"Earlier this month," writes Jennifer Washburn, "Sheffield University in Britain offered $252,000 to one of its senior medical professors, Aubrey Blumsohn. According to a copy of a proposed settlement released by Blumsohn, the university promised to pay him if he would agree to leave his post and not make 'any detrimental or derogatory statements' about Sheffield or its employees. For several years, Blumsohn had been complaining of scientific misconduct.
"Many of the articles that appear in scientific journals under the byline of prominent academics are actually written by ghostwriters in the pay of drug companies." Used by doctors "to guide their care of patients," these "seemingly objective articles ... are often part of a marketing campaign." The New England Journal of Medicine recently revealed that a 2000 article on Vioxx "omitted information about heart attacks among patients taking the drug.
Mars Inc., the candy company that makes Snickers bars, M&Ms and Dove chocolates, used to spend $1 million per year subsidizing a newsletter which claimed that eating chocolate could prevent cavities. Now it is funding research that says chocolate is good for your heart.
"By definition, uncertainties abound in our work; there's nothing to be done about that," writes David Michaels about scientists studying epidemiology and climate change. Michaels is a professor at George Washington University School of Public Health, working on occupational disease, and served as an assistant secretary of Energy between 1998 and 2001. "Our public health and environmental protection programs will not be effective if absolute proof is required before we act. The best available evidence must be sufficient. Otherwise, we'll sit on our hands and do nothing.
There is a growing concern that occupational- and environmental-health research is in crisis. With funding for this type of research a low priority at government agencies, researchers have had to turn to industry for information and money. "Critics of industry-sponsored research argue that even the most forthright agreements between researcher and industry carry risks of bias in results or interpretation that benefit the sponsors," the Chronicle of Higher Education writes.
The American Civil Liberties Union has issued a new report which charges that the Bush administration is using the war on terror as a pretext to tighten restrictions on information. It states that the administration "has sought to impose growing restrictions on the free flow of scientific information, unreasonable barriers on the use of scientific materials and increased monitoring of and restrictions on foreign university students. ...