Conflicts of Interest in Science
Conflict of interest -- Public v Private
26 January 2001
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Conflict of interest -- Public v Private in MWN (Slesin).
Date: Mon, 22 Jan 2001 14:41:06 -0600
From: Roy Beavers <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Organization: EMF-L List
While I was browsing the net today, I found the following editorial ... well expressed (as usual) in MICROWAVE NEWS by editor Louis Slesin.
If you know Louis personally, as I do, you know him as a scholarly, but plain spoken man. Someone who avoids offense because it is his gentlemanly style -- rather than because he fears any consequences. He always seeks balance as well as the truth in his words and in his deeds. He enjoys (justifiably) such a reputation among the many scientists of the EMF community, who know that his search for the truth is accompanied by a fervent determination to be objective as well as accurate.
For those reasons, I consider his remarks below (particularly those concerning Dr. John Moulder) worthy of thoughtful respect and WIDE CIRCULATION.......
Cheerio........(I hope you will send this to ALL persons you know who have any interest in the EMF issue......)
Roy Beavers (EMFguru)
It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.....
People are more important than profit$$
Views on the News
The Politics of Information: Public Health vs. Private Control
There's an old saying that, "Information is power." That's certainly true for mobile phone health research.
Suppose wireless phone radiation were shown conclusively to cause cancer. Just to delay the news by six months could be worth billions of dollars. And as the tobacco and global warming debates show, corporations are not inclined to passively accept the findings of science when it hurts their bottom line.
What's good for the balance sheet is not always good for public health. And that's a conflict that is played out every day —in small increments, in slow motion, in ways that may not be dramatic but are still corrosive in their effects.
Let's take the example of the work of Drs. Christian and Hella Bartsch, funded by Deutsche Telekom (DT) (see p.4). Their first experiment yielded important results and made waves among wireless industry insiders. It was identified as a key topic for industry-funded replication, worthy of no fewer than four follow-up studies—two in the Bartsch lab and two elsewhere. But few people were allowed to know what the original study found.
The public was excluded, as was the scientific community at large. Only DT had access to the data, and they shared it with few others. Though the experiment was completed nearly two years ago, both DT and the Drs. Bartsch have refused to say anything about its results or even describe the study protocol. If a summary had not temporarily appeared on the WHO's Web site, we would still have no idea what they found.
There was no good reason to keep this information secret. We have now lost a year and a half in which other researchers could have used this knowledge to sharpen their own investigations. And clearly, the question of wireless health effects is too complex to be resolved by one lab working alone.
But when industry has advance knowledge of research results, it has more power to define what comes next. PR departments have time to figure out how to spin the results and shape public opinion. (Remember Motorola's memo on "war-gaming Lai-Singh"? See MWN,J/F97.) This in turn affects political decisions about the pace and funding of research.
Corporate spin sometimes extends into the wording of a published paper. In 1998 Dr. Michael McIvor told Microwave News,"When Sensormatic saw an advance copy of the abstract, they wanted me to change the wording" (see p.16 and MWN,N/D98).
Like the Bartsches, Dr. Ross Adey has observed a tumor-inhibiting effect from a digital phone signal. Motorola's attempt to limit Adey's discussion of this finding was the talk of the 1996 BEMS meeting (see MWN,J/A96).
Did DT play a role in delaying the publication of the Bartsch study? Unfortunately, the company does not have a record of openness and transparency —so we may never know. DT has been one of the most secretive firms in the mobile phone industry, perhaps exceeded only by France Telecom. The inevitable consequence is that journalists and the public are not sure when the company's statements can be trusted.
An account of the conflicts of interest in this case would not be complete without mentioning the role of Dr. John Moulder. The journal to which the Bartsch study was submitted is Radiation Research,one of the principal journals for RF/MW health studies, and Moulder is the associate editor with primary responsibility for non-ionizing radiation. Yet Moulder is also a paid consultant to the wireless industry in several different countries.
This is conflict of interest, "squared." It's bad enough that Moulder gets payments from the mobile phone industry while acting as a gatekeeper of scientific information. It's worse that this adds to the industry's advantage. Does anyone think that Moulder does not draw on his privileged access to research when he acts as a corporate consultant? Does he somehow "forget" the findings of a study which the rest of us may not read for another year? We doubt it.
Medical and scientific journals have strict standards about disclosing potential conflicts of interest for authors of research papers. Radiation Research should at least apply the same principle to its editors. We would suggest going further. Notice of conflicts of interest is good. Not to have them is better.
Cellular phone companies and their consultants should not have advance knowledge of research results. We need a level playing field in access to information. Until we have it, private interests will continue to have an unhealthy advantage.