Faux-Science- -Inside the Academic Journal That Corporations Love - Pacific Standard
A recent lawsuit against Monsanto offers a clear and troubling view into industry strategies that warp research for corporate gain. In a lawsuit regarding the possible carcinogenicity of the pesticide Roundup, plaintiffs’ lawyers suing Monsanto charge the company with ghostwriting an academic study finding that Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, is not harmful. Glyphosate is the world’s most widely used weed killer and is critical for successful cultivation of genetically modified crops such as corn and soybean, which are resistant to the pesticide.
Ghostwriting remains pervasive in some areas of academic research; in 2010, I helped author a Senate report on the matter. Studies drafted by corporations and then published in scientific journals with academic authors have been used to sway government decisions, court cases, and even medical practice. A host of universities have been caught in ghostwriting scandals, including …Harvard University, Brown University, Stanford University, and Emory University.
The year before the journal published the Roundup study, the society held its June 1999 council meeting in the Washington, D.C., office of Keller and Heckman, the chief law firm for the chemical industry. In a recent court case, for example, Keller and Heckman represented the Vinyl Institute in a lawsuit to roll back 2012 regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency limiting toxics emitted during PVC production. Keller and Heckman also bills itself as the premier law firm for the tobacco and e-vapor industries. The minutes from the June meeting note a member of Keller and Heckman attending along with representatives of several chemical industry trade associations. Minutes from February 2002 also record the meeting taking place in Keller and Heckman’s D.C. office and state that future meetings will also be held at the law firm.
Examining the journal’s editorial board, Sheldon Krimsky, a professor at Tufts University who studies conflicts of interest and corporate influence on science, notes that industry consultants litter the journal’s masthead. Indeed, the journal’s editor is Gio Gori, a former consultant for the tobacco industry. In 1998, Gori partnered with Steven J. Milloy of junkscience.com in a letter to Science magazine criticizing a story about tobacco consultants. I later outed Milloy in the New Republic for being on the payroll of the tobacco companies while writing articles for foxnews.com that disparaged the science of second-hand smoke. And, in 2007, Gori published an op-ed in the Washington Post calling the science of second-hand smoke “bogus.”