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A coverup is a form of denialism in which the entity perpetrating the denial is demonstrably fully aware of their lies or the lies made by entities that they fund (astroturf groups or experts for hire). Coverups are the opposite of willful ignorance in that there is demonstrable intent to be deceive. Corporations primarily engage in coverups in order to continue making bundles of money at others' expense (negative externality), and to a lesser extent to avoid or postpone criminal charges. Politicians engage in coverups to hide their scandalous behavior and thereby get reelected, and delay or avoid criminal charges.
Conspiracy theorists often include claims of coverups, but these are lacking in hard evidence.
Some well-known coverups by corporations include:
- Asbestos causes cancer and pulmonary disease. Asbestos was known to be dangerous to workers since the early 1900s, and insurance companies began to take notice in the 1930s. The asbestos industry attempted to cover up the risks of asbestos into the 1970s. A coverup may still be ongoing in Russia.
- The first known report that tobacco might be linked to cancer was in 1898 when Hermann Rottmann proposed that tobacco dust might be causing elevated rates of lung cancer in German tobacco workers. In 1900, it was demonstrated that tobacco juice caused cancer in animals. The link between primary tobacco use was firmly established in the 1950s, but Big Tobacco has been in near-continuous denial of tobacco's carcinogenicity: no longer denying primary tobacco use but in denial of secondhand tobacco exposure at least into the 1990s. Leaked internal documents showed that "tobacco companies had long known the grave dangers of smoking, and did nothing about it."
- In 2016, it was revealed that the Sugar Research Foundation (now known as the Sugar Association) "paid nutrition experts from Harvard University to downplay studies linking sugar and heart disease". The experts published a 1967 review in the New England Journal of Medicine, which wrongly influenced nutritionists for decades.
- Exxon (later ExxonMobil) has known since at least 1977 that global warming from fossil fuels could be an issue. By 1981, Exxon was "already factoring climate change into decisions about new fossil fuel extraction". In 1995, there was an internal Exxon report that unequivocally stated that "burning the companies' products was causing climate change and that the relevant science 'is well established and cannot be denied.'" Exxon/ExxonMobil, for example, has funded the climate change denialist group Heritage Foundation since 1992, including $780,000 from 1998-2012.
- The Lead Industries Association engaged in a coverup of the hazards of lead by trying to publicly minimize the hazards of lead and blaming parents for their children's exposure while simultaneously conducting private research on lead hazards.:29-33
Some instances of political coverups include:
- Watergate — Nixon was captured on his own White House tape recording system acknowledging that he knew about the burglary committed by his underlings (headed by G. Gordon Liddy), the blackmail by E. Howard Hunt Jr., and the ongoing coverup. The subpoena of this tape led to his resignation.
- Bill Clinton denied his sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky, and for that he was charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, and impeached.
- Ronald Reagan tried to cover up the selling of heavy arms to Iran, the United States's enemy, and tried to cover it up (Iran-Contra).
- Fatal Deception: The Terrifying True Story of How Asbestos Is Killing America by Michael Bowker (2003). Touchstone. Page 18. ISBN 0743251431.
- New Data on Asbestos Indicate Cover-Up of Effects on Workers by Bill Richards (November 12, 1978) Washington Post.
- 'Approved by Donald Trump': Asbestos sold by Russian company is branded with the president’s face by Eli Rosenberg (July 11, 2018) at 9:00 AM) The Washington Post.
- The shameful past. The history of the discovery of the cigarette–lung cancer link: evidentiary traditions, corporate denial, global toll by Robert N. Proctor Tob. Control 2012;21:87-91 doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2011-050338.
- The Cigarette Papers edited by Stanton A. Glantz et al. (1998) University of California Press. ISBN 0520213726.
- Sugar industry sought to sugarcoat causes of heart disease: Payments revealed to authors of influential 1967 report touting fat and cholesterol as problems by Laura Beil (9:00am, September 25, 2016) Science News.
- Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research: A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents by Christin E. Kearns et al. JAMA Intern. Med. September 12, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.5394.
- The Climate Deception Dossiers (July 9, 2015 update) Union of Concerned Scientists
- Deception Dossiers: All Documents Union of Concerned Scientists
- Factsheet: Heritage Foundation ExxonSecrets.org
- Lead Wars: Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America's Children by Gerald Markowitz & David Rosner (2014) University of California Press;. ISBN 0520283937.
- Nixon: raw watergate tape: 'smoking gun' section (Apr 4, 2011) YouTube.