Trevor Ogden’s Challenge to the Lobby’s Hypocrisy

Trevor Ogden, the editor of the Annals of Occupational Hygiene, addressed sharing of underlying research data in an editorial, a few years ago.  See Trevor Ogen, “Data Sharing, Federal Rule of Evidence 702, and the Lions in the Undergrowth,” 53 Ann. Occup. Hyg. 651 (2009). Ogden was responding to attacks on industry-sponsored research and demands that the exposure data from such studies be made available as a condition of publication in the Annals.

Ogden reported that he was sympathetic, to an extent, with the attack on industry bona-fides, but that editorial board discussions raised several issues with data sharing:

“(1) The researcher puts a lot of effort into getting good exposure data and may have plans for their further use; also access to the unpublished data can be an asset in getting further grants.

(2) It takes time and effort to prepare data for publication, and in the short term the people who do this to make their data available are not the ones who benefit by their availability.

(3) There may be problems with confidentiality and liability for the workplaces where the measurements were obtained.

(4) The data may be misused; in particular, they may be reinterpreted by those with a commercial interest in undermining the conclusions drawn by the original researchers.”

Id. at 652.

Had Ogden stopped there, he might have been spared the unceremonious attacks by members of “The Lobby,” but he went further to point out that some of the accusers (David Michaels; McCullogh & Tweedale) were guilty of their own rhetorical excesses.

While acknowledging that industry has taken errant positions or distorted research data on occasions, Ogden thought it was important to note that:

“industry is not always wrong, and campaigners can overlook this because it is easier to identify the paymaster than judge the science.”

* * * *

“It is a mistake if we think that because the industry helped pay for the study and has exploited the findings in its propaganda, the results must necessarily be wrong—life, including science, is not this simple.”

Id. at 653 -54.

Ogden offered, as a scientist would, further alternative explanations for why industry-sponsored scientific research appears to yield results favorable to the sponsor:

“It seems that an industry-sponsored study is much more likely to find results favourable to industry, but this may partly or wholly be because non-industry researchers find it harder to publish negative or inconclusive results. Scientific studies must be judged primarily on the quality of the evidence, not on who pays for them.”

Id. at 654. Ogden might well have opened his mind to the possibility that some government agency and academic scientists may well be biased in favor of finding outcomes that support greater agency regulation and control of occupational and environmental exposures. In any event, Ogden interpreted the situation to require skepticism of all positions, both pro- and anti-industry:

“This is not a very encouraging picture. It looks as if we cannot trust industry, and its critics are not very reliable either.”

Ogden would thus not let any side off the hook when it came to disclosures of potential conflicts of interest:

“Declarations of interest in publications are essential, especially if the authors are likely to be involved in legal testimony. Failure to offer this must be treated very seriously.”

Id. at 655.

Even Ogden’s more modest alternative explanation and his balanced comments provoked shouts of outrage from “the Lobby.” SeeThe Lobby Lives – Lobbyists Attack IARC for Conducting Scientific Research” (Feb. 19, 2013).  Ogden, however, gave them ample space in which to voice their disagreements. See Celester Monforton, Colin Soskolne, John Last, Joseph Ladou, Daniel Teitelbaum , Kathleen Ruff, “Comment on: Ogden T (2009) ‘data sharing, federal rule of evidence 702, and the lions in the undergrowth’,” 54 Ann. Occup. Hyg. 365 (2010); Barry I. Castleman, Fernand Turcotte, Morris Greenberg, “Comment on: Ogden T (2009) ‘Data sharing, Federal Rule of Evidence 702, and the Lions in the Undergrowth’,” 54 Ann. Occup. Hyg. 360 (2010).

The remarkable thing about the Lobby’s letters to the editor is that they scolded industry for conflicts of interests, but failed to reveal their own.  Celeste Monforton, for instance, declared her academic affiliations, but overlooked her connection with an anti-Daubert advocacy organization that is funded by left-over common-benefit trust fund money from the silicone gel breast implant litigation. See SKAPP A LOT (April 30, 2010). Monforton and all her co-authors did, however, report their membership in the Rideau Institute on International Affairs, a Canadian “non-profit” organization, established in 2007. They failed, however, to disclose that the Rideau Institute engages in lobbying and advocacy efforts for trade unions and “non-profits.”  See Rideau Institute website  (“The Rideau Institute is an independent research, advocacy, and consulting group based in Ottawa. It provides research, analysis and commentary on public policy issues to decision makers, opinion leaders and the public.”).  Several of Monforton’s co-authors have testified, some frequently, for the litigation industry (plaintiffs) in occupational and environmental exposure cases.  Daniel Thau Teitelbaum, for instance, was an early testifier in the silicone breast implant litigation, and was the subject of analysis in General Electric Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136 (1997).

Barry Castleman’s letter is even more offensive to its own stated principles of extirpating conflicted science.  Castleman has been part of the litigation industry’s expert witness army in asbestos cases for over three decades.

Ogden’s statement of the problem was insightful, even if not definitive.  His suggestion that “hostile” analysts should be kept from access to underlying data ignores the intense need for this access in areas of science that inform litigation and regulation.  As George A. Olah pointed out in his Nobel Prize address, scientists need adversaries to keep them creative, focused, and accurate. Ogden’s call for disclosure of interests, “especially if the authors are likely to be involved in legal testimony,” ignores that litigants on both sides need access to scientific expertise on the issues that drive litigation and regulatory battles.  More distressingly, however, Ogden’s journal let his interlocutors slide on their obligation to disclose their deep financial and positional conflicts of interests.

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