Published on Friday, December 8, 2006 by the Guardian / UK
Renowned Cancer Scientist Was Paid by Chemical Firm for 20 Years
by Sarah Boseley
A world-famous British scientist failed to disclose that he held a
paid consultancy with a chemical company for more than 20 years while
investigating cancer risks in the industry, the Guardian can reveal.
Sir Richard Doll, the celebrated epidemiologist who established that
smoking causes lung cancer, was receiving a consultancy fee of $1,500 a day
in the mid-1980s from Monsanto, then a major chemical company and now better
known for its GM crops business.
While he was being paid by Monsanto, Sir Richard wrote to a royal
Australian commission investigating the potential cancer-causing properties
of Agent Orange, made by Monsanto and used by the US in the Vietnam war. Sir
Richard said there was no evidence that the chemical caused cancer.
Documents seen by the Guardian reveal that Sir Richard was also paid a
£15,000 fee by the Chemical Manufacturers Association and two other major
companies, Dow Chemicals and ICI, for a review that largely cleared vinyl
chloride, used in plastics, of any link with cancers apart from liver
cancer - a conclusion with which the World Health Organisation disagrees.
Sir Richard's review was used by the manufacturers' trade association to
defend the chemical for more than a decade.
The revelations will dismay scientists and other admirers of Sir
Richard's pioneering work and fuel a rift between the majority who support
his view that the evidence shows cancer is a product of modern lifestyles
and those environmentalists who argue that chemicals and pollution must be
to blame for soaring cancer rates.
Yesterday Sir Richard Peto, the Oxford-based epidemiologist who worked
closely with him, said the allegations came from those who wanted to damage
Sir Richard's reputation for their own reasons. Sir Richard had always been
open about his links with industry and gave all his fees to Green College,
Oxford, the postgraduate institution he founded, he said.
Professor John Toy, medical director of Cancer Research UK, which
funded much of Sir Richard's work, said times had changed and the
accusations must be put into context. "Richard Doll's lifelong service to
public health has saved millions of lives. His pioneering work demonstrated
the link between smoking and lung cancer and paved the way towards current
efforts to reduce tobacco's death toll," he said. "In the days he was
publishing it was not automatic for potential conflicts of interest to be
declared in scientific papers."
But a Swedish professor who believes that some of Sir Richard's work
has led to the underestimation of the role of chemicals in causing cancers
said that transparency was all-important. "It's OK for any scientist to be a
consultant to anybody, but then this should be reported in the papers that
you publish," said Lennart Hardell of University Hospital, Orebro.
Sir Richard died last year. Among his papers in the Wellcome
Foundation library archive is a contract he signed with Monsanto. Dated
April 29 1986, it extends for a year the consulting agreement that began on
May 10 1979 and offers improved terms. "During the one-year period of this
extension your consulting fee shall be $1,500 per day," it says.
Monsanto said yesterday it did not know how much work Sir Richard did
for the company, but said he was an expert witness for Solutia, a chemical
business spun off from Monsanto, as recently as 2000.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006