Scientific Fraud: Laundering Money & People

This article is one in a series. For the other articles, please see:  INDEX: “Why You Can’t Trust Government Science”


 

Fraud and deception contaminate a substantial percentage of scientific papers. As the details below illustrate, even many of the best peer-reviewed journals are victimized by companies and private labs that:

  • Deliberately conceal conflicts of interest,
  • Launder money through third parties to hide the source of funding for a study, and
  • Employ ghost writers to hide authorship of articles written, or directed by a corporation or  person with conflicts of interest.

Most of the attention on scientific journal fraud has been focused on biomedical and pharmaceutical research in which the name of a doctor or scientist is tacked on to articles that are actually written by corporate officials or hired-gun scientists.

The practice, however, is also employed by chemical companies as described below.

Regardless of the type of journal, substantial corporate money assures that the peer-review process is subverted,  science is distorted, and the public health endangered in favor of increased sales.

Ghostwriting = Fraud

To some corporations, the only reason that scientific articles exist is to sell their products. The situation has become so severe that calls have been made to declare the practice outright fraud and racketeering.

According to a summary of Legal Remedies for Medical Ghostwriting: Imposing Fraud Liability on Guest Authors of Ghostwritten Articles:

  • “Ghostwriting of medical journal articles raises serious ethical and legal concerns, bearing on the integrity of medical research and scientific evidence used in legal disputes.
  • “Medical journals, academic institutions, and professional disciplinary bodies have thus far failed to enforce effective sanctions.
  • “The practice of ghostwriting could be deterred more effectively through the imposition of legal liability on the “guest authors” who lend their names to ghostwritten articles.
  • “We argue that a guest author’s claim for credit of an article written by someone else constitutes legal fraud, and may give rise to claims that could be pursued in a class action based on the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
  • “The same fraud could support claims of “fraud on the court” against a pharmaceutical company that has used ghostwritten articles in litigation. This claim also appropriately reflects the negative impact of ghostwriting on the legal system.”

Laundering Money & People For Credibility

According to an in depth study of regulatory science failures,  Equal Treatment for Regulatory Science::

“Some sponsors, for example, have been caught publishing the same study in different journals under different author names with no cross-references, making it appear that the research support in favor of their product or activity is based on several independent studies, rather than simply a re-reporting of the same findings.

“Since commissioned studies are viewed in the scientific community as being less credible than studies without affected sponsors, disclaimers are increasingly required as a condition to publication.

To circumvent this requirement, some sponsors have developed ways to “launder” their research support through nonprofit shells to create the illusion that they play no role in research that supports their interest.” [Emphasis added]

See Science Mercenaries: Poster Children For Untrustworthy Science for more examples of how private science labs use non-profits to launder questionable studies, and how it adopted the practice from the tobacco industry

Laundering Case History: Eastman Chemical, American Chemical Council, SPI Plastics Association

The following is an excerpt from “A Lack Of Ethics: Covertly Stretching “Peer Review” Until It Breaks” which is part 3 of an extensive series on Eastman Chemical’s campaign to win a lawsuit with deceptive practices including ghostwriting, laundering through non-profits, and concealing conflicts of interest.

“Fraud On The Court”

By many standards, including the study (Imposing Fraud Liability) cited above, the ghostwritten work that Eastman eventually submitted as part of a lawsuit would also be considered “fraud on the court.”

Eastman Chemical Pays $15K To Scientific Hired Guns To Ghostwrite A Derogatory Comment Letter

Without any peer-reviewed scientists to counter the PlastiPure/CertiChem paper in Environmental Health Perspectives,  Eastman began shopping around for scientists it could pay to disparage the peer-reviewed PlastiPure/CertiChem paper.

As discussed in “How To Separate Good Science From Sketchy Tales,” as soon as a peer-reviewed paper is published, it’s open for scrutiny by the entire scientific community.

An important part of that scrutiny are comment letters that often point out flaws in design, or perhaps note that data has been hand-picked to exclude items that run counter to the published conclusion.

Based on these letters and comments, papers are sometimes amended, corrected or — in the extreme — retracted entirely.

Eastman: Shopping For Ghosts To Criticize A Study Critical Of Itself

A peer-reviewed study blasted Eastman Chemical’s financially important Tritan plastic, showing that it had the same sort of estrogenic action as BPA. (Environmental Health Perspectives, Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals: A Potential Health Problem That Can Be Solved”)

Eastman wanted to respond, but lacked any credible science to use in its reply. Ghost writers, it decided would have to do to keep the public, the scientific community, its customers or the courts to know it was pulling the strings from behind the scene.

According to an email filed as evidence in a federal court case, on March 21, 2011, Eastman exec James Deyo emailed Marc Schurger at SPI – a plastics industry trade and lobbying association looking for scientists he could hire to write a comment letter slamming the PlastiPure/CertiChem paper in Environmental Health Perspectives.

“I am looking for the names of people who would be appropriate to criticize the journal for publishing this type of marketing science,” Deyo wrote.

Schurger replied positively, and noted that they should bring in the American Chemical Council (ACC – another trade with a lobbying operation).

 

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On April 8, ACC’s Becker emailed SPI’s Schurger and Eastman’s Deyo that he had located two people who, for $15,000, would write the letter Eastman required. The email noted,that the letter would be a joint project of SPI and ACC with the fee being split 50-50 between the two trade groups. Eastman was, and is, a major member of both SPI and ACC.

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Eastman’s Covert Proxy Attack Offers It Deniability

Taking the responsibility for the letter out of Eastman’s hands allowed it to say (technically) that it didn’t hire the writers or pay them. It was a lie by omission reminiscient of tactics used by tobacco companies.

The lead author on the hit-piece letter, Chris Borgert, is a former RJ Reynolds tobacco company science consultant who founded his own science-for-hire consulting company, Applied Pharmacology and Toxicology.

He has a record of being skeptical of mainstream science including arguments against tobacco health risks. His role as an important legal consultant is verified in a number of documents such as this one: to help RJ Reynolds in a lawsuit.

Significantly, Borgert’s memo was sealed by the court, barring any sort of public examination of the evidence or the merits. This is a tactic extensively used by tobacco companies defending themselves against health-related lawsuits. It is also used to hide studies used for federal regulation: Secret Chemicals: What The Government Won’t Tell You, Can Kill.

Equally significant is Eastman’s success in having most of its filings kept secret in its lawsuit against PlastiPure/CertiChem. In the cases of both Eastman and the tobacco companies, keeping the facts secret in a court case allows them great leeway to spin the facts however they wish without fear of being contradicted by the evidence.

Borgert And Kelce’s Letter For Eastman Is Published, No Disclosure Made Of Conflicts Of Interest

Borgert and Kelce’s letter as covert proxies for Eastman — “In Vitro Detection of Estrogen Activity in Plastic Products Using a Sensitive Bioassay: Failure to Acknowledge Limitations” — was published by Environmental Health Perspectives.

The journal editors were never informed of the conflicts of interest or the that the authors had been head-hunted and paid to write the letter.

The Eastman proxy letter led to a published response from PlastiPure/CertiChem (“Estrogen Activity in Plastic Products: Yang et al. Respond”)

The letter and response, not coincidentally, foreshadowed legal arguments and experts later found in Eastman’s lawsuit.

Eastman Raises The Stakes, Designs and Secretly Pays For A Proxy Scientific Paper

An examination of the lawsuit Eastman eventually filed against  PlastiPure/CertiChem shows that the letter that Deyo was soliciting, and the poster study were key parts of the evidence that Eastman was creating for the jury.

But at this point, they still lacked the peer-reviewed the crown-jewel in their legal and marketing science campaign.

That had to be fixed. A study had to be created.

But, as the documents below illustrate that the company knew that to have maximum impact and credibility, they would have to conceal their involvement with it just as they had with the comment letter to Environmental Health Perspectives.

11:34 a.m., March 26, 2012 – Eastman Discusses Hired Gun For Paper

The effort began on March 26, 2012 when Emmett O’Brien, a senior chemist, with Eastman Chemical wrote James Deyo and other corporate execs to say that they needed to find a way to publish the data that Ceetox had previously developed for the poster.

O’Brien asks if Eastman is “willing to pay 10k to have Tom Osimitz [the proposed third-party writer of the monomer paper]…. I would think 10k is worth getting Tom to publish the work.”

Osimitz is a contract “hired-gun” who founded the science-for-hire consulting firm called Science Strategies.

O’Brien’s email is sent at 11:34 a.m., and by the end of the work day — 4:24 p.m., the Eastman execs conclude that:

  • they should pay Osimitz,
  • Eastman should hide its role and,
  • the paper should hide any conflicts of interest by Osimitz or Scientific Strategies.

Eastman’s proxy paper strategy timeline shaped up like this:

12:18 p.m., March 26, 2012 – Third Party Brings Credibility

Eastman exec Peter Miller asks about mentions of Eastman and concludes that a third party brings credibility.

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1:06 p.m., March 26, 2012 – No Eastman Mention & Hide Conflicts Of Interest

Senior Chemist Emmett O’Brien notes the benefits resulting from  “no Eastman author, nor mention of Eastman. It is also stated in the paper that there is no conflict of interest by the lab.  The fact that Eastman sponsored the research was disclosed to the editors but not mentioned in the paper.”

 

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The last part of that sentence — written in past tense — hints (but does not prove) that O’Brien may have already had a conversation with a journal editor who has agreed to the terms.

The paper would eventually be published without conflict of interest statements.

The lack of disclosure would ignite an intense court hearing in which Eastman lawyers would repeatedly beg the judge to keep the jury in the dark about it. More about that below.

2:23 p.m., March 26, 2012 – No Eastman Mention Means More Credibility

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2:51 p.m., March 26, 2012 – Hired Gun Approved

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4:24 p.m., March 26, 2012 – “Stretch Till Things Break”

Eastman’s James Deyo, Senior Toxicologist, writes to Osimitz, giving him the go-ahead on ghost-writing the monomer paper and describing how the experiments are to be designed. Previous data will be re-cycled and reorganized.

With regard to data and experiment design, Deyo says that, “We can stretch until things break.”

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The whole story of Eastman’s scientific and legal deceptions, including, Hoodwinking Whole Foods, Stonewalling Thermos, can be found here: Toxic Science: Fiddling Facts For Profit & Legal Leverage


Links for further information

The Haunting of Medical Journals: How Ghostwriting Sold “HRT”

Ghost Management: How Much of the Medical Literature Is Shaped Behind the Scenes by the Pharmaceutical Industry?

Ghost Marketing: Pharmaceutical Companies and Ghostwritten Journal Articles

Scientific fraud

Legal Remedies for Medical Ghostwriting: Imposing Fraud Liability on Guest Authors of Ghostwritten Articles

Systematic review on the primary and secondary reporting of the prevalence of ghostwriting in the medical literature

Authors, Ghosts, Damned Lies, and Statisticians

How drug firms ‘hoodwink’ medical journals

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