• 18 MAR 14
    • 0

    How industry manipulates “science” by promoting scientists who support their economic interests

    Lawyer Sue Grey’s below letter to the Editor of the New Zealand magazine North and South is in reply to a just published investigative article by NZ journalist Donna Chisholm. Titled with the leading intro.: “Science for Sale?: With scientists now expected to deliver more economic bang for each funding buck, Donna Chisholm asks if corporate funding is putting their integrity, and the direction of our science, at risk”

    But first a bit of background:

    In September 2011 New Zealand lawyer Sue Grey contacted me with a request to undertake a formal review of the MD thesis by Dr. David Black. As Black had refused to provide a copy for some reason, it took Grey a bit of digging around Auckland University to unearth a copy. It is important to note that it was largely on the strength of his thesis that Dr. Black was elected president of the Bioelectromagnetics Society (BEMS) and invited to be a consulting expert to ICNIRP. Despite these impressive appointments, however, there were serious deficiencies in his thesis and my critique is available at: http://www.emfacts.com/download/FInal_critique_of_Blacks_thesis_Oct_8.pdf

    Sue Grey writes:

    Well done Donna Chisholm and North and South for exposing how industry and vested interests manipulate “science” by promoting scientists who support their economic interests. The scale of private funding for academic research and for Resource Management”experts” and for “expert” media comment (aka propaganda) clearly has the potential to seriously distort under undermine the free flow of public information, “objective” advice and resulting decisions. The “bad science” unfortunately taints all science.

    It seems Dr Black sought and was awarded an MD to enhance his international standing and influence, based on a thesis that was sponsored by a vested corporate interest. The sponsor clearly expected substantial return from its investment [approx. $50,000 NZ], based on its prior relationship with Dr Black and Dr Black’s acknowledgement on the NZ documentary “Is Your Cellphone Killing You” that “They engage me because they like what I’m going to say”. Dr Black’s thesis had no supervisor, no footnotes, no conclusion and by Dr Black’s own admission “its not that good”.

    What has happened to academic excellence? Will Auckland University, which awarded that degree please explain why it was awarded, why we should have confidence in other qualifications they award and if it received any collateral benefits such as research donations associated with the award of that (or any other) degree. Do our other universities share that approach?

    Dr Black was for many years cited as an independent “academic” expert on the Government’s Interagency Advisory Committee on the Health Effects of Non-Ionising Radiation. He helped set the controversial NZStandard NZS2772:1 1999 which protects against heating but not biological effects of Radio-Frequency Electromagnetic radiation (“RF EMR”). His views and influence have always been powerful, predictable and industry focused. Prior to his MD, his standing was enhanced by the “Honourary Senior Lecturer” title awarded by Auckland University. Can someone please investigate how often NZ universities give academic titles to non-academics, what criteria they apply and how advisory bodies and the public can be confident advice from bogus academics is as sound and independent as from a true academic.

    We hear much about fake cv’s. It now appears a shadow industry is emerging with educational institutes awarding dumbed-down qualifications and other “academic credentials” for non-academic reasons. Surely this presents a risk to both the integrity if the institute and to sound and independent science and public policy.

    Public health and longer term economic implications of avoidable exposure to RF EMR are very serious. In May 2011 the WHO and IARC re-classified RF EMR as a possible carcinogen. This year WHO recognised a worldwide epidemic of new cancers (which coincides with the explosion in use of public RF EMR devices). To date our government and its advisory panel has ignored the WHO, the precautionary actions of other states and international best practice and continued to deny any possibility of any carcinogenic or other biological effect from cellphones, wifi or other devices. It continues to tender new commercial frequencies and promote the rollout of wifi to schools.

    Your article offers an explanation of the insidious power of vested interests and how this has been allowed to happen. Many futures could be saved if public spotlight exposure and flushes away the vested interests.

    In November 2009 Parliament’s Local Government and Environment Committee (report on the Petition of Sarah Allan and 3100 others) recommended replacement of vested interests from the government’s interagency health advisory committee by competent independent experts. Nearly 5 years later nothing has changed. When will the government act? What more is it waiting for?

    Sue Grey LLB(Hons), BSc (Microbiology and Biochemistry), Royal Society of Health Diploma Public Health Inspection and concerned mother of three.

    NB: Supporting documentation can be provided on request to verify all the above claims.


    Excerpt from Donna Chisholm’s article:

    In New Zealand for many years, those who believe exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields can cause harm have questioned the academic independence of occupational medicine specialist and Auckland University honorary lecturer Dr David Black, a consultant to the telecoms industry, who says it is safe.

    In 2010, Black earned a doctor of medicine degree – the equivalent, for practicing doctors, of a PhD – and acknowledged within it the “generous support” of Cable and Wireless Ltd. His links to the industry have seen him twice fail to pass conflict of interest rules surrounding membership of iCNIRP (the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection), the body whose epidemiology group was led by Swerdlow.”If you’re working for a university, that’s okay, but if you’re working directly for the industry you’re not allowed on,” Black told North & South. ” I personally don’t see any difference, but they did. I think it’s a mistake, because at a university, if you’re receiving funding through a firewall, you’re still quite strongly influenced.” And, he says, such restrictions mean potentially valuable input to expert advisory committees is lost.” If people think that someone who is involved in the industry is less independent and less reliable than someone who is not, it tends to select for people who don’t know so much about it. When I was doing a lot of work for the industry, I was very knowledgeable because I was so immersed and involved in it.”

    Those suspicions of Cable and Wireless began in 1990 when he sat on a committee establishing an Australian radio-frequency standard. A company representative was also on the group and, nearly a decade later,- the London based company offered financial support – a staged grant of 25,000 UK pounds – for his thesis.” They didn’t want to see the work in progress or influence it.”

    He says he doesn’t know if the company management has even read it. Black’s opponents say that the thesis is flawed, contained no footnotes or conclusion as theses require, and was unsupervised. Black acknowledges the thesis was unsupervised, and says the last chapter had been awaiting the results of the International Interphone Study on cell phone safety, but these were “dreadfully delayed”. To avoid applying for an extension, ” I put in some work I’d done for the Australian government on the effect on homing birds. It’s not that good to be honest and its a pity because the thesis is a bit incomplete without that.”He argues that declarations of potential conflicts, such as those made by Swerdlow on his shares, shouldn’t be the lens that colours the results of their work.

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