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October 29, 2007

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 10/29/2007

EPA Funnels Key Work to Industry-Backed Research Group

The Environmental Protection Agency last month awarded two grants to develop tests to measure toxic chemical exposure risk to non-profit research institutes indirectly supported by companies that make the chemicals. The EPA awarded a $750,000 grant to The Hamner Institutes, a research institute almost entirely funded by chemical and pharmaceutical companies, to conduct research on human exposure to the widely used insecticide carbaryl, which is manufactured by Union Carbide. Another near $750,000 grant went to CIIT or the Chemical Industry Institute of Technology, which is now an institute within the Hamner Institutes, and The LifeLine Group, Inc., to study tests involving perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS), which are manufactured by DuPont.

The research program, which has a total of five grantees, is an effort to measure and then link the biological effects of these chemicals on humans to the level of exposure to them in the environment. The tests could be used by the EPA to set exposure standards. Although neither Union Carbide nor DuPont gives money to The Hamner Institutes directly, both companies belong to the American Chemistry Council, which is one of the Hamner's major supporters, according to its website. Prior to its merger with The Hamner Institutes, CIIT received support from Dupont and Union Carbide. The Lifeline Institute is a private consulting and software development firm whose board of directors includes former Monsanto official James Wilson.

Open Access Bill Advances despite Publisher Protests

Free public access to all published articles produced from National Institutes of Health-funded research moved one step closer to reality last week. The bill, pushed by a coalition of more than 200 academic libraries, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and many academic societies, was included in the Labor-Health and Human Services appropriations bill that overwhelmingly passed the Senate. The House has already passed a similar measure. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill because of its spending targets for other programs.

Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition of the Association of Research Libraries, hailed the Senate vote, which would vastly expand the content in NIH’s free library at PubMedCentral. "This policy sets the stage for researchers, patients, and the general public to benefit in new and important ways from our collective investment in critical biomedical research," she said. The provision was opposed by the Association of American Publishers, which includes leading scientific publishers like Elsevier, Wiley, and the American Chemical Society, which claim their ability to support independent peer review of new studies depends on exclusive copyrights.

The publishers' campaign triggered an anonymous email campaign by an ACS insider that accused the chemical society's leaders of opposing the provision because their high salaries and bonuses are tied to publishing profits, The Scientist reported. Several top officials at ACS, which generates about a half a billion dollars a year in revenues from its 36 journals, earn over $750,000 a year, according to its latest Internal Revenue Service filings. The anonymous emailer's allegations drew an angry open letter from ACS chairwoman Judith L. Benham, who wrote that "the ACS's position on open access has been developed carefully over many years, in consultation with scientists and publishing experts from a wide range of scientific disciplines and interests."

ACS belongs to the Association of American Publishers, which earlier this year hired Dezenhall Resources, best known for defending Enron executives and opposing public interest groups, to launch a campaign opposing the open access legislation. In August, AAP launched a new website called Prism (Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine) that echoed the claim that open access would undermine peer review. That sparked James D. Jordan, president of Columbia University Press, to resign from AAP. Stephen Bourne, chief executive officer of Cambridge University Press told the Chronicle of Higher Education that "Prism's message is oversimplistic and ill-judged, with the unwelcome consequence of creating tension between the publishing community and the proponents of open access."

CDC's Gerberding Defends White House Censorship

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Julie Gerberding last week defended the White House's heavy editing of the climate change testimony she delivered to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, as Democratic lawmakers blasted the administration for omitting key details on the extent and severity of health effects expected to result from global warming. While Gerberding said that she "said everything [she] needed to say," a CDC official who saw the uncut version called the final testimony "eviscerated."

The edits were the work of the White House Office of Management and Budget, which customarily reviews agency testimony prior to its delivery to Congress. Environment and Public Works Committee chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) called on the Bush Administration to release Gerberding's uncut statement, which, according to the Senator, contains details on climate change health effects that closely mirror the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Scientists Decry Politicization of Wolf Management

Scientists who authored the 2001 review of the Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) recovery program for the Mexican gray wolf last week blasted the agency's policy of killing wolves that repeatedly prey on livestock, claiming it jeopardizes the wolves' recovery program. The scientists also repeated their recommendation that the agency stop capturing and relocating wolves that stray beyond an agency-designated recovery area, a practice that has been in place since wolf reintroduction efforts began in New Mexico and Arizona in 1998. "The process is so highly politicized, and the biology is ignored" said Paul C. Paquet, professor of environmental science at the University of Calgary and one of the three authors of the review.

The American Society of Mammalogists in June declared the government's "predator-control programs are not based on sound scientific research" while 29 conservation organizations charged that the wolf-killing policy ignored "the genetic value of the targeted animal, the social relationship of the implicated wolf to other pack members, [and] the reproductive status of" animals slated for killing. New Mexico officials have also called for an end to the practice of killing wolves that prey upon three or more head of livestock within a year.

Odds and Ends

The Food and Drug Administration last week issued an 11-page warning letter to Sanofi-Aventis for failing to report fraud at clinical trial sites where the antibiotic Ketek was tested. The agency later slapped a black box warning on the drug after 13 people died from liver failure. The complaint confirmed allegations by FDA whistleblowers. Rep Bart Stupak (D-MI) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week promised the investigation would continue. . . The committee has also asked the National Cancer Institute for the financial records of 50 researchers involved in a $200 million government-run lung cancer screening trial, the Wall Street Journal reports. The paper had previously revealed that several lead researchers had testified in court for the tobacco industry. . . Drug company-funded studies of corticosteroid inhalers for asthma are less likely to find adverse effects than studies paid for by other sources, a research team from Children's Hospital La Fe in Valencia, Spain found. The researchers analyzed 504 studies of the drugs conducted between 1993 and 2002. . . The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services tells Reuters its decision to limit payments for excessive use of erythropoiesis-stimulating agents in cancer patients will stand because the American Society of Clinical Oncologists and manufacturers of the drugs, Amgen and Johnson & Johnson, failed to submit any evidence that would justify reopening the decision. Used excessively, the drugs cause some tumors to grow faster.

Cheers and Jeers

  • Cheer to Mary Ann Swissler of Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, whose inattention to environmental causes of the disease has been criticized by activist groups. The article reports that the Foundation owns stock in several pharmaceutical companies and in General Electric (of the largest makers of mammogram machines in the world), and has received grants from AstraZeneca which manufactures the cancer treatment drug tamoxifen.
  • Jeer to Kathleen Kingsbury of Time magazine for her article "The Changing Face of Breast Cancer," which fails to note the corporate ties of the Komen Foundation or mention environmental causes of the disease. Kingsbury also fails to note the drawbacks of excessive use of mammograms that have been observed by the American College of Physicians, who point to the risks of excess radiation, overdiagnosis, and overtreatment.
  • Cheer to Sally Squires of The Washington Post for expressing regrets for failing to report that the National Fisheries Institute paid thousands of dollars in honoraria and an additional $60,000 for publicity to Maternal Nutrition Group researchers who argued pregnant women should eat more than 12 ounces of fish weekly.