Science

Philip Morris Snuffs Out Controversial Research Program

Philip Morris has quietly disbanded its controversial External Research Program (PMERP), through which it funded academic and scientific research at major universities. The funds doled out by the program were substantial: in the 2006-07 fiscal year, the University of California system alone received around $16 million through PMERP.

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Up, Up and Away with Greenwashing

Virgin Atlantic has flown a jumbo jet from London to Amsterdam fueled by bio fuel derived from a mixture of Brazilian babassu nuts and coconuts. But is this really green progress, or just greenwashing? Virgin Atlantic's head, Richard Branson, called the flight a "vital breakthrough" for the airline industry.

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Coal on the Ropes: Part Two

David Roberts of Grist.org writes in the Nation, "So there you have it: just in the past week, elite opinion against coal has accelerated, two major coal projects have run into embarrassments, and an independent report has confirmed that things are only going to get worse." Power consulting firm Wood MacKensie says that "the rate of coal plant cancellations accelerated during 2007 to the point that more than 50% of the new coal capacity announced since 2000 has now been canceled." On to

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Jousting with the Lancet: More Data, More Debate over Iraqi Deaths

U.S. soldier carries a wounded Iraqi child (Marine Corps photo)It's one of the most controversial questions today: How many Iraqis have died since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion?

That there is no definitive answer should not come as a surprise, given the chaotic situation in Iraq. Still, it's an important question to ask, for obvious humanitarian, moral and political reasons.

Theoretically, the public health surveys and polls that have been conducted in Iraq -- at great risk to the people involved -- should help inform and further the debate. But the data is complicated by different research approaches and their attendant caveats. The matter has been further confused by anemic reporting, with news articles usually framed as a "he said / she said" story, instead of an exploration and interpretation of research findings.

These are the conditions under which spin thrives: complex issues, political interests and weak reporting. So it's not too surprising that last month saw a spate of what international health researcher Dr. Richard Garfield calls "Swift Boat editorials."

Having His Cake and Eating It Too

The February 2008 newsletter of the Obesity Society supports a new rule from the New York City's health commisssioner requiring restaurants to publish information about the number of calories in their food, but apparently the society's president, Dr. David B. Allison, hasn't gotten the word.

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Great Lakes Study Suppressed

Suppressed Centers for Disease Control study"For more than seven months, the nation's top public health agency has blocked the publication of an exhaustive federal study of environmental hazards in the eight Great Lakes states, reportedly because it contains such potentially 'alarming information' as evidence of elevated infant mortality and cancer rates," reports Sheila Kaplan.

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Beyond Advertising: The Pharmaceutical Industry's Hidden Marketing Tactics

In early January, the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce began investigating celebrity endorsements in television ads for brand-name drugs. The investigation was sparked by Pfizer's commercials for its best-selling cholesterol drug Lipitor. These direct-to-consumer (DTC) ads feature Dr. Robert Jarvik, a pioneer in the development of the artificial heart. Viewers are not told that Jarvik is not a cardiologist, nor is he licensed to practice medicine. His presentation as a trusted expert, Pfizer presumably hopes, is enough to persuade viewers to ask their doctors for Lipitor by name. And that would help erode the increasing competition from generic alternatives.

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