Printer Friendly

Credibility of scientists: Barrow and Conrad respond.

We appreciate Goozner's compliment that our commentary (Barrow and Conrad 2006) demonstrates "a sophisticated understanding of the nuances of the Federal Advisory Committee Act." We wish we could take credit for "accurately point[ing] out that the act draws a distinction between conflicts of interest ... and bias," except that it does not--as we noted; federal rules under the Ethics in Government Act (1978) make the distinction. We did not, however, incorrectly misrepresent the Center for Science in the Public Interest's (CSPI) basis for opposing the nominations of two scientists to sit on a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) panel. We said that the CSPI opposed them because they were "funded by industry" (Barrow and Conrad 2006). Goozner characterizes this statement as implying that the scientists were only biased, whereas in his view the scientists really "were covered by the conflict of interest standard" because they "currently or previously worked for DuPont." Alas, the scientists did not have a conflict of interest under the federal standard, which only applies to current employment or ownership (Office of Government Ethics 1997). The CSPI's own press release makes clear that one of the two scientists, an academic, "four years ago conducted 3M's $1.3-million study of ... PFOA," and that the other scientist, "[p]rior to working for [his current employer], spent many years working for DuPont...." (CSP1 2004). Neither scientist worked for DuPont, or had a conflict of interest under federal rules, when he was being considered for the U.S. EPA panel.

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: 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:// 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

Washington, DC


James W. Conrad Jr.

American Chemistry Council

E-mail: james_conrad@

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.
COPYRIGHT 2006 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Perspectives: Correspondence
Author:Conrad, James W., Jr.
Publication:Environmental Health Perspectives
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Previous Article:Credibility of scientists: conflict of interest and bias.
Next Article:Methylmercury, amalgams, and children's health.

Related Articles
Warming reaps earlier spring growth.
Sex and the city of God. .
The Constants Of Nature: From Alpha to Omega--The Numbers that Encode the Deepest Secrets of the Universe.
Weird science.
Assessing the reliability and credibility of industry science and scientists.
Credibility of scientists: industry versus public interest.
Credibility of scientists: conflict of interest and bias.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters