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February 5, 2007

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 02/05/2007

AEI Offers $10K to Scientists Who Dispute Climate Study

An ExxonMobil-funded think tank is offering scientists or economists $10,000 to dispute the international climate report released last week that attributes climate change to human activities, the London Guardian reported. The American Enterprise Institute will also pay for travel expenses and make additional payments in an attempt to undercut the findings of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose report is widely regarded as the most comprehensive review of the state of climate change science. AEI has received more than $1.6 million from ExxonMobil, and former ExxonMobil head Lee Raymond serves as vice-chairman of its board of trustees. In the wake of this revelation, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights called on Congress to subpoena ExxonMobil's records and probe the oil giant's funding of organizations involved in disputing global warming.

Meanwhile, another ExxonMobil-funded think tank held a press conference today to release a report attacking the IPCC's findings. The conservative Fraser Institute, which has received $120,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998, claimed the IPCC report released last week was a "negotiated text that is not produced by the scientific community." In fact, the IPCC report was written by some of the world's most respected climate scientists without political interference, while the Fraser report's staff includes about 50 junior and retired scientists, many of whom have connections to the energy industry.

BP Taps Berkeley, Illinois for $500M Biofuels Effort

British oil giant BP announced last week that it has selected the University of California at Berkeley's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois for a $500 million, 10-year research program on green energy. BP will fund an Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) with a mandate to "perform ground-breaking research aimed at the production of new and cleaner energy." It will initially focus on biofuels for cars and trucks. BP said as many as 50 of its employees will be involved in EBI research, and the company will share governance of the EBI and guidance of its research programs with the universities. "The proposal from UC Berkeley and its partners was selected in large part because these institutions have excellent track records of delivering 'Big Science' – large and complex developments predicated on both scientific breakthroughs and engineering applications that can be deployed in the real world,” said BP group chief executive John Browne.

EBI is the first public-private research lab dedicated to renewable fuels and clean energy, according to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) office. The governor included $40 million in funding for the institute in the state's budget for 2007 to 2008, a move that was a major factor in BP's grant decision, Schwarzenegger's representatives said in a release.

Although the institutions and BP have not yet signed a contract spelling out the details of their relationship, it is clear that BP will have a very prominent role in the institute. Beth Burnside, Berkeley's vice chancellor for research, said the governing board – which would be split between representatives of BP and the three institutions – would make the final decisions about funding of research projects, which would be proposed by EBI's director, a yet-to-be-named Berkeley faculty member. BP researchers also plan to rent space on Berkeley's campus, where they could conduct proprietary research, and freely interact with other researchers on the project, she said. BP would also have first rights to license intellectual property resulting from the institute's research and publication of research results could be delayed for months to give BP time to review its patentability, the spokeswoman said.

Hearing Airs Attempts to Silence Climate Change Scientists

Officials of the Union of Concerned Scientists told a congressional committee last week that Bush administration efforts to censor government scientists who are investigating climate change is widespread. Nearly half of 300 scientists surveyed at seven federal agencies reported they had perceived or personally experienced pressure to eliminate the words "climate change," "global warming" or similar terms from their communications. Also, Rick Piltz, a former senior associate for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program who now directs the nonprofit public interest group Climate Science Watch, told the Government Reform Committee that Philip Cooney, a former oil industry lobbyist who served as the White House Council on Environmental Quality's chief of staff until taking a job with ExxonMobil last year, personally ordered changes in government documents to inflate uncertainty and cast doubt on scientific findings. The Senate Commerce Committee will take up the issue of political interference in climate science later this week.

Stem Cell Researchers Divided on Cash for Eggs

The International Society for Stem Cell Research, which includes most of the world’s leading stem cell researchers, could not agree on taking a strong stance against paying women for donating their eggs for research purposes, which puts it at odds with National Academy of Sciences guidelines issued in 2005. The ISSCR statement, published in the latest Science magazine (subscription required), said the 27 task force members, eight of whom had financial ties to private firms involved in stem cell research, "had varied opinions on what financial accommodations should be allowed for donation of oocytes for research purposes. Some felt that altruism should be the only permissible motivation for research donation; others felt that asking women to bear the significant burden of time, effort, discomfort, and risk of donation without compensation was itself unfair and exploitative." The 2005 NAS guidelines recommended that while women egg donors should be reimbursed for the expense of the procedure, "no cash or in kind payments should be provided for donating oocytes for research purposes."

Journal Failed to Disclose AIDS Researchers' Funding

The editors of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases have launched an investigation into allegations that some of the authors of its 2004 guidelines on managing HIV failed to disclose their financial ties to AIDS drugs manufacturers. These guidelines later appeared, again with no disclosures, for national distribution at www.guidelines.gov, a Web site run by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The Center for Science in the Public Interest uncovered the undisclosed conflicts of interest and notified CID editor Sherwood L. Gorbach, who responded in an e-mail communication that the journal would "take appropriate actions after a full investigation." The journal shares "a deep concern for full and accurate disclosure of potential conflicts of interest," Gorbach said.

Child Psychiatrist Helped Drug Firm Hide Paxil's Link to Teen Suicides

A University of Pittsburgh child psychiatrist who conducted the biggest company-sponsored clinical trial of the antidepressant Paxil's use in children also conferred with GlaxoSmithKline on how to respond to questions about its safety, the BBC investigative news program "Panorama" reported last week. The psychiatrist, Dr. Neal Ryan, who was paid by GlaxoSmithKline for his work on the trial, sent e-mails to the company in 2002 asking for advice on how he should respond to media inquiries. The e-mails were uncovered as part of a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical company. The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning in 2003 against adolescent use of Paxil after company studies showed the drug actually tripled the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior in depressed children. GlaxoSmithKline issued a statement denying any wrongdoing.

Bush Order Centralizes Regulatory Power

President Bush signed an order last month that further centralizes regulatory power in the Office of Management and Budget at the expense of federal agencies. The order requires each federal agency to identify a "specific market failure" before promulgating regulations and estimate the "combined aggregate costs and benefits of all its regulations planned for that calendar year." The order also subjects agency guidance documents to the same OMB review process as proposed regulations, a further curtailment of agencies' freedom to operate. "The revised executive order ... is a further threat to public protections from an administration committed to elevating special interests over public interests," Rick Melberth, director of regulatory policy at OMB Watch, said in a statement last month. "It substitutes free market criteria for the public values of health, safety, and environmental protections, and substitutes executive authority for legislative authority."

Cheers and Jeers

  • Cheers: The Baltimore Sun reported last week that pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. has provided funding to Women in Government, a nonpartisan group of female legislators that has been promoting the adoption of legislation that would require girls to receive a vaccine for human papilloma virus. Merck makes the only vaccine currently on the market.
  • Jeers: In the deluge of coverage on the new assessment from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the New York Times, New York Sun, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Associated Press, San Antonio Express-News and Wilmington, Del., News Journal all ran articles or opinion pieces that included climate change skeptics without noting their ties to industry. The skeptics included S. Fred Singer, who has received at least $85,000 from ExxonMobil; Patrick J. Michaels, who has received funding from the German Coal Mining Association, Edison Electric Institute, Cyprus Minerals Co., Western Fuels Association and Intermountain Rural Electric Association; John Christy, who is affiliated with the George C. Marshall Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and Independent Institute, which all receive funding from ExxonMobil and other energy companies; Richard Lindzen, who has ties to ExxonMobil-funded groups including the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy, Cato Institute, Tech Central Station and Marshall Institute; and David LeGates, who is affiliated with several organizations that receive funding from ExxonMobil, including the National Center for Policy Analysis, CEI, Independent Institute and Marshall Institute.

Odds and Ends

In the wake of canceling a meeting on neonatal herpes, the National Institutes of Health is reviewing its conflict-of-interest rules for NIH-financed committees that write clinical practice guidelines. ... National Kidney Foundation has released the roster of its anemia management subcommittee, which met Feb. 2 to discuss updating its dialysis treatment guidelines. It includes the 18 members listed on the non-profit's website, 12 of whom have ties to makers of drugs that alleviate anemia. The committee report is due in April. ... The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences plans to have the National Library of Medicine handle the award of a contract outsourcing the publication of the NIEHS journal Environmental Health Perspectives, NIEHS spokeswoman Christine Bruske said last week. ... The Food and Drug Administration reports drug makers have yet to start 899 of 1,259 post-marketing studies ordered by the agency at the time of a drug's approval. FDA officials said last week that the agency needs legislative authority to compel industry to complete the tests. ... Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility released e-mails from several Environmental Protection Agency librarians complaining about difficulties in gathering information from the agency's digital inventories. The Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works will conduct the first legislative hearings on EPA library closures Thursday.


An article in last week's issue incorrectly reported that Daniel W. Coyne of Washington University School of Medicine had conducted the study that was ignored by the National Kidney Foundation's anemia management subcommittee in drafting dialysis guidelines. Though he offered the data from the study to the committee, Coyne did not conduct the research. Integrity in Science Watch regrets the error.