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Daily News Archive
From December 18, 2006                                                                                                        

Scientific Integrity Under the Microscope
(Beyond Pesticides, December 18, 2006)
Concerns over scientific integrity have resurfaced over the past month over reports of conflicts of interest and publishing freedom. In addition to the censorship of government scientists, recent studies show that industries’ relationships with researchers have been largely underrepresented.

Scientific integrity is an issue that affects our everyday lives when one takes into account that many government (especially regulatory), industry and consumer decisions are often based on scientific conclusions. The consequences of the manipulation and censorship of science can unfortunately have very real effects on environmental and public health by creating false perceptions about toxics and their affects. Consider the following:

  • Conflicts of interest. A new study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine reports that several leading cancer researchers have not disclosed receiving money from companies, including Dow and Monsanto, whose products they were investigating. Of the conflicts investigated, one well-known cancer epidemiologist, Sir Richard Doll, was found to have a two decade relationship with Monsanto, during which time he downplayed the carcinogencity of Agent Orange, among other toxics.

  • Lack of full disclosure of conflicts of interest to journals and their readers. University of California, Los Angeles researchers report in the December issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine that although the majority of medical journals have conflict of interest policies in place for study authors, less than half require such policies for editors or peer-reviewers. In addition, many journals do not inform readers about those potential conflicts that have been disclosed to them.

  • Censorship of government scientists. According to the Washington Post, a new Bush administration policy for reviewing scientific documents before publication, which is currently being put into place, has angered some U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists, who say the elaborate internal review of their work may impede them from conveying information to the public. This heightened review policy comes on the heels of controversy over censorship of government scientists researching global warming at NASA and the Commerce Department.

Beyond recent headlines, reports of censorship of university scientists have also raised eyebrows. For example in 2004, Ignacio Chapela, Ph.D., an outspoken critic of the biotechnology industry, was denied tenure at UC, Berkeley even though he had been a respected professor and researcher there since 1995. He had made the news a few years earlier when his research revealed contamination of native Mexican corn with genetically engineered DNA, which led to a vicious public relations campaign by the biotechnology industry.