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March 24, 2008

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 03/24/2008

Rice Removal: EPA Move Violates Peer Review Rules, Groups Say

A coalition of public interest groups and a union representing Environmental Protection Agency employees last week formally protested the EPA’s decision to remove toxicologist Deborah Rice from a panel reviewing safe exposure limits for polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a class of toxic flame retardants. The EPA removed Rice last summer after the industry’s trade group, the American Chemistry Council, accused her of bias, according to an Environmental Working Group investigation. The EPA also edited Rice’s comments out of the panel’s toxicological report on Deca-BDE. Rice, citing studies showing that the widely-used PBDEs affect brain, thyroid, and motor skills development in animals, was instrumental in convincing Maine to ban the chemical.

In their letter protesting Rice’s removal, the groups, which included the Center for Science in the Public Interest, pointed out that Federal Advisory Committee Act calls for removing scientists only if they have financial conflicts of interest. Bias, if present, should be balanced by including members with alternate points of view. The letter also noted that the panel from which Rice was removed included the industry consultant Richard Bull, who has financial ties to Lockheed Martin and other chemical manufacturers. “When [the agency] allows itself to serve the interests of the polluting industries that it is charged with regulating, it has perverted its mission, compromised its credibility, and forsaken its Congressional mandate,” the letter stated.

Meanwhile, Reps. John Dingell (D-MI) and Bart Stupak (D-MI) launched an investigation into the EPA’s management of its conflict of interest rules. Rice’s dismissal “raises serious concerns about EPA’s scientific integrity,” Dingell said. “The EPA seems to have a backwards way of composing these panels. EPA is disallowing scientists who have valid public health concerns about products, while encouraging participation by so-called experts who are paid by the chemical industry.”

Skin Doc Group’s Seal Sale Tattooed as Unethical

A recipient of the American Academy of Dermatology’s top career award has accused the organization of “patently wrong” and “unethical” behavior by selling its seal of approval to any company willing to pay the price. A. Bernard Ackerman, a New York City dermatologist, former AAD board member and winner of the prestigious Master Dermatologist Award in 2004, called the AAD’s “Seal of Recognition Program” a clear conflict of interest. Launched in 2007, the “Seal for Recognition Program” grants manufacturers of sun protection products the right to place a seal touting the AAD’s approval on their products in exchange for a fee. Companies must pay $5,000 to apply for the seal, $10,000 if their application is approved, and $10,000 the following year. Applications are approved if the products meet minimum criteria established by the AAD through testing by an independent scientist. Although the seal has only been awarded to two sunscreens, sun-protection products eligible in the newly expanded program include cosmetics/moisturizers, clothing, hats, laundry additives, and window films/tints.

The American Medical Association came under heavy criticism in the late 1990s after signing an endorsement-for-royalties deal with the Sunbeam Corp. At the AAD’s annual meeting in San Antonio last month, Ackerman submitted a protest petition with 81 signatures. The AAD defended the program by pointing out that the seal-of-approval program is not an exclusive endorsement, and requires independent product testing that is more stringent than the Food and Drug Administration’s requirements for sunscreens. The AAD added that manufacturers’ fees will be used to fund administration of the program and a skin cancer public education campaign.

At a forum held during the AAD’s annual meeting, Ackerman revealed that 6 out of 7 AAD officers in 2006 (when the program was approved) and 4 out of 7 AAD officers in 2007 had financial ties to companies that manufacture sunscreens, including the president, president-elect and vice-president in each year. “This is emblematic and symbolic of everything that is wrong with American medicine today and American dermatology in particular,” said Ackerman.

Groups Urge Protections for Federal Scientists

A coalition of nearly fifty organizations including the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Integrity in Science project last Tuesday sent a letter urging Senators to strengthen whistleblower protections by extending them to federal scientists who speak out about political interference in their research. The current House version of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act includes this protection, but the Senate version does not. The two bills are expected to be reconciled in the coming weeks. “Surveys, investigations, and media reports increasingly show that federal science is being manipulated, suppressed, and distorted,” the letter, organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, stated. “Scientists who expose the suppression and distortion of their work should be protected for alerting the public to potential dangers.”

Odds and Ends

Ninety-two members of Congress have asked NOAA Fisheries, the agency in charge of wild salmon recovery, to consider dam removal as one of “all scientifically credible and economically viable alternatives” for salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia Basin. The agency’s salmon recovery plans released last fall has been criticized by scientists and advocacy groups . . . . Sponsors of Research America’s annual national forum to promote more funding for medical research included Novartis, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Astellas, and PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry lobbying group. . . . A federal judge in Illinois has denied Pfizer’s attempt to subpoena confidential peer-review documents for 11 studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Archives of Internal Medicine. The judge ruled the harm inflicted on the journal’s peer-review process outweighed the documents’ potential value to Pfizer in its product liability defense. The New England Journal of Medicine faces a similar subpoena from Pfizer in Massachusetts. . . .The Center for Science in the Public Interest last week filed a formal protest with the Accreditation Council on Continuing Medical Education over failures to disclose conflicts of interest in continuing medical education seminars and articles featuring presentations by Weill-Cornell Medical School researchers Claudia Henschke and David Yankelevitz.

Cheers and Jeers

  • Cheer to Felicity Barringer of the New York Times for noting that Kansans for Affordable Energy is a pro-coal lobbying group in an article discussing state energy policy debates. Kansans for Affordable Energy has received financial support from Sunflower Electric Power, a Kansas-based utility company, and Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal corporation.
  • Jeer to Melissa Healy of the Los Angeles Times for failing to disclose conflicts of interests of Peter R. Kowey, who was quoted repeatedly in her article questioning the effectiveness and safety of generic drugs. Kowey, the chief of cardiovascular diseases at Main Line Health System near Philadelphia, receives consulting fees from Sanofi-Aventis, Reliant, Cardiome, Astellas, Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals, and Solvay Pharmaceuticals as well as lecture fees from Sanofi-Aventis.