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Law Firm Says Inbreeding Skews Data Linking Mountaintop Removal to Birth Defects

Last month, researchers at Washington State University and West Virginia University released a study that found a correlation between mountaintop removal and mining birth defects. A law firm with ties to the National Mining Association has refuted the study’s findings, but in the process, insulted many Appalachians.Inbreeding in Appalachia is one of many stereotypes, perpetuated by movies and even Vice President Dick Cheney in 2008 at a National Press Club Event:“We have Cheneys on both sides of the family, and we don’t even live in West Virginia!” he said.Now D.C.-based law firm Crowell & Moring is citing Appalachian inbreeding as a way to discredit science linking mining and birth defects.A critique posted on the Crowell & Moring websitelast month raises several issues with the study’s methodology, including that the study failed to account for consanguinity—or inbreeding—which can also cause birth defects. Crowell & Moring represents the National Mining Association, but an NMA spokesman says the association wasn’t involved in the firm’s critique.Studies have shown that consanguinity, or inbreeding, isn’t any more common in Appalachia than it is in other areas. A Crowell & Moring spokeswoman said in an email response: “Our website alert was not intended to reflect views of the National Mining Association or any other coal company, but is an attempt to identify certain potential weaknesses of the study in question.  Consanguinity is one of a number of commonly addressed issues in studies of this type, regardless of geography.  Scientists address this consideration regularly because it can matter to scientific conclusions, and do so regardless of locale.  We did not raise this issue with particular reference to any region, and we did not mean to imply any such thing.  That said, we apologize for any offense taken, as none was intended.”The piece was removed from the firm’s website earlier today.