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How could disclosure of interests work better in medicine, epidemiology and public health?
The success of the tobacco industry’s multi-decade campaign to delay regulation by manufacturing uncertainty about the studies linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer and other diseases is well documented.1 2 A less well-known consequence of this campaign is the appearance of a new, lucrative application of scientific expertise: product defence. Consulting firms working for producers of toxic chemicals are using the same approaches, and even the same scientists, that the tobacco industry relied on to forestall regulation of cigarettes. Today, these firms aim to impede public health regulation by questioning studies that have identified hazardous properties of asbestos, beryllium, chromium, lead and a host of other toxic chemicals.3
Defending hazardous chemicals has become lucrative business. It is increasingly common for scientific studies to be commissioned in order to be deployed in regulatory or legal proceedings. Companies involved in the welding industry paid more than US$12 million to scientists who published papers disputing the link between welding-related manganese exposure and neurological disease.4 Similarly, two product defence firms working for defendants who produced asbestos brake shoes or related friction products received over US$23 million for their services, billing hundreds of dollars an hour to write papers for peer-reviewed journals.5 Publication by paid experts is not limited to scientists employed by polluters and manufacturers of toxic materials. Of the 26 papers published by US authors between 2002 and 2006 on the risk …
Competing interests: None declared.