Center for Science in the Public Interest

For Immediate Release: January 5, 2009

Integrity in Science Watch

Week of 01/05/2009

CSPI Report: Science Advice Committees Need Overhaul

Citing numerous cases at the Energy, Interior and Agriculture departments where industry representatives are improperly serving on government scientific advisory panels, the Center for Science in the Public Interest today called on the incoming Obama administration to initiate a complete overhaul of the federal advisory committee system. The report examined appointments at several dozen of the nearly 200 science-based advisory committees that offer advice on issues ranging from food safety and energy production to protection of the environment and public health.

The report's findings are based on the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act, which states that members of panels offering scientific advice should be free from conflicts of interest and reflect balance in points of view. The investigation found numerous examples where government agencies appoint members with industry affiliations and other financial conflicts of interest. The investigation also found the Bush administration made no significant changes in policy despite Government Accountability Office reports in 2004 and 2008 that outlined similar problems at the three agencies.

For example, the Department of Energy's Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee, whose charge includes advising on nuclear waste storage options, is dominated by members with ties to the nuclear power industry. The National Coal Council is similarly dominated by representatives of the coal industry, despite a charter that calls on the panel to evaluate the technical feasibility of clean coal technologies like carbon sequestration. "The new administration should act immediately to address longstanding deficiencies in the advisory committee system, especially since the federal agencies themselves appear reluctant to respond to repeated criticisms of their management," the report concludes.

Enviros: Clean Coal Lacks Clean Science

A coalition of environmental groups calling itself the Reality Coalition has launched a high-profile advertising campaign to combat the coal industry's push for "clean coal," which has been backed by president-elect Barack Obama despite controversy over its scientific feasibility. The campaign is in response to a 2008 advertising campaign sponsored by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCC), a trade organization for the mining industry, coal transporters, and electricity producers. The ACCC's website features research from Washington University in St. Louis, whose Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization receives funding from Arch Coal, Peabody Energy, and Ameren. The environmental groups, which include the Alliance for Climate Protection, League of Conservation Voters, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club, argue that mercury emissions, landscape alteration, and toxic sludge production remain unaddressed by industry's proposals to create "clean coal" through capturing carbon emissions.

Takes One to Know One?

The University of Minnesota medical school professor who is helping write the school's new conflict-of-interest rules was disciplined for secretly steering a $501,000 research grant to his own company, the Minnesota Star Tribune reported last week. That 2004 incident led medical school dean Deborah Powell to ban Leo Furcht, chairman of the lab medicine and pathology departments, from conducting any business-sponsored research at the university for three years. Powell said she subsequently chose Furcht for the conflict-of-interest task force because "he had extensive experience with national professional organizations on devising conflict-of-interest rules." Furcht sold his company, MCL, in November 2003 for $9.5 million in stock, sharing five percent of the proceeds with the university.

Harvard Prof Quits Supplement Co. Board

Harvard Medical School pathology professor David Sinclair resigned from a dietary supplement company advisory board after his paid endorsement of Shaklee's anti-aging pill Vivix was exposed by a Wall Street Journal investigation. Sinclair's name does not appear on Shaklee's US website, but remains on the company's Canadian website. Sinclair, who owns patents on the anti-aging and anti-obesity properties of molecules like resveratrol, started the company Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, which was later bought out by GlaxoSmithKline for $8 million. He currently earns $297,000 annually for consulting for Glaxo, according to the article.

Odds and Ends

The Food and Drug Administration is accepting comments until February 27 on a proposed rule that requires medical device and pharmaceutical companies to disclose their clinical investigators' financial interests. ... In a flap suggesting it doesn't take much to trigger a conflict-of-interest scandal in France, former French research minister Claude Allègre, along with other members of the Institute of the Physics of the Globe of Paris (IPGP), allegedly edited and accepted papers from colleagues at their own institute for publication in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, according to Science Magazine and the French daily Le Monde. ... Harvard child psychiatrist Joseph Biederman will quit his speaking engagements and other activities for pharmaceutical companies, and also stop working on industry-financed activities within the hospital, the New York Times reported. A Congressional investigation found Biederman received at least $1.6 million in consulting fees by drug makers from 2000 to 2007, but failed to report much of the income to Harvard officials. ... More than 40 pharmaceutical companies have instituted a voluntary ban on giving gifts to doctors, the New York Times reports. ... The Environmental Protection Agency's Inspector General blasted the agency for failing to consider multi-chemical exposures when considering the toxic effects of perchlorate, but failed to criticize the EPA's decision not to order clean-ups, the New York Times reports.

Cheers and Jeers

  • Jeer to Nicholas Bakalar of the New York Times for failing to disclose that Michael Holick, a professor of medicine at Boston University, consults for and received lecture fees from Merck. In an article published last week on the postnatal use of vitamin D supplements, Holick advocates the use of 1,400 units a day of the vitamin from supplements. "There is no downside to doing this," Holick is quoted as saying. Merck manufactures the Vitamin D supplement Ostoforte.

  • Cheer to the Minnesota Star Tribune for their investigation into conflict-of-interest panel-member Leo Furcht at the University of Minnesota. (See story above.)

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