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Integrity in Science Watch Week of 10/30/2006


Headlines
Industry-Backed Skeptics File Brief in Global Warming Lawsuit . . .

. . . While AP Fails to Disclose Climate Skeptics' Ties to Industry-Funded Think Tanks

Astroturf Patient Groups Exposed: Major Funding Comes from Rx Industry

FDA's Orphan Drugs Czar to Join Amgen

NAS: Conviction No Bar for Former FDA Head

Fired Scientist Accuses USGS of Blocking Study, Seeks Data

Internal Survey: Mixed Attitude Toward New NIH Ethics Rule

Odds and Ends

Industry-Backed Skeptics File Brief in Global Warming Lawsuit . . .

Eight global warming skeptics, many with well-established ties to the fossil-fuel industry, last week filed a Supreme Court amicus brief in support of the Environmental Protection Agency's 2003 decision against regulating carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act. The Competitive Enterprise Institute-sponsored brief argued that "it is simply impossible to conclude that the net effect of greenhouse gases is an endangerment of health and welfare." A coalition of 12 states and nonprofit organizations have filed a lawsuit challenging the EPA's decision. After the U.S. Appeals Court in Washington, D.C., last year sided with the federal government, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the plaintiffs' appeal. Oral arguments are scheduled for Nov. 29.

The climate-change skeptics who filed last week's brief include
  • astrophysicist Sallie Baliunas, who has received funding from the American Petroleum Institute and serves as a senior scientist with the George C. Marshall Institute, which has received $630,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998;
  • University of Delaware climatologist David Legates, who has written reports and served as an adjunct scholar for the National Center for Policy Analysis, an organization that has received funding from ExxonMobil, DaimlerChrysler Corp. and the El Paso Energy Foundation;
  • Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a recipient of funding from the German Coal Mining Association, Edison Electric Institute, Cyprus Minerals Co., Western Fuels Association and Intermountain Rural Electric Association; and
  • Joel Schwartz, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which has received more than $1.6 million from ExxonMobil since 1998.
Three of the four other signers of the brief have frequently contributed to publications of CEI, George C. Marshall Institute and other Exxon-funded organizations that downplay the risks from global warming.

Meanwhile, two senators asked ExxonMobil last week to stop funding global warming skeptics. ABC News reported that a letter from Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) asked ExxonMobil chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson to "end any further financial assistance" to groups "whose public advocacy has contributed to the small but unfortunately effective climate change denial myth."

. . . While AP Fails to Disclose Climate Skeptics' Ties to Industry-Funded Think Tanks

The Associated Press ran a story that appeared in the Indianapolis Star and several other papers last week that cited global warming skeptic John Christy but failed to mention his long involvement with conservative think-tanks supported by money from the energy industry. In an article about the development of global warming "hot spots," AP cited Christy's belief that concerns about an increase in heat-wave related deaths due to climate change were without foundation. The widely used wire service identified Christy only as an atmosphere sciences professor at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, but did not note his frequent appearances and published work for the George C. Marshall Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute and Independent Institute - conservative think tanks that receive funding from ExxonMobil and other energy companies.

Meanwhile, an AP story in the Washington Post earlier this month quoted global warming skeptic Patrick Michaels without noting his ties to the fossil-fuel industry. In a feature story showing how local communities are enacting their own versions of the Kyoto protocol, the AP allowed Michaels to dismiss the significance of those moves without reporting that, as a previous AP report noted last July, Michaels recently received "at least $150,000 in donations and pledges" from Colorado-based electric utilities, including the Intermountain Rural Electric Association.

Astroturf Patient Groups Exposed: Major Funding Comes from Rx Industry

Pharmaceutical companies provide a significant share of financial support for many of the patient groups that advocate for people with conditions requiring long-term treatment, an investigative report by the New Scientist found. An investigation into a random sampling of 25 groups revealed that seven received 20 percent or more of their funding from drug and device companies. The Colorectal Cancer Coalition, founded in 2004, topped the list with 80 percent of its funding coming from the drug and device industry. The Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) Foundation received a substantial amount of money from two major drug makers with products directly related to the syndrome: GlaxoSmithKline, which makes the RLS drug Requip, and Boehringer Ingelheim, whose RLS drug is pending approval, have collectively contributed more than $628,000 to the foundation, almost half of its total revenue.

FDA's Orphan Drugs Czar to Join Amgen

Marlene Haffner, the long-time head of the Food and Drug Administration's orphan products office, has retired from the agency after 35 years to take a job with Amgen, the nation's biggest biotech firm. Amgen was one of the first companies to take advantage of the seven years of market exclusivity granted under the Orphan Drug Act, which is given to firms that are first to market a drug for treating conditions with fewer than 200,000 patients. Amgen's Epogen, now taken by more than 300,000 Medicare-reimbursed dialysis patients, racked up $2.5 billion in sales last year. When she joins Amgen on Jan. 1, Haffner's new title will be Executive Director of Regulatory Affairs for Global Government Affairs. Three years ago, FDA whistleblower Robert F. Steeves accused Haffner of taking numerous wasteful and fraudulent overseas trips at government expense. In a suit filed in a Virginia federal district court, Steeves, now a private consultant, accused Haffner of making false charges and improperly suspending him from the agency after he made those allegations, which have never been investigated by FDA's top management, according to FDAWebview (subscription required). On the other hand, Abbey Meyers, president of the National Organization of Rare Diseases, praised Haffner's tenure at FDA, but expressed "surprise that she's going somewhere where they don't really focus on orphan drugs."

NAS: Conviction No Bar for Former FDA Head

Lester Crawford, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration who pleaded guilty two weeks ago to hiding conflicts of interest, has been named by the National Academy of Sciences to the new Army Science and Technology board that is charged with reviewing hygiene standards at a U.S. Army chemical disposal facility in Utah. Margaret Novack, the NAS official in charge of the committee, defended the choice by saying the board will be "looking at military chemical policy, which is a far cry from the type of things he was previously involved with."

Fired Scientist Accuses USGS of Blocking Study, Seeks Data

A scientist who claims he was fired by the U.S. Geological Survey after refusing to alter his findings on the effects of chemicals in the water supply has filed a federal lawsuit seeking access to his data and the right to talk to government colleagues who collaborated in the studies. Tim Gross' suit alleges that the USGS wrongfully fired him last January by claiming his ongoing affiliation with the University of Florida was a conflict of interest, even though USGS knew about his university ties when it first hired him in 1998. In an interview Gross said that he wants to publish the results of two government-funded studies: one conducted primarily while he was working solely for the University of Florida that found wastewater chemicals were affecting fish populations nationwide; and another USGS-sponsored study suggesting pollution in southern Nevadas Lake Mead is having a greater effect on its fish than previously believed. However, the agency confiscated his data and forbade other USGS scientists from talking to him, which, Gross claims, makes it impossible for him to publish his interpretation of the data. The USGS, which has assigned a new team of researchers to the Lake Mead study, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Internal Survey: Mixed Attitude Toward New NIH Ethics Rule

Almost 40 percent of 512 tenured and tenured-track research scientists at the National Institutes of Health said they are actively looking for other work or are considering doing so because of new conflict of interest rules, according to an Associated Press story in the Washington Post. However, just 18 percent of 3,336 NIH scientists surveyed stated that they are active looking for or would consider other employment. Nearly nine in 10 scientists reported they intend to work at NIH a year from now and the scientists reported a job satisfaction rate of 81 percent, one of the highest in government. There was no comparison to employee attitudes prior to the new rules. NIH strengthened its ethics rules last year after learning that some senior scientists had formed lucrative consulting agreements with biotechnology and drug companies without agency permission.

Odds and Ends

An open letter in Science Magazine this week calls on Libya to release the five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor who are facing execution after the government of Moammar Kadafi convicted them of intentionally infecting 400 Libyan children with HIV. The six health care workers, who've been in jail for nearly eight years, were tortured to extract confessions and then sentenced to death by a firing squad. The "Plea for Justice for Jailed Medical Workers" is being coordinated by AIDS research pioneer Robert C. Gallo at the University of Maryland, who can be reached at gallo@umbi.umd.edu . . . Senior Bush appointee Julie MacDonald, deputy assistant secretary of the interior for fish and wildlife and parks, has ignored staff recommendations that at least six times in determining whether animal and plant species should be protected under the Endangered Species Act, documents obtained by the Washington Post show . . . The Environmental Protection Agency has closed its Office of Prevention, Pollution and Toxic Substances Library in Washington, D.C., which provided research services to EPA scientists who review industry requests for the introduction of new chemicals into the market, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.


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