Background: Recently it was reported that a Swedish professor in environmental health has for decades worked as a consultant for Philip Morris without reporting his employment to his academic employer or declaring conflicts of interest in his research. The potential for distorting the epidemiological assessments of hazard and risk through paid consultants, pretending to be independent, is not exclusive to the tobacco industry.
Methods: Documentation is drawn from peer reviewed publications, websites, documents from the Environmental Protection Agency, University reports, Wellcome Library Special Collections and the Washington Post.
Results: Some consulting firms employ university researchers for industry work thereby disguising industry links in the income of large departments. If the industry affiliation is concealed by the scientist, biases from conflicting interests in risk assessments cannot be evaluated and dealt with properly. Furthermore, there is reason to suspect that editors and journal staff may suppress publication of scientific results that are adverse to industry owing to internal conflict of interest between editorial integrity and business needs.
Conclusions: Examples of these problems from Sweden, UK, and USA are presented. The shortfalls cited in this article illustrate the need for improved transparency, regulations that will help curb abuses as well as instruments for control and enforcement against abuses.
(c) 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.