“Gullible” scientists told to wake up to industry infiltration on guidelines

Medical politics

By Tessa Hoffman

26 Jun 2018

Medical scientists must become more alert to the signs of industry infiltration into public health initiatives, researchers argue.

An analysis of the Brussels Declaration on the Ethics and Principles for Science and Society Policy-Making finds there was substantial input from the tobacco and alcohol industries in the document, which was meant to be a blueprint to guide policy and argues for the need to protect science from distortion by vested interests.

The work was well received by scientists at its launch at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston last year. However it “appears to be a vehicle for advancing the vested interests of certain corporate sectors,” write a trio of public health academics including Professor Mike Daube from Curtin University in Perth in a paper published in the journal Tobacco Control.

In an accompanying editorial, Professor Lisa Bero, from the University of Sydney, says  it is surprising is how little awareness scientists and public health researchers have about industry infiltration tactics for shaping science policy to promote its own interests.

In ‘Ten Tips for Spotting Industry Involvement in Science Policy’, Professor Bero suggests scientists who receive an invitation to become involved in a public health initiative should view the following as seen as red flags:

  • The invite comes from a public relations company
  • The initiative claims to be a “bottom up” effort – the lack of transparency around industry support for ‘bottom up efforts’ can mislead policy makers into thinking they were not designed by industry
  • There is lack of disclosure about funding for the initiative
  • Large numbers of ‘thought leaders’ are involved
  • The initiative is claimed to be backed by a “broad consensus of scientists”
  • The language of the document is critical of scientists but not industry
  • The tobacco industry is involved in any way 

“Why are scientists so gullible?” she writes. “Collectively scientists need to learn to recognise when genuine commitments to research are being hijacked to advance industry agendas.”

In their paper, Professor Daube and public health researchers question why the company behind the Brussels Declaration document, Sci-com, did not declare funding sources and would not disclose these details to them.

 Some 300 people and organisations took part in consultation, among them leading scientists and public health experts, seven alcohol organisations and British American Tobacco (BAT). This occurred despite Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco precluding the tobacco industry and associated vested interests from having any input into public health policy, they write.

“Prominent scientists and opinion leaders need to be alert to the ways in which they may be inadvertently used to promote harmful industry agendas, and there is a need for careful study of how, and how far, initiatives such as this influence public health and science policies.”

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