In the suburban Northeast, one can hardly drive to the grocery store without passing various yard signs or cars with bumper stickers proclaiming that “science is real” or “science doesn’t care what you believe.” 

And, yet, in courtrooms across the country, juries routinely deliver verdicts that are scientifically unsound.

Take, for example, the spate of frivolous lawsuits against the makers of common household products, Roundup weed killer and Johnson’s Baby Powder.

Regulatory agencies in the United States and around the world have consistently concluded that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is likely not a human carcinogen. Nevertheless, three American juries have found Bayer (which purchased Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, in 2018) liable to the tune of $289 million, $80 million and $2 billion, respectively.

Likewise, both the FDA and the CDC have rejected claims that talcum powder increases the risk of ovarian cancer. In fact, multiple scientific studies have found no statistically significant increase in the risk of ovarian cancer in talcum powder users. Yet juries have held Johnson & Johnson liable for billions of dollars in damages.

Why? Because, all too often, jurors are swayed by emotion and empathy for a cancer-stricken plaintiff, rather than science. 

So, it seems, are consumers.

According to a new report by the Center for Truth in Science, verdicts such as these, combined with misleading advertisements from predatory trial lawyers seeking plaintiffs, have led to a drastic drop in consumer demand for talc-based baby powder within the U.S. and Canada.

In May 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced it would no longer sell the product in North America. Although the company says it stands by the product and will continue to defend its use in court, the Center’s report suggests that the company’s decision to stop North American sales of talcum powder may be “a preparatory move to globally settle the nearly 20,000 pending cases against it.”

Should Johnson & Johnson settle?

IWF’s Julie Gunlock has written that, while settling a case or removing a product from circulation may make economic sense for a company based on cost-benefit analysis, it is the consumer that ultimately pays the price. That’s because when a manufacturer settles a frivolous case or pulls a perfectly safe product off the shelves, it not only undermines consumer confidence, it encourages future litigation and discourages innovation, making life-enhancing products more expensive and less accessible. In fact, as the Center for Truth in Science report explains,

There is only one benefactor of the mass tort industry, and it is not consumers or the plaintiffs, many of whom never see financial settlements. Instead, trial bar lawyers benefit, as they line their pockets and continue to recruit more ‘victims’ to perpetuate the cycle. 

So, yes, those trite, condescending lawn signs are correct: science is real. If only the trial lawyers would get the message.