Our Stolen Futurea book by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers



posted 13 November 2006

Hardell, L, MJ Walker, B Walhjalt, LS Friedman and ED Richter. 2006. Secret ties to industry and conflicting interests in cancer research. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, in press.


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An analysis of peer-reviewed documents and other sources reveals that scientists paid by the tobacco industry are not the only scientists who regularly fail to to reveal their funding links to industry when they publish studies. The most striking case is that of Sir Richard Doll, co-author (with Richard Peto) of one of the most influential papers in cancer epidemiology, one that concluded that only a small percentage of cancer was caused by environmental exposures.

According to the findings of Hardell et al.'s research, Doll had a long term financial relationship with Monsanto between 1970 and 1990. Hardell et al. describe a letter from a Monsanto epidemiologist renewing Doll's contract for £1000 per day from Monsanto, which Doll had deposited in 2002 in a library at the Wellcome Institute. The Doll and Peto paper was published in 1981. Additional documents, according to Hardell et al., reveal that Doll and an industry medical advisor agreed to have any articles written by Doll reviewed by Peto and the medical advisors of two chemical companies.

Doll's work for Monsanto included reviews of the cancer risks of vinyl chloride, dioxin and phenoxy herbicides (2,4-D and 2,4,5-T). The vinyl chloride work led to a peer-reviewed paper published in 1988 in a Scandinavian journal reporting that vinyl chloride was not a significant carcinogen other than in the liver.

According to Hardell et al., Doll's analysis became the gold standard on vinyl chloride toxicity, including being cited by the American Chemical Council (2001) as showing no link between vinyl chloride and brain cancer.

Hardell et al. report finding additional documentation of Doll's relationships with companies and trade associations in the Welcomme Trust library. For example, in the 1988 paper, Doll did not disclose receiving £15,000 plus expenses from the Chemical Manufacturer's Association and the chemical companies ICI and Dow (two large producers of vinyl chloride), a payment documented by papers reviewed by Hardell et al. They also report that Doll was receiving additional payment at the same time from Monsanto, another large producer of vinyl chloride.

Hardell et al. also note that Doll, in a private unsolicited letter to the chair of an Australian Royal Commission reviewing the safety of dioxin and phenoxy herbicides wrote that "there is no reason to suppose they are carcinogenic in laboratory animals." His letter went further to challenge the veracity of peer-reviewed published research by Hardell and colleagues on the carcinogenicity of phenoxy herbicides: "In my opinion, his [Hardell's] work should no longer be cited as scientific evidence." The Commission's final report included, according to Hardell et al., "an almost verbatim account of a Monsanto submission on this issue."

Hardell et al. describe other additional examples of researchers failing to disclose financial ties to industries with vested interests in the outcome of their peer-reviewed studies. For example:

  • Swedish professor Ragnar Rylander worked for decades as a consultant to Philip Morris, failing to disclose this tie to his employer while, at the same time, discussing "all his tobacco related research at the universities with Philip Morris and their lawyers." While he initially denied the consultancies when it was first revealed in 2002, Rylander's contract has been made public in the Philip Morris Archives.
  • Scientists were hired by the product-defense firm Exponent to argue that dioxins are not associated with cancer in people. They made presentations at public meetings casting doubt on the chemical's impact, and wrote peer reviewed articles with the same conclusion, without revealing their industry ties. According to Hardell et al., the vice president of Exponent, Dennis Paustenbach, was on the EPA's science advisory board at the time, but was also conducting research for Dow Chemical on dioxin in soils around its chemical facility in Midland, Michigan. Paustenbach has since been associated with other efforts to distort science, particularly hexavalent chromium, including in articles in the Wall Street Journal.

Hardell et al. conclude their review by calling for strict development and application of policies on disclosing conflicts of interest. As they observe, "financial relationships between industry, researchers and academic institutions are becoming increasingly common." While funding from industry "should be a good thing," according to Hardell et al., "the few examples we give show that it invites abuse when it is secret, concealed, disguised or non-disclosed, and as other research suggests, these examples are not isolated." They are especially troubling because "they involved some of the world's leading epidemiologists."








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