Egilman’s Allegations Against McDonald and His Epidemiologic Research Are Baseless

Dr. David Egilman has been trash-talking the epidemiologic studies of Quebec asbestos miners and millers for so long that most sensible people have tuned out his diatribe.  The studies attacked by Egilman were done under the supervision of a capable epidemiologist, J. Corbett McDonald, Emeritus Professor of McGill University, in Montreal.  McDonald is now in his late 90’s, but remains active as a Honorary Professorial Research Fellow at the National Heart & Lung Institute, in the Imperial College of London (UK).

McDonald’s studies showed a significant fiber-type differential in mesothelioma causation.  Even though his studies have been corroborated by the work of researchers from around the world, McDonald’s studies remain among the largest, and best-conducted.  As such, the McDonald work has always stuck in the craw of Selikoff and his co-conspirators who have tried to politicize the science of fiber-type differential.

Irving Selikoff died 20 years ago, but his political heirs have continued to prosecute the reputation of scientists (Doll, McDonald, Wagner, and others) who dared to disagree with Selikoff dogma.  Egilman has often led the charge against McDonald, in publications and ultimately in an ethics complaint to McDonald’s former employer, McGill University.  This complaint was then used by Egilman’s trial lawyer supporters to impugn the studies that are anathema to their mission to squeeze every last possible cent from the asbestos fiasco.  See, e.g., Shein Law Center, Ltd., “McGill University Asbestos Study under Attack” (Feb. 12, 2012) (republishing Egilman’s attack on McDonald’s studies).

In response to Egilman’s scurrilous attacks upon McDonald and his work, McGill University undertook a formal investigation of the allegations.  In a report prepared by the University’s Research Integrity Officer, Abraham Fuks, the Egilman allegation were found to be baseless and unsupported.  Consultation Report to Dean David Eidelman (Sept. 23, 2012). The Report’s Conclusions and Recommendations decisively rebuffed the Egilman complaint:

“Following review of the documentation presented, the data available in the published literature, and materials available at the University, I was unable to find any support for these allegations. The financial support from the industry was acknowledged in publications and there is no evidence to suggest that the sponsors influenced the data analyses or the conclusions. In fact, JCM [J.Corbett McDonald] noted an excess of lung cancers in asbestos workers in the earliest papers and reports and this could not have been a happy outcome for the asbestos companies. JCM’s findings and conclusions have been replicated by other groups and their robustness has endured many critical analyses and legal inquiries. In fact, the recent statement by the combined epidemiology societies notes the gradient of toxicities of different types of asbestos fibers and refers to this as the current consensus, thus corroborating what the McGill group foreshadowed almost forty years ago.

Thus, I find no warrant to initiate further investigations of the allegations that we have received.

Id. at 13-14.

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b. Did the asbestos industry launch its research programs with its own interests in mind?

To frame the question in those terms is to invite the obvious answer. Indeed, the documents made available during the many years of legal discovery make it clear that by supporting JCM and his group, and for that matter, the group at Mt Sinai led by Dr. Selikoff, the asbestos companies hoped to develop information that would vindicate their claims that asbestos, in certain forms and treated in certain ways, could continue to be used with safety. This is not surprising as such. One must acknowledge that other sources of support were not as readily available as they ought to have been and moreover, the researchers were aware of the pitfalls of the relationship they had accepted. It is all the more important to recognize that the research by JCM and other groups throughout the world generated the information that led to the near complete disappearance of the asbestos industry in the developed world and the universal recognition of the toxicity of the product. It is also clear that the industry attempted to misuse the research data to its own purposes in policy debates throughout the world and in setting standards for occupational exposures. However, it was these very same studies that permitted and permeated the litigation and policy statements clarifying the toxicity of the product.

c. Did McGill University collude with the asbestos industry in promoting the use of asbestos and in opposing the recommendations of the UICC?

These are amongst the allegations leveled at the University, albeit with no documentation or plausible evidence. The review of the materials described previously lends no credence to these allegations and claims.

Id. at 14.

Although the report falls into the trap of adopting the accusers’ loose language, such as condemning all companies through its use of term “the industry,” the report exculpates Professor McDonald for the alleged “collusion,” as well as the “industry” for attempting to manipulate his publications.  The advocacy uses or misuses of the Quebec studies by one or another companies seem mild in comparison with the distortions of the anti-asbestos zealots and their trial lawyer friends.

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