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December 18, 2006

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 12/18/2006

Conflicts Surface at Maryland Stem Cell Commission

The head of Maryland's new stem cell commission is the co-founder of a venture capital firm with investments in three companies that could apply for research grants from the commission, the Baltimore Business Journal (subscription required) reported last week. Linda Powers, chairwoman of the Maryland Stem Cell Commission, said she would likely recuse herself from votes in which the venture fund Toucan Capital Corp. has a financial stake but she made no such promise with regard to votes that would affect her firm's competitors. The 15-member panel also includes Gloria Marrow of the Transplant Resource Center of Maryland. The commission is still developing conflict-of-interest rules for its members.

The issue of conflicts of interest at state stem cell commissions first popped up in California, where consumer groups have raised concerns that the committee appointed to oversee $3 billion in bond funds for stem cell research is rife with ties to biotech and pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer and Amgen, that could benefit from research grants.

USGS Scientists Resist New Review Policy

A new Bush administration policy that requires U.S. Geological Survey scientists to submit all reports and prepared speeches to managers is angering some employees who say the elaborate internal review could prevent public dissemination of information, the Washington Post reported last week. The new requirements, introduced in July, call for managers to determine whether employees' work meets the agency's scientific standards and mandate that scientists alert the agency press office to any work involving "potential high visibility products or sensitive issues."

Glaxo-Paid Docs, Medscape Push Questionable Anti-Herpes Treatment

Despite the remoteness of the danger, the absence of evidence that the strategy works, and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' opposition, GlaxoSmithKline has launched a major "education" campaign to convince obstetricians to test all pregnant women for herpes, which could lead to a major increase in prescriptions for its new anti-herpes drug to prevent mother-child transmission, the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports. The campaign includes employing physician-speakers like Zane A. Brown of the University of Washington, whose review in the October 2005 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology pushing the strategy disclosed his role as a Glaxo-paid consultant and speaker. The story also revealed that the online continuing medical education (CME) course offered by the medical Web site Medscape chose its speakers from a list provided by Glaxo, which funded the event. While the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education prohibits funders from having control over CME activities, a Glaxo spokesman told the Journal that "there's nothing wrong with providing names of potential speakers." A Glaxo spokesman claimed that Medscape maintained ultimate control over the content of the event, the story said.

Biologist Admits Study Used Fake Images

R. Michael Roberts, a reproductive biologist at the University of Missouri at Columbia, has acknowledged that a high-profile study published in Science earlier this year used fraudulent images. Roberts told the Associated Press that his Feb. 17 report on mouse embryos involved "serious manipulation of images," but he blamed the fraud on a postdoctoral researcher who has since left the university. Science has already issued an "editorial expression of concern" warning that the study's results should not be trusted, and Ginger Pinholster, a spokeswoman for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes the journal, said the magazine was waiting until the university finishes its investigation before taking further action.

Fraud Charges Lead Authors to Retract DNA Paper

Charges of image manipulation have forced the retraction of a paper on DNA transcription that was published in the Oct. 20 edition of Cell, Science reported last week. National Chung Hsing University in Taichung, Taiwan, recommended the retraction last week after anonymous researchers uncovered evidence that images in the paper had been changed. Ban-Yang Chang, the corresponding author, told Science that he had requested the retraction, but he maintained that the study's results were legitimate.

Odds and Ends

More than 10,000 scientists have signed a statement calling for the restoration of scientific integrity in scientific decision-making, the Union of Concerned Scientists announced last week as it released a new guide documenting recent allegations of censorship and political interference in federal science . . . In response to recent concerns about the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to shutter several libraries, EPA officials reassured the public last week that it would make agency materials available through its Web site . . . An orthopedic surgeon affiliated with the Cleveland Clinic promoted a new treatment for spinal fractures caused by osteoporosis, without disclosing that he had received valuable stock options from the company that makes the treatment, according to an article in the Dec. 10 edition of the Plain Dealer . . . The British Medical Journal reports (subscription required) that controversy over the influence of drug industry money has forced the International Continence Society (ICS) to postpone the election of new officers and consider a rewrite of its constitution and ethical guidelines.