Scientific Journal Compromised by Industry Ties
Tobacco, Chemical, & Drug Companies’ Funding Goes Undisclosed, Say Critics
November 19, 2002
The integrity of a seemingly independent scientific journal is being questioned today by 45 prominent scientists and physicians. They charge that the journal, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology (RTP), may let the anti-regulatory interests of its corporate patrons trump sound science. The journal, which has a strong editorial bias against government regulation, is accused of hiding its authors’ and editors’ extensive financial ties to tobacco, chemical, pharmaceutical, and other industries. The critics told the journal’s publishing house that those undisclosed financial ties pave the way for research skewed in favor of industry.
“RTP reads more like a house organ of big business than an independent, peer-reviewed scientific journal,” said Virginia A. Sharpe, Ph.D., director of the Integrity in Science Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “It is hard for anyone to have confidence in RTP’s published research when blatant conflicts of interest are concealed.”
RTP is the official journal of the International Society for Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology (ISRTP), a membership organization that receives major financial support from chemical, drug, and tobacco companies. The journal is published by Academic Press, a unit of Elsevier, one of the world’s leading publishers of scientific journals. According to the scientists’ letter to Academic Press, many RTP papers are written by scientists from industry labs or by industry-paid lawyers and lobbyists. The same industries might then use RTP articles in court to help derail lawsuits, or to make the case for less regulation in legislative- and executive-branch proceedings, according to critics.
For instance, Gio Gori, the current editor of RTP, received $30,000 from the tobacco industry to write a paper entitled “Mainstream and environmental tobacco smoke.” That paper, which downplayed the risks of second-hand smoke, was published in RTP. The tobacco industry used Gori’s paper to argue against the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to protect nonsmokers from second-hand smoke.
“I am distressed to see a ‘scientific’ journal that serves as a pawn for industry and that sometimes publishes papers whose conclusions aren’t supported by the data,” said James Huff, Ph.D., a toxicologist and senior investigator at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C. “I question whether there is even a bona fide peer-review system in place at RTP.”
The letter urges Academic Press/Elsevier to insist that the journal sever its ties to the industry-sponsored ISRTP, reconstitute its editorial board to reduce the influence of industry, and adopt a strong conflict-of-interest policy. Such a policy, say the critics of RTP, would prohibit certain ties and require disclosure of all of the relevant affiliations of the editorial board members and authors, including employment, honoraria, grants, consultancies, and expert testimony.
“If Academic Press is to preserve its own credibility, it needs to ensure that its publications abide by basic standards of journalistic ethics,” said Sharpe. “By looking the other way, the publisher not only damages its own reputation but damages the reputation of peer-reviewed science.”
In addition to Huff, others signing the letter to Academic Press include CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson, Lynn R. Goldman of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Peter Infante of George Washington University, Philip J. Landrigan of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Herbert Needleman of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, David Ozonoff of Boston University, Lorenzo Tomatis, the Chairman of the Scientific Council of the International Society of Doctors for the Environment, and Arthur C. Upton of Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.