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October 6, 2008

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 10/06/2008

Alaska Bear Lawsuit Cites Industry-Funded Skeptics

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service's listing of the polar bear as an endangered species relied on research funded by Exxon Mobil and by the American Petroleum Institute, the Guardian of London revealed last week. The FWS ruled last May that the polar bear is threatened by a loss of sea ice, mostly from global warming. At least six of the scientists referenced in Alaska’s lawsuit against the proposed designation question the significance of human-induced global warming, and some have taken funding from the oil and energy sector, the paper reported. They included Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and climatology professor David Legates of the University of Delaware. They co-authored a study that claimed it was "certainly premature, if not impossible to link temperature rise in Alaska with human CO2 emissions.” The paper has been criticized for “relying on old research and ignoring evidence that Arctic sea-ice is melting at a quickening pace,” according to the Guardian.

Nemeroff Failed to Report Drug Income to NIH

Emory University professor Charles Nemeroff, one of the nation’s most prominent research psychiatrists who has extensive ties to the pharmaceutical industry, failed to report much of his industry-derived income earlier in this decade to the National Institutes of Health while he was simultaneously conducting studies for the agency, an ongoing investigation by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) revealed Friday. According to a report in the Saturday New York Times, Nemeroff accepted $2.8 million in consulting arrangements with drug makers between 2000 and 2007, but failed to report at least $1.2 million of this income to his university, thereby violating federal research rules. Nemeroff was simultaneously principal investigator for a five-year, $3.9 million study by the National Institute of Mental Health of drugs manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, from which Nemeroff earned more than $960,000 between 2000 and 2006. The psychiatrist only listed $35,000 of that income on his university disclosure forms. The NIH relies on universities to police its conflict of interest rules, although government investigators earlier this year reported that the NIH almost never monitors universities for their compliance with those rules.

In a related investigation, Grassley and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) last week demanded that Medtronic turn over records of its payments to spine doctors who used a popular bone-graft product that has been associated with life-threatening complications, the Wall Street Journal reported. Though the Food and Drug Administration only approved the protein infusion product for lower-spine problems, it has been widely used off-label for other muscular-skeletal disorders. A suit filed by former sales representatives alleges that the company encouraged off-label use by sending spine doctors to expensive vacation spots and offering them lucrative consulting contracts and high royalties.

Reid, Enviros Blast EPA Yucca Mountain Standard

Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada blasted the Environmental Protection Agency last week for its final radiation standard for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. The agency is “casting science aside in an attempt to get the nuclear waste dump approved.” Reid said. The agency claims that “the Yucca Mountain standards are in line with approaches used in the international radioactive waste management community,” an agency spokeswoman said.

The EPA issued the rules in response to a court decision requiring the agency to fulfill a 16-year-old Congressional mandate that it establish radiation standards for the nuclear waste repository, which will accept radioactive waste from nuclear facilities all over the U.S. The EPA’s new standard set an individual dose limit of 100 millirems of annual exposure per year between 10,000 years and 1 million years into the future. The EPA defended its standard by arguing that current average exposure from natural and artificial radioactivity is 360 millirems per year. “What EPA fails to mention is our current exposure to 360 millirems of radiation kills many thousands of Americans each year with fatal cancer,” said Kevin Kamp, nuclear waste specialist for the Takoma Park, MD-based Beyond Nuclear. “The EPA decision dooms future generations to significantly increased rates of fatal cancer.”

U.S. Geological Survey scientists wrote in the journal Science last June that while the repository is the best available option for storage of nuclear waste, the “fate of [high level radioactive wastes] over time frames of hundreds of millennia is not knowable.”

Media Often Fail to Report Pharma Funding

News reports about the latest drug studies often fail to report pharmaceutical company funding, according to a new a survey that appeared last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In a four-year study of nearly 300 news reports based on industry-funded studies in the five most prominent general medical journals, 42 percent failed to disclose the studies’ funding sources. The report also surveyed editors and found that 88 percent of them believed the articles did disclose funding. Of the editors that responded to the study survey (94 of the 100 that were contacted), only three percent have a written policy stating that company funding should be reported in articles about medical research.

UMinn May Strengthen COI Policy

A University of Minnesota Medical School task force has recommended sweeping changes in the school’s conflict of interest policy that some critics say doesn’t go far enough. Minnesota Public Radio reported last week that the plan, ,uncovered by the student newspaper, would ban gifts to doctors on the faculty, but would not stop them from accepting paid positions as consultants. It would, however, require public disclosure of all payments. The school’s current policy considers anything under $10,000 a year insignificant and need not be reported. Disclosure “would be useful, but it wouldn't be as useful as saying, ‘The payments are not allowed,’” said Carl Elliot, a professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Bioethics. “That would be much more useful.” The university’s 450-physician medical faculty received nearly $1.5 million from drug companies between 2002 and 2004. Medical school dean Deborah Powell, who joined the corporate board of PepsiAmericas in 2006, will decide the proposal’s fate.

Odds and Ends

The US EPA last week announced a public comment period on the chemical perchlorate's public health risk in drinking water. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair John Dingell (D-MI) said in a statement that the "EPA's misguided decision not to act on perchlorate represents another stunning failure of the agency to perform its mission of protecting the public health and the environment. For more than ten years, the EPA has failed to act to protect communities from exposure to this dangerous toxin and, now, it announces that it will not regulate perchlorate".... The British National Institute for Clinical Excellence depends on up to half of its income from drug companies, the Independent reported last week. The industry is using this influence as part of its campaign to convince the National Health Service to pay for expensive drugs.... AstraZeneca, maker of the controversial lung cancer drug Iressa, has been accused of causing the deaths of hundreds of Japanese lung cancer patients. Last week, the Mainichi Shinbun reported that the company donated between 800,000 and 20 million yen ($7,500 to $189,000) to three members of the Japan Lung Cancer Society, an academic body that endorsed the use of the drug. . . . A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last week endorsed the views of previous studies and top scientists that huge problems must be overcome before carbon capture and storage becoming a reality. . . . The White House’s Office of Management and Budget has not yet released the details of the newly approved North Atlantic Right Whale rule, OMB Watch reported. The new rule extends protections for the whales, a critically endangered marine mammal species. An August draft of the rule retained scientists’ recommendations of keeping shipping speeds to 10 knots, but reduced the size of the safe zone favored by scientists, according to OMB Watch. . . . The National Institute of Health last week announced it will launch a pilot program for institutions to electronically file financial conflict of interest forms and reports. More information can be found on the NIH website....