Scandals engulf asbestos-backed scientists

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Emerging scandals concerns academics in the UK and Canada have exposed the lengths to which the asbestos industry will go to manipulate science and boost its deadly product.

A 1 October conference at McGill University in Canada revealed that one of its most high profile academics, Professor J Corbett McDonald, had received over Can$1 million from the asbestos industry, but had routinely hidden this association when publishing industry-friendly papers.

Professor David Egilman, a medic and occupational health expert at Brown University in the US, told the conference McDonald’s seriously flawed research was financed by the Quebec Asbestos Mining Association (QAMA) and continues to be used to promote the use of chrysotile asbestos around the world. A UK academic has faced similar charges. Edinburgh University’s Professor Ken Donaldson either failed to mention or flatly denied links to firms defending asbestos compensation cases, while receiving payments and writing papers the New York Supreme court found were “intended to cast doubt on the capability of chrysotile [white] asbestos to cause cancer.”

In comments to Nature, the professor admitted he had put his name to the papers without ever seeing the raw data on which these conclusions were made, a departure from normal scientific practice. A special report in Hazards magazine revealed another much-cited 2007 paper Donaldson co-authored had noted that “chrysotile can be used safely with low risk” and was central to a global asbestos industry marketing campaign and efforts to resist asbestos trade restrictions and bans.

 

RightOnCanada blog * David Egilman’s full presentation: The Past is Prologue, Universities in Service to Corporations: The McGill-QAMA Asbestos Example  *  Montreal Gazette *  A very particular crime, Hazards magazine special report, September 2013 *  Nature  *  The Scotsman.

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