Credibility of scientists: Barrow and Conrad respond.
In her letter, Sass cites four studies, involving three politically controversial chemicals, purporting to show that industry-funded research is more likely to find no adverse effects from the chemical studied, whereas government-funded studies are more likely to detect such effects. The authors of one of those studies at least recognized that these findings have two plausible interpretations: either "industry-funded scientists [are] under real or perceived pressure to find or publish only data suggesting negative outcomes," or "government-funded scientists [are] under real or perceived pressure to find or publish only data suggesting adverse outcomes ..." (vom Saal and Hughes 2005). Pielke (2005) observed that such obsessive focus on funding leads journalists in particular to conclude that "research findings are 'in the eye of the beholder,'" a result he believes is "damaging to science and its role in policy."
Sass urges the U.S. government and the National Academies to adopt more stringent conflict of interest guidelines, quoting a Lancet (2002) editorial that actually addressed manipulation of scientific panels by politicians. In an earlier commentary, more to the point, the editor of The Lancet (Horton 1997) argued that financial conflicts "may not be [more] influential" than biases and that "interpretations of scientific data will always be refracted through the experiences and biases of the authors." He contended that disqualifying researchers from writing editorials or reviews because of their "associations" with industry "may harm flee discussion in science." Horton (1997) concluded that "[t]he only way to minimize bias among interpretations is to allow maximum dialogue from all parties, irrespective of their interests." Making government conflict or bias rules more exclusionary will not serve that end.
Barrow CS, Conrad JW Jr. 2006. Assessing the reliability and credibility of industry science and scientists. Environ Health Perspect 114:153-155; doi:10.1289/ehp.8417 [Online 6 October 2005].
CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest). 2004. CSPI, Environmental Working Group Challenge Two Scientists on EPA Panel. Available: http://cspinet.org/integrity/ press/200412091.html [accessed 28 November 2005].
Ethics in Government Act. 1978. Ethics in Government Act. 5A U.S.C.
Horton R. 1997. Conflicts of interest in clinical research: opprobrium or obsession? Lancet 349:1112-1113.
Lancet. 2002. Keeping scientific advice non-partisan. Lancet 350(9345):1525.
Office of Government Ethics. 1997. Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch. 5CFR2635.402(e).
Pielke Jr. R. 2005. Conflicts of Interest. Available: http:// sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/prometheus/archives/ climate_change/000408conflicts_of_interes.html [accessed 28 November 2005].
veto Seal FS, Hughes C. 2005. An extensive new literature concerning low-dose effects of hisphenol A shows the need for a new risk assessment. Environ Health Perspect 113:926-933.
Craig S. Barrow
The Dow Chemical Company
James W. Conrad Jr.
American Chemistry Council
C.B. is employed by The Dow Chemical Company. J.C. is employed by the American Chemistry Council, a trade association that represents chemical manufacturers.
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|Title Annotation:||Perspectives: Correspondence|
|Author:||Conrad, James W., Jr.|
|Publication:||Environmental Health Perspectives|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2006|
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