Hiding science

You may have heard of sequestered juries in the courtroom but probably you haven't heard of sequestered science. Sequestered science is the name given by the project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) to scientific knowledge concealed from the public. [Full disclosure; I am personally acquainted with the SKAPPers]. Last year they held a scholarly conference on the subject. It is published in the journal Law and Contemporary Problems and you can download the papers for free at the SKAPP site.

It's not that there aren't reasons to keep some kinds of science from public view, for example, from competitors in business. Like most things, it's a question of balance and trade-offs. And there are some practices - like sealing evidence in lawsuits that might materially affect public health, or concealing the results of unfavorable clinical trials - that are clearly not in the public interest.

In the forward to the collection of papers Dr. David Michaels of George Washington University sets out some of the issues:

"The processes used to maintain secrecy are easily abused, and the institutional tools and imperatives that hide data are stronger than those that promote data sharing," writes SKAPP Director David Michaels, PhD in the issue's foreword.

Michaels cites tobacco and asbestos as "the best known and most tragic examples of data sequestration contributing to public health disasters" and adds Merck's slanted interpretation of Vioxx clinical trial data to the list of cases in which a lack of transparency had widespread fatal consequences.

Michaels's proposal, for a "Sarbanes-Oxley for Science," involves mechanisms to ensure that scientific information provided to the public and regulatory agencies is accurate and complete, much as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act passed in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom accounting scandals attempts to ensure the accuracy of financial information. Scientists who reveal information improperly hidden from regulators would also receive whistleblower protections.

By its nature this is not a visible issue, but it is an extremely important one. The scholars who came together New York two years ago include some of the best minds on science and public policy we have. Harvard's Sheila Jasanoff, Anthony Robbins and Dan Givelbar (Tufts University and Northeastern Law School), philosopher of science Susan Haack (University of Miami) are among the authors.

And best of all you can read them for free. Nothing sequestered here. Available either at the SKAPP site (all articles in .pdf format) along with a lot of other great stuff) or at Law and Contemporary Problems.

Highly recommended.

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revere: "~include some of the best minds on science and public policy~"

They must have been a tad frustrated lately. Science has been hijacked in several ways - not just by the grant route.

I've been selling supers to the climatologists in all venues (DOE, DOD, NOAA, Universities) for years. A 1,400 processor AlphaServer I sold to NASA Goddard was recently promptly upgraded, so the results have been sound, well vetted and reasonably supported in the budget. However, they're not real happy about how their work has been misused and/or ignored by the administration, congress, energy companies and industry lobbyists.

By tympanachus (not verified) on 19 Oct 2006 #permalink


This is the way some scientist is traited after he published something Big Pharma doesn't like.
It's about Relenza not being as effective as the FDA would like when they approved the sales for the US.

Not exactly withold from the public, what you mentioned in your post, Revere, because I could find it. But it's not been given the attention I think it should have gotten from the media either; in 1999.

Now at the other comment line Tamiflu down the drain I see people are mentally investing in Relenza because it would work when the virus has become resistent to oseltamivir.
Still IMHO I think they will end about even, and the only difference between these inhibitors is that Relenza may be less available to some; in the Netherlands all is bought by the government and GSK has reported to all pharmacies they will not deliver it to individual buyers unless they are sweating with fever and other flu symptoms at the doorsteps of the pharmacy. So zanamivir will be delivered too late. By then it will turn out Relenza is less effective than Tamiflu, because it hasn't been administered within 24 hours after infection. At least in the Netherlands.


In the mean time, we could compare the laboratory results about effectiveness of Relenza to the results in daily practice e.g. in Indonesia.

Knowing Relenza has to be inhaled, and is mainly effective in the lungs, and there are plans to make an intravenous type of neuraminidase inhibitor, I am curious about how far these plans have advanced in practice. It could work in a more systemic way by then. Of course there would still be the concomitant problem of the loss of antivirals in the environment and boosting resistant strains, and it wouldn't be realistic to think millions of people would be getting intravenous treatment.
But why not build some huge ovens to burn all urine and faeces containing antivirals and antibiotics in? It's a waste problem, after all. And a daily garbage collector in modern times?
I'm not joking about this, I do agree it's a serious problem.