Conflict of interest in science is a very important issue, and it is a very big problem, because if uncontrolled, it can lead to biased, misleading and even false opinions about scientific evidence.
It is why scientific journals ask authors of scientific articles to declare whether they have any conflict of interest, associated with the article they publish. It is also common that authors of scientific articles acknowledge sponsors of their study – entity that provided money for making the work possible.
When the scientific study presents results of experimental work, acknowledging sponsors indicates who provided funds for paying for e.g. research staff, for supplies and equipment to execute research.
When scientific study is a review of previously published research on a given topic then the only thing what authors of the scientific review study need to do the job is computer to write it and copies of the articles they use in their review. When the authors of the review study are university professors, they have access to all articles they need or they can get them as a courtesy form the authors who published them.
It means that there are no expenses involved in writing a review article – scientist sits in his office and during his work-day reads and writes the review. It is not an easy task, it is laborious but, monetarily, it does not cost anything. Unless it is commissioned work.
In recent issue of Health Physics (year 2013, vol. 105, issue 6, pp 561-575) authors Kenneth R. Foster of the University of Pennsylvania and John E. Moulder of the Medical College of Wisconsin, published a review paper: “WI-FI AND HEALTH: REVIEW OF CURRENT STATUS OF RESEARCH“.
Conclusion of the review is “…Excessive concern about speculative health hazards from RF exposures to Wi-Fi, without concern for these more immediate potential hazards, is comparable to worry about health effects of using mobile phones without concern for hazards of texting while driving.” In plain language it means that according to thye authors of the review there is no problem and, in spite of the shortage of pertinent research, wi-fi networks are safe when their emissions are meeting current safety standards. Whatever concerns anyone has about health risks is, according to Foster and Moulder, just – “speculative”.
It is opinion of Foster and Moulder, to what they are entitled. But is this opinion reliable and trustworthy?
On the first page of the published review article is the following statement:
“The authors declare no conflicts of interest.”
However, later on, in the acknowledgements section of the article, the authors wrote:
“This work was funded by the Wi-Fi Alliance, Washington, DC, and Mobile Manufacturers Forum, Brussels, Belgium.”
This is an indication of clear, though “hidden through misleading declaration”, conflict of interest. Both of the sponsoring organizations are industry organizations. The “sponsoring of writing a review article”, since no laboratory supplies are needed, most likely means that the authors were paid for their job of writing the review article. If so, it means that this pretending to be an independent scientific review article is, in fact comissioned work and should be considered as a ‘paid for, by the industry, advertisement’.
How it is possible that the reviewers and editors of the Health Physics missed this fact and accepted no-conflict-of-interest” declaration of the authors?
What is also worrisome, both authors of the above mentioned review article are on the review panel of the Royal Society of Canada: Review of Safety Code 6: Potential Health Risks of Radiofrequency Fields from Wireless Telecommunications Devices.
How trustworthy and independent the review of the safety standards will be when the two of the scientists sitting on the panel are sponsored by the telecom industry organizations to write a review article that supports the notion of absolute safety of the cell phones and wi-fi networks?