Public Affairs

When money talks

He who pays the piper calls the tune 

All money should nowadays be regarded as being funds coming from sources with particular bias and be identified as such. All public founded research should be fully independent, the data available to the scientific community and the public. It is important to know the true incentives in research. This, however, is more difficult than it may seem at first sight, everybody may agree that papers submitted by researchers employed by Monsanto need to contain disclosures reflecting that fact. It becomes more difficult when some is not employed, but is privately founded by pharmaceutical or insurance companies. But there is sometimes even more difficult as to identifying who may have vested interests (read below for more information on ongoing debates).

Already in 2007, a distinguished Swedish Scientist: Lennart Hardell, MD, PhD has called “a swift for a immediate and forceful policies and action by independent academic community and no less important, editors of scientific journals to protect scientific integrity, openness, and fairness. Such policies and actions are needed to ensure credibility and restore the essential role of medical epidemiologists to protecting the public heath”. He pointed, referring to a publication by Friedman and Richter in 2004, that “the authors with conflict of interests were two times more likely to report results supporting their sponsor’s products”. For obvious reasons, he points further: these numbers are biased. Only those with known conflict of interests are recognized. Those with hidden ties are not found in the correct column. He also pointed that “there is a far more widespread practice of non-disclosure and concealment of ties to interests groups (i.e. industry) as well the influence on editorial decisions.”

There should be far more increased scientific and public sensitivity to the scientific validity and public health implications of work biased by the interests groups other than the tobacco industry only (such as pharmaceutical industry, insurance companies etc. in the public health areas)

Further References

Nature 507, 8 (06 March 2014) doi:10.1038/507008a

“It has been more than a decade, for example, since David Michaels, previously a public-health researcher at George Washington University in Washington DC, and Wendy Wagner, an environmental-law specialist, broached the issue in the pages of Science (D. Michaels and W. Wagner Science 302, 2073; 2003). They warned that the evidence base of important regulatory standards is undermined by the limited scrutiny of private research submitted to regulatory bodies, and by the fact that these bodies often do not require disclosure of researchers’ funding sources. Michaels is now in a position to do something about this. In 2009, he was appointed to lead the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), one of the US agencies he criticized in that 2003 piece.OSHA’s remit is health-and-safety standards, and the test bed for Michaels’ stance is a 40-year effort to regulate exposure to silica dust. Crystalline silica dust is produced by processes such as concrete grinding and sandblasting in construction and other industries. If inhaled, it can cause silicosis — an incurable condition involving inflammation of the lungs — and lung cancer. As part of a consultation on tougher regulation of silica exposure, OSHA asked that people submitting scientific comments to the agency should declare financial conflicts of interest. According to Michaels, this might be the first time that any federal agency has made such a request…..

There is a broad consensus in favor of transparency about funding sources. „But even though this is a request and not a requirement, it has not gone down well in all quarters. In particular, a group of powerful US senators has come out against the idea that such a declaration should be part of federal rule-making…. They suggest that OSHA might “prejudge the substance” of comments on the basis of such disclosures. Nature — like many journals — has required such disclosures for years, and considers such opposition to be misguided. In controversial areas, these conflict statements pre-empt allegations of secrecy and bias that could distract from the central issues. And past failure to be transparent about such interests has led to scandals involving concealed or distorted evidence and ghost writing, as has been well documented in areas from tobacco control to drug development”

Read more here:

Full disclosure:  Regulatory agencies must demand conflict-of-interest statements for the research they use. Nature | Editorial04 March 2014

Secret ties from researches founded by pubic money

January 8, 2014

Last month, a little-noticed decision by a state superior court judge in California ordered three lead paint makers to create a fund of $1.1 billion to remove lead exposure hazards in homes painted with white lead and other lead-containing paints. The court case lasted for 13 years. In the end, the judge (the third one on this case) found the paint makers responsible for creating a public nuisance from marketing and selling lead-containing paints at a time when the hazards were well recognized. Last month also brought sad news about a highly respected researcher, recently deceased. Patricia Buffler was an internationally respected researcher, mostly on the causes of childhood cancer. Yet, a few months after her death last September, some astonishing news emerged. In the lead paint court case, Dr. Buffler served as expert witness on behalf of the three companies that had marketed the toxic paint. Dr. Buffler argued that lead-based paint in older homes posed little risk to children – a conclusion that was in stark contrast to opinions voiced by colleagues, who had carried out research in the field. At an hourly rate of $600, Dr. Buffler was paid more than $360,000 for her efforts on the case during the last three years. The judge rejected Dr. Buffler’s argument. Patricia Buffler was a highly esteemed public-health scientist and former dean of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health. She also worked extensively for the chemical industry”.

From: Chemical Brain Drain » When money talks. Lauded public health researcher also worked for industry, revealing entanglements of science

By David Heath
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Center for Public Integrity, Dec. 20, 2013

Jim Block/ BERKELEY, Calif. —

 “At a memorial service held last month in her favorite classroom, Patricia Buffler was hailed as a champion of children.While dean of the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, Buffler started the nation’s largest program researching the causes of childhood leukemia. She expanded her study of this rare disease after stepping down as dean in 1998, continuing the work until she died unexpectedly in late September at the age of 75.Buffler’s research, backed by more than $35 million in federal grants, could save lives. Her team concluded that sending your child to daycare might reduce the risk of getting leukemia, perhaps by bolstering the immune system. It found strong evidence suggesting that preschoolers should stay away from wet paint. One of her graduate students at the memorial was struck by something Buffler once said: “Children are fragile, so it is our role to protect them.”Yet now some of her peers are torn to learn that, in the past three years, Buffler was paid more than $360,000 to work as an expert witness on behalf of companies that used to sell lead-based paint. Ten California communities, including the county where Buffler lived, this week won a $1.1 billion judgment against the companies. The money will be used to remove lead paint from older homes. Even minute amounts of lead in a child's blood can cause permanent brain damage.”