You may have seen a recent article in The New York Times that is the latest in a string of misleading stories about current and former ACC employees. This one paints a dubious picture of emails between one of our employees and Dr. Michael Dourson.
In the past, ACC has worked with respected experts in the fields of toxicology, exposure science and risk assessment for their independent perspectives on scientific matters. One of those scientists is Dr. Michael Dourson who is a toxicologist with 40 years’ experience working for the EPA, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and the nonprofit Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment.
ACC scientists frequently collaborate on research with members of the academic community as part of their ongoing commitment to advancing scientific knowledge and cultivating their own expertise and education. And it’s no secret why the expertise of an award winning scientist like Dr. Dourson would be sought out.
So what’s the big deal? What’s the news that the Times is breaking by publishing 400 of Dr. Dourson’s emails from the University of Cincinnati?
When you actually read the emails, you quickly realize there isn’t much news being reported. The crux of the story is that Dr. Dourson conducted scientific research that was funded by ACC and that ACC reviewed that research. Here is what the Times reports:
“The documents also show that Mr. Dourson’s center at the university, which accepted money from the trade group and other companies for research, sent a draft paper based on that research to the industry council to edit before submitting it to a journal for publication – considered by most to be an unacceptable practice in academia.”
What they conveniently left out of the story was the study in question was co-authored, among others, by ACC’s Dr. Neeraja Erraguntla, a highly respected board-certified toxicologist. The New York Times either skipped that part of the email, which begins with “Hello co-authors,” or they intentionally failed to mention that key detail.
Dr. Erraguntla’s co-authorship on research like the paper discussed in the email is a part of her work as a scientist and her continuing education as a board-certified toxicologist. Part of her certification from the American Board of Toxicology requires her to complete 20 continuing education credits per year, which can include coauthoring scientific studies.
Supporting Sound Science
ACC strongly supports rigorous, objective, peer-reviewed science. Such science is essential for accurately assessing chemicals and is the foundation for good public policy. To advance that mission, when working with contractors and external organizations, ACC has standing policies that stipulate:
“A Contractor’s scientific conclusions and professional judgments arising out of a project shall not be subject to the Council’s control. However, the Council shall have the right to review such judgments and conclusions prior to their final submission to the Council. The purpose of such review is for clarification, and format and editorial comments, but not for the purpose of substituting the Council’s opinion for those of the Contractor. The Council and Contractor agree to full disclosure of any health, safety and/or environmental information contained in the final report.”
When collaborating on research, it is normal and expected that scientists exchange views on the project. ACC is very confident that any input or exchanges between its staff and any researchers or any external stakeholders would reflect the state of the science and be recognized and supported in any rigorous peer-reviewed process.
A disturbing chilling effect
We are greatly concerned by misleading stories like the latest from The New York Times because they can unfairly erode the scientific credibility of people who have dedicated their lives to science. It is important for a scientist, whether her research is funded by government, an academic institution or industry, to have the ability to contribute to her field of expertise by authoring or coauthoring studies like the one in question. The Times article contributes to a disturbing bias against scientists who have ties to industry, which has a harmful chilling effect on important scientific work that benefits our society.
We hope that in the future The New York Times will do more research of its own before painting interactions between ACC employees and others in an undeserving and unfavorable light. They have an ethical responsibility as journalists to do better.