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Asbestos Industry Funds Allegedly Biased Scientist’s Research

Mcgill_BuildingAsbestos regulation and legal cases often rely on testimony from expert witnesses who are supposed to provide factual impartial evidence.  Typically these expert witnesses are medical professionals and scientific researchers who can influence decisions because of their knowledge of asbestos and how it affects human health at various exposure levels.

But what if the experts who are supposed to be the ultimate authority on asbestos allow their opinions to be swayed by the business interests of whoever is funding their research?  What if the entity funding the research sees it as a business investment with an expected return instead of a philanthropic use of funds to advance scientific knowledge to help all humankind?

This is what a professor from Ivy League Brown University is alleging about a professor at Canada’s prestigious McGill University.

David S. Egilman, MD, MPH, a clinical professor of family medicine at Rhode Island’s Brown University suggests impropriety in his presentation at an asbestos industry conference held at McGill University last week.  Entitled “The Past is Prologue, Universities in Service to Corporations:  the McGill QAMA Asbestos Example.”

In his presentation, Dr. Egilman questions the accuracy of the conclusions of research on asbestos miners by McGill’s Prof. J.C. McDonald.  Prof. McDonald’s research was reportedly financed with one million dollars by the Quebec Asbestos Mining Association (QAMA).

“The available published data shows that the data reported does not support the conclusions,” Dr. Egilman says in the presentation.

The controversy was reported by Kathleen Ruff in an e-bulletin produced by the nonprofit Rideau Institute based in Ottawa.  Ruff, one of the Institute’s founders, is noted for her advocacy to end Canada’s export of asbestos.

“Prof. McDonald used his research to promote the use of chrysotile asbestos around the world. His research continues today to be used by the global asbestos industry to promote the sale and use of chrysotile asbestos. It was used, for example, by the global asbestos lobby at the May 2013 Rotterdam Convention conference to help defeat the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance,”  Ruff states.

Dr. Egilman and other scientists, according to Ruff, asked McGill to conduct an official investigation under the university’s research integrity regulations. McGill has refused and instead carried out an internal review which, according to Ruff, was “flawed by bias, lack of transparency and misinformation.”

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