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Credibility of scientists: conflict of interest and bias.

In their commentary, Barrow and Conrad (2006), both employed by the chemical industry, argued that industry-funded science and scientists are high quality and unbiased, and this is enforced through policies and practices such as disclosure of funding sources in scientific journals, guidelines for Good Laboratory Practices, peer review, the scientific process of independent repeatability, various federal laws, and the prospect of tort liability. Ironically, these same mechanisms have publicly revealed the often successful efforts by industry to weaken the regulation of their products.

The current checks and balances cited by Barrow and Conrad (2006) are not always effective guards against biased or even bad science. Numerous examples of biased industry science have been reported in the scientific literature:

* In an article co-authored by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists, Dearfield et al. (1993) compared the results from registrant-submitted mutagenicity studies to the U.S. EPA Office of Pesticide Programs with those from the published literature. The authors reported a selection bias, in which registrant-submitted studies on atrazine mutagenicity were all negative (no mutagenic activity), whereas over a dozen studies in the published literature reported mutagenic activity.

* In an analysis of studies submitted to the U.S. EPA on the effects of atrazine on flog reproductive development, Hayes (2004) reported that financial sponsorship was a strong predictor of study outcome (p = 0.009). Funding sources varied for studies reporting adverse effects (including government and industry funding), whereas all of the studies that failed to detect adverse effects were funded by the manufacturer of atrazine.

* In an analysis of 115 published studies on low-dose effects of the plastics-component bisphenol A, vom Saal and Hughes (2005) reported that > 90% of government-funded studies found significant low-dose effects, whereas none of the industryfunded studies did. More specifically, the authors found that
 Some industry-funded studies have ignored the
 results of positive controls, and many studies
 reporting no significant effects used a strain of
 rat that is inappropriate for the study of estrogenic
 responses. (vom Saal and Hughes 2005)

* Studies of documents from the tobacco industry archives have revealed evidence of concerted industry efforts to obscure the contribution of secondhand smoke and other environmental toxics to disease through the development of their own version of "good epidemiological practices" and "sound science" (Ong and Glantz 2001).

As Barrow and Conrad (2006) pointed out, federal scientific advisory committees and the National Academies want to include relevant experts, and therefore may appoint industry experts despite direct financial conflicts. As a solution, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) sometimes invites financially conflicted experts to speak to the committee but bars them from drafting documents or voting on evaluations (Cogliano et at. 2004). Prompt implementation of strict conflict guidelines (similar to those adopted by IARC) by the U.S. government and the National Academies should be a high priority. An editorial in The Lancet (2002) warned.
 Members of expert panels need to be impartial
 and credible, and free of partisan conflicts of
 interest, especially in industry links or in rightwing
 or religious ideology.

Barrow and Conrad (2006) argued that I am biased because my work on scientific integrity is funded by a private foundation. However, there is no financial stake in the regulation of toxics for myself, my employer, or my funders. Moreover, the funders do not review or comment on my prepublication work or influence my work product in any way. I consistently acknowledge a bias toward ensuring that regulations of toxic chemicals are as health protective as feasible, consistent with the U.S. EPA's stated goal--"to protect human health and the environment" (U.S. EPA 2005).


Barrow CS, Conrad JW Jr. 2006. Assessing the reliability and credibility of industry science and scientists. Environ Health Perspect 114:193-155; doi:10.1289/ehp.8417 [Online 6 October 2005].

Cogliano VJ, Bean RA, Straif K, Grosse Y, Secretan MB, El Bhissassi F, et al. 2004. The science and practice of carcinogen identification and evaluation. Environ Health Perspect 112:1259-1274.

Dearfield KL Stack HF, Quest JA, Whiting RJ, Waters MD. 1993. A survey of EPNOPP and open literature data on selected pesticide chemicals tested for mutagenicity. I. Introduction and first ten chemicals. Mutat Res 297(3):197-233.

Hayes T. 2004. "[here is no denying this: defusing the confusion about atrezine. BioScience 54(12):1138-1149. Lancet. 2002, Keeping scientific advice non-partisan. Lancet 360(9345):1525.

Ong EK, Glantz SA. 2001. Constructing "sound science" and "good epidemiology": tobacco, lawyers, and public relations firms. Am J Public Health 91(11):1749-1757.

U.S. EPA. 2005. Our Mission. Available: epahome/aboutepa.htm [accessed 18 October 2005).

veto Seal FS, Hughes C. 2005. An extensive new literature concerning low-dose effects of bisphenol A shows the need for a new risk assessment. Environ Health Perspect 113:926-933.

Jennifer Sass

Natural Resources Defense Council

Washington, DC


The author is employed by an environmental nonprofit organization with an interest in ensuring that regulations of toxic chemicals are as health protective as feasible.
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Title Annotation:Perspectives: Correspondence
Author:Sass, Jennifer
Publication:Environmental Health Perspectives
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Previous Article:Credibility of scientists: industry versus public interest.
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