British ‘The Guardian’ revealed in 2006 that, yet again, famous and presumed trustworthy scientist was not so “trustworthy”… Sir Richard Doll, famous epidemiologist who demonstrated causal link between tobacco and lung cancer, was a consultant for the chemical industry as show documents discovered at the Wellcome Foundation library archive. The undisclosed previously contract was with Monsanto: “…contract he [Sir Richard Doll] signed with Monsanto. Dated April 29 1986, it extends for a year the consulting agreement that began on May 10 1979 and offers improved terms. “During the one-year period of this extension your consulting fee shall be $1,500 per day,” it says.…”. While being paid industry consultant, Sir Doll wrote several opinions claiming lack of causality links between some chemicals, e.g. infamous Agent Orange or vinyl chloride of plastics, and cancer.
Defenders of Sir Doll might suggest that it was just a harmless omission, a contract forgotten in an avalanche of other disclosures. Well, it doesn’t sound right – forgetting fee of $1500/day for a year (total of some half-a-million of $ per year) sounds difficult to “forget”…
Sir Richard Doll went after one industry (tobacco) while protected another industry (chemical).
The undisclosed previously consulting contracts were discovered after Sir Richard Doll passed away. This reminds a similar story of, after death, discovery of the undisclosed paid work for the industry by Professor Patricia Buffler. She also discovered health hazard of wet led-paint but simultaneously, testified in defense of the led-paint industry.
David Heath of the Center for Public Integrity, Washington, DC, wrote in December 2013 a story “Lauded public health researcher also worked for industry, revealing entanglements of science” about Professor Patricia Buffler, Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA:
- Buffler’s own research found strong evidence suggesting that preschoolers should stay away from wet paint
- Buffler was paid more than $360,000 to work as an expert witness on behalf of companies that used to sell lead-based paint
How many such industry paid & industry supported (financially or otherwise) consultants, with undisclosed links to industry, are out there, assuring us, users, that products are safe?
Cases of Doll and Buffler were discovered in years 2006 and 2013, respectively. However, how many similar stories are happening right now? Nobody knows.
It looks like it might be a more common problem than anticipated and, what is very worrisome, nestled in the top echelons of the science. False or incomplete disclosures of Conflict-of-Interest should be punishable by law but they are often not, what helps to perpetuate the problem.
It is obvious that every industry relies on scientists as paid consultants. The detailed disclosures of both, existing and potential, Conflicts-of-Interest are of paramount importance to maintain trust.
From time to time Conflict-of-Interest problems are revealed for the big tobacco, big pharma or chemical industry. There is silence about the telecoms industry even though it is obvious that telecoms must be doing some sort of lobbying. It is a multi-trillion business that we all are dependent upon and affected by.
The NGO producing the super-important recommendations for the safety limits that telecoms must comply with, the ICNIRP, claims to be completely free of any Conflict-of Interest. The same goes for the WHO EMF Project that recommends implementation of the ICNIRP safety limits worldwide. However, the very limited and naïve in format disclosures by ICNIRP members are worthy to examine. ICNIRP‘s and WHO EMF Project’s claims that all commission members are experts independent in their opinions are not sufficiently supported by the very limited evidence of ICNIRP’s disclosures of the Conflict-of-Interest, called at ICNIRP: Declaration of Personal Interest (because conflicts do not exist at ICNIRP?) (under every name is pdf of the Declaration of Personal Interest).
Shall we, users, take the no-Conflict-of-Intersts claims by ICNIRP take as such? Nobody, besides ICNIRP members themselves, makes certain that the declarations are complete.
However, even the full disclosure of the industry links is just the beginning because, in spite of the full disclosure made public, the expert with the disclosed links will be making the decisions… Then, it might begin to be a conscience and ethics problem.