If the Osama bin Laden Foundation or the Adoph Hitler Memorial Fund offered to support your scientific research — no strings attached — would you take the money? Remember, you are hoping to do good with your work, say, investigate a new cancer drug or a model of the cardiovascular system. Pure science but with possibly beneficial applications. And the funders delivered the money and never interfered. Not once. Would you be willing to get in bed with these guys, just to that extent? Probably most US scientists today wouldn’t. Probably. But the Boston Globe reported yesterday and the New YorkTimes last week, that some very reputable scientists at some prestigious research institutions have taken money from the tobacco industry, the public health equivalent of Hitler or OBL:
Philip Morris USA, which makes Marlboro and other top-selling cigarette lines, gave grants to scientists at Boston University, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Massachusetts, company spokesman David M. Sylvia said Friday.
The research supported by the company touched on conditions such as heart disease and cancer that are linked to smoking. The grants given by the Philip Morris External Research Program were not used to develop new tobacco products or refine existing brands, but they may have helped the company rehabilitate its public image.
When accepting Philip Morris money, the researchers had to promise to disclose the source of their funding in scientific publications, Sylvia said, and the company, in turn, promised not to meddle in the research. (Boston Globe)
Universities do plenty of research on weapons of death and destruction funded by all sorts of disreputable people. So why single out tobacco? They probably shouldn’t be especially targeted, except for this. If you work in medicine or public health, especially cancer research, taking Big Tobacco money is the moral equivalent of taking money from the Hitler Fund for Racial Harmony or the Osama bin Laden Foundation for Non-violence.
The cigarette money at Boston University, $3.99 million from Philip Morris in the last decade, was first reported by the campus newspaper (kudos to these students for the scoop) and then acknowledged by the Provost of the Medical Campus, Karen Antman. Her response?
“We adhere to the highest ethical conduct in research and pursue funding from a variety of sources for unrestricted medical research,” Antman said in the statement. “Our research is conducted and the results are assessed against the standard benchmarks that apply to any research.”
Talk about missing the point.