In 1982, he and anthropologist Mary Douglas wrote "Risk and Culture". This book was both a critique of environmentalists which they argued, shared a worldview with sectarian groups like the Amish, as well as an initial statement of Cultural Theory. Later, he co-authored Cultural Theory with Richard Ellis and Michael Thompson, expanding the Cultural Theory concept and showing how it related to earlier theories in political science and anthropology.

Documents & Timeline

1979 Oct Wildavsky was also a paid consultant to the tobacco industry in 1979. He completed a project for the International Committee on Smoking Issues (ICOSI) Social Acceptability Working Party (SAWP)(ICOSI/SAWP)analyzing anti-smoking groups with regard to their organization, leadership and publications. Payments to Wildavsky were made through the tobacco industry's law firm of Jacob, Medinger, which managed "Special Account No. 4" (external research programs) for the industry.

Special Account #4 was established to fund research by selected expert witnesses in preparation of testimony either directly related to a particular case, or prepared witnesses to testify at congressional or other public hearings, or other research the lawyers deemed useful to the industry.[4][5][6][7] [8]

1979 Professors Richard E Wagner and Robert Tollison began working with the tobacco industry's international propaganda organisation, ICOSI (International Committee on Smoking Issues) at this time. ICOSI was also recruiting a number of other academics -- from toxicologists to sociologists; philosophers and economists. Sherwin Feinhandler was one of their first, and he was paid today's equivalent of about a million dollars for his services over a few years.

The International Committee on Smoking Issues (ICOSI) was put together by the international tobacco companies at a secret meeting in the UK, under the code-name "Operation Berkshire". It was a European-based organisation of executives and lobbyists for the global industry which was established to combat the growing pressures to fight against smoking, both for smoker-health and non-smoker "passive smoking" reasons. It did so by recruiting recognised experts to perform various tasks. The main aim was to confuse scientific, medical and economic arguments.

ICOSI had a number of sub-committees, one of which was the Social Acceptability Working Party (SAWP) which hired consultant George Berman of Devon Management in the USA to create a small cabal of prominent academics who would work for the industry without revealing their connections. The most prominent of these were:

1979 Jan 30 Tobacco law firm, Jacob & Medinger (J&M) presents a supplementary bill for the consultant's services. They have added a few new names and entries for ICOSI/SAWP operations:

Also another account:

[Note: SA1 refers to the secret set of accounts that the tobacco industry ran through the J&M lawyers to hide payments from discovery. SA1 = Special Account #1. The numbers corresponded to their current list of Special Projects. These projects and accounts were kept hidden from the Scientific Advisory Boards and from everyone else not in the core group of tobacco conspirators. The lawyers had their own Special Project accounts, and Philip Morris also used the system internally.]

Also awaiting approval was an account for

[Note: Wildavsky always seems to have been paid through this phantom Institute.]

Estimates for month of June were

[Note: At about this time $15,000 would buy you a modest house in most cities]

George Berman's analysis of Social Cost problems and strategy.
(May 1979) ICOSI consultant George Berman pointed to the rising clamour about the cost to various countries of smoking-related diseases which are paid for by the wider society.

It would be pointless to just dispute these arguments with similar data, to attack their numbers with our numbers. Instead, our strategy is to attack the concept of social cost analysis. We have found that these concepts are most vulnerable. If we can undermine the concepts, then we do not have to enter into public debate over specific numbers. Our attack consists of four major themes:

  1. These Social Cost concepts are bad economics
  2. They do not fit into a philosophy of personal freedom and civil liberty.
  3. Smoking benefits the society and its members in many complex ways
  4. Anti-smoking programs and groups are harmful to our society.
He goes on to develop arguments about the countermeasures he believes to be necessary. Firstly he attacks cost-benefit analysis, saying:

"The application of social cost analysis to smoking is defective economics applied to uncertain data. To develop this point we have called on two leading economists from the Center for Study of Public Choice, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

He has also asked others to contribute: The list shows the following with the line they were expected to promote:

  • Dr Richard Wagner
  • Dr Robert Tollison (see material below).
  • Dr Robert Nozick, Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University HE IS A prominent guru of Libertarianism.
  • Sherwin J Feinhandler, President of Social Systems Analysts and lecturer at Harvard University Medical School wrote on How smoking defines your personal space!
  • Dr Peter Berger Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University who notes that many techniques which strengthen the position of the religious advocate are found among anti-smokers: "Elitism Messianic Drive, Punishment... Class Antagonism.
  • Dr Aaron Wildavsky, of UCLA Berkeley ...to isolate and define the motivations and the alliances of the active anti-smoking leadership. They are anti-capitalist, anti-industrial, anti-multinational and countermodern.
Note: Wildavsky was paid through the Institute for Policy and Management Research [5]

1979 May 14George Berman, has prepared a speech to be delivered at a meeting of the ICOSI group in Europe (later INFOTAB) He plans to discuss Social Costs - Social Values to introduce European tobacco lobbyists associated with the Social Acceptability Working Party (SAWP) to the concepts of economics -- and to acquaint them with ICOSI's strategy to counter Social Cost claims.

'[Note: The claims he challenges are that smokers impose an 'external' cost on society, and therefore high cigarette excises are justified.
SAWP counter this with a 'rights' argument: that non-smokers must accept the right of smokers to smoke.]

Berman has put together a core team of US academics -- and this speech is an attempt to widen his group by also recruiting European academics.

He identifies their academic helpers:

  • Richard Wagner and Robert Tollison are economists who are willing to help the industry.

    Dr Richard E Wagner is the author of 11 books and monographs, and over 20 articles in the field of public finance and economics. During the last six months he was Visiting Professor of Economics at the renowned University Of Konstanz.

His colleague, Dr Robert Tollison has served as a consultant to the US government Treasury Department, Commerce Department, Office of Technology Assessment and the Council On Wage And Price Stability.

These two gentlemen are co-authors of a forthcoming book called Personal Liberty, State Action And Economic Coordination , a title which certainly covers the subject of this project.

The economists working on this project are first developing a "Layman's Guide" to social cost/benefit analysis. This Layman's Guide will include the participation of economists from countries other than the United States. When a basic position has been established, the economists will examine closely the social cost papers which have appeared in each country. A critique of each paper will be filed with ICOSI alongside the paper itself..

This will provide us with a weapon against arbitrary, careless attacks using "Social Cost" as a rationale.

[SEE long refererence in ICOSI to the rest of this rvealings speach, detailing the role to be played by the other academic participants + quotes]

1979 Dec Annual reconciliation for the Tobacco Institute's Special Account #1 (Jan-Dec 79). Payments were made originally via RJ Reynolds and then refunded by ICOSI.

  • Prof. Aaron Wildavsky paid [Inst.Policy & Mgmt Res,] $16,000 (Mar); $20,283 (June); $30,204 (Jul); $2951 (Oct) -- $122,124 for the year.
  • Prof. Sherwin Finehandler (Social Systems Analysts) paid $15,642 (June), $29,296 in July, $37.358 in Oct -- $82,296 for the year
  • Prof. Robert Tollison paid $2157 (Mar); $2000 (June); $2693 (Jul); $1672 (Oct) -- $ 8,521 for year
  • Prof Richard Wagner paid $1740 (Mar); $2000 (June); $3208 (Jul); $1600 (Oct) -- $ 8,548 for year
  • Prof. Robert McCormick paid $1,125 in May
  • Prof. Peter Berger paid $ 1,500 (May); $855 (Jul) -- $2,355 for the year
  • Prof. Edward Harris paid $2,900 (May); $2850 (Jul); $6080 (Oct) -- $11,830 for year
  • Prof. Steven Littlechild paid $1877 (July); $2,446 (Oct) -- $4,323 for the year
  • Prof Norman Heimstra received $12,998 in October
  • Prof Robert Nozick received $8,104 in July
  • D Maxey received $4,000 in October (unknown)


1980 Nov (CONTEXT) Ronald Reagan as been elected as President with George HW Bush as his Vice President.

1981 Jan 7 (At time of Reagan's inauguration) The document "Social Costs/Social Values (Progress Report)" has been prepared (probably by George Berman to give the dissembler-executives in the various cigarette companies around the world an overview of the activities of the relatively new international lobby operation called ICOSI (International Committee on Smoking Issues). ICOSI was located in Brussels with Mary Covington as director and its most active subcommittee was known as SAWP.

These conferences were focussed on countering the "Social Cost" argument which blamed tobacco smoke for both health and environmental costs (both with smokers and non-smokers) Smokers were less productive, had greater absentee rates, offices required more air-conditioning and cleaning, etc.
  • A.T. Kearney, a contract company was engaged in some surreptitious activity and was expanding its workforce, and devising a work plan to attack the workplace smoking ban movement.
  • Matrix Corporate Affairs in London was developing a project on smoking as a civil liberty right.
  • ICOSI's main focus was on the World Health Organisation, trying to block it from running an anti-smoking program by questioning its budget priorities. The tobacco industry turned its enormous financial resources onto attacking the WHO for wasting money on smoking, that should (in their opinion) be spent on third-world diseases, research on drugs, fighting malaria, etc.
* ICOSI was having problems with some members of National Manufacturer Associations (NMAs)(some from developing countries) who didn't see anti-WHO activity as a priority. The donations which funded WHO's anti-smoking programs had been 'earmarked' for this; and therefore unlikely to be abandoned.
There is a long analysis piece here about WHO and the anti-smoking movement.

This 9-page document gives a good outline of the activities that the tobacco industry had going worldwide in 1981. [8]

1982 Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky Risk and Culture (University of Califotnia Press . Berkeley, California. 1982). A comment by another tobacco lobbyist Frank Furedi, says (in 'Culture of Fear') about this book that

Mary Douglass and Aaron Wildavsky have argued that modern societies are confronted with an increased awareness of risks because more decisions are now taken in an atmosphere of uncertainty (rather than being the) reflection of increased real dangers. [9]

1993 May Wildavsky was one of the keynote speakers at a conference in Paris organized by SEPP and the International Center for a Scientific Ecology (ICSE). His speech was called "Do Rodent Studies Predict Human Cancers?". [10]

1996 *Winner of the 1996 Grawemeyer Award [9]

SourceWatch resources

External resources


  1. Aaron Wildavsky Do Rodent Studies Predict Human Cancers? Scientific report. 1993. 45 pp. Bates No. 2028385413/5457
  2. Aaron Wildavsky Regulation of Carcinogens: Are Animal Tests a Sound Foundation? The Independent Review. Volume 1, Number 1, Spring 1996
  3. Gio Gori and John Luik [Passive Smoke: The EPA's Betrayal of Science and Policy] Printout/scientific publication. 1999. 12 pp. Philip Morris Bates No. 2064801644/1655
  4. Stanton Glantz. John Slade. Lisa A. Bero, Peter Hanauer. Deborah E. Barnes; Regents of the University of California Glantz et al, The Cigarette Papers, Chapter 8, Lawyer Management of Scientific Research The University of California Press. 1998.
  5. Minutes of the Thirteenth Meeting of ICOSI / SAWP Brussels 791023 - 791024 Meeting minutes. October 24, 1979. Philip Morris Bates No. 2023024461/4470
  6. L.E. Graymer, Institute for Policy Management and Research Invoice for project expenses incurred during June 1979 (790600) Invoice. 1 page. June 28, 1979. R.J. Reynolds Bates No.500035410
  7. L.E. Graymer, Institute for Policy Management and Research Invoice for project expenses incurred during May 1979 (790500) Invoice. June 6, 1979. 1 page. R.J. Reynolds Bates No. 500035653
  8. L.E. Graymer, Institute for Policy Management and Research Invoice for project expenses incurred during May 1979 (790500) Invoice. June 6, 1979. 1 page. R.J. Reynolds Bates No.500035405
  9. Previous Winners, Grawemeyer Awards, accessed March 23, 2009

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