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November 13, 2007

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Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 11/13/2007

NOAA Nixes Dam Removal --Again

Environmentalists and some government scientists are rejecting the conservation plans released last week to protect wild salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest, charging that the plans ignore science and promote the same policies that have already been rejected by the federal courts. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service, which oversees marine environments, released the new plans, known as biological opinions (BiOps), in response to U.S. District Court Judge James Redden's rejection of 2004 plans to protect the two species. The judge ruled those plans violated the Endangered Species Act because they did not consider removal of four dams on the Lower Snake River that block fish passage, prevent access to spawning habitat, and lead to severe fish mortality. The latest plans also leave the dams intact.

Both the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clinton Administration agreed that removing the dams was necessary to allow the species to recover and to protect water quality in the Lower Snake River. In a draft version of a BiOp prepared in 2000, even NOAA agreed that planning for dam removal should begin. But those plans were put on hold by the Bush administration. The latest BiOps, like the 2004 plan, rely on trucking salmon around the dams and controlling predators to boost survival. "The accumulated benefits of these measures . . . have not met standards for survival," said one Fish and Wildlife Service scientist, who did not wish to be identified.

Conservation groups charge that the new plans regurgitate proposals touted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Administration and the Bureau of Reclamation, which operate the dams and market their electricity. "NOAA's job is not to just rubber stamp the actions proposed by these agencies," said Nicole Cordan of the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. "Its job is to do a thorough review of the science surrounding the needs of these species. [This plan] completely goes against sound salmon science."

Grassley Asks CMS to Clarify Journal Policy

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) last week asked the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to determine if medical journals used to justify reimbursement for off-label use of cancer drugs follow strict conflict-of-interest disclosure guidelines and require registration of clinical trials prior to publication. The agency recently named 11 journals to the list where efficacy studies showing an off-label use of a drug is useful may appear. At least one of the journals did not require authors to disclose conflicts of interest and more than half did not require registration of clinical trials prior to publication, according to an Integrity in Science Watch survey. "Conflicts of interest have been proven in peer-reviewed studies to have a significant impact on scientific outcomes," Grassley told acting CMS administrator Kerry Weems in the letter. "Accordingly, it is important that scientific journals maintain policies of transparency and financial disclosure." Grassley said he will seek rules ensuring that the studies used to justify payment policies are "peer-reviewed and free of bias."

White House Stalls on Admitting Censorship

The White House is so far refusing to turn over early drafts of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Julie Gerberding's testimony on global warming's impact on public health. In a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) last week, President Bush’s counsel Fred Fielding expressed reluctance to hand over the documents. Boxer had demanded not just the early draft of Gerberding’s speech to the Environment and Public Works Committee, but comments by White House reviewers. Fielding said "the request implicates core Executive Branch interests and raises separation of powers concerns as well." Boxer replied that she was "stunned that the White House is hiding behind 'separation of powers' and 'executive privilege' arguments to stop the American people from getting the truth about the serious public health impacts of global warming."

University Profs Fret Industry Control of Research

Faculty at two major universities have raised concerns about the chemical industry’s influence over new industry-campus research collaborations, Chemical and Engineering News reports. The University of California at Berkeley recently announced a new collaboration to study chemistry and environmental policy research, which was launched with a $10 million gift from Dow Chemical. A Dow executive also sits on the program’s steering committee. A similar research partnership is also underway at Harvard University, where German chemical industry giant BASF is spending $20 million to support research into new products. Berkeley public health researcher Michael P. Wilson, who works with the California Environmental Protection Agency on green chemistry issues, said independent researchers are unlikely to apply for grants from the Berkeley program "until the lines of authority are delineated." A Dow spokesman said the grant had no strings attached.

Odds and Ends

The National Research Council called for greater public access to government science information, noting that post-9/11 restrictions harm scientific progress and threaten national security. . . . In the wake of reports that top officials at the Consumer Product Safety Commission repeatedly took trips at industry expense, frequently with heads of companies whose products were up for review, Democratic lawmakers led by Robert Menendez (D-NJ) have introduced a measure that would ban federal regulators from taking trips paid for by the industries they regulate. . . . The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has named Hugh Tilson, director of the Environmental Protection Agency's human health research program, as editor-in-chief of the open-access journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The appointment follows the agency's recent abandonment of privatization plans. . . . At least two-thirds of the non-profit groups that filed comments to the World Health Organization on intellectual property, innovation and global health had ties to the pharmaceutical industry, the Washington-based group Essential Action reports.

Cheers and Jeers

  • Cheer to Barnaby J. Feder of the New York Times, whose quote from a physician associated with Columbia University's Cardiovascular Research Foundation reported that the organization receives "strong financial support from industry."