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Archive for February, 2012

Industry attorney warns against publishing papers on diesel exhaust

18 Feb, 12 | by Dana Loomis

OEM recently received a letter from an attorney in the United States referring to an order of a US district court and warning us not to publish papers from a NIOSH/NCI study on the effects of diesel exhaust in a cohort of miners.  The letter’s author, Henry Chajet, is a Washington, DC, lawyer and lobbyist who has represented industry in challenging occupational health and safety regulations, and we have learned that he has sent similar letters to other journals in the UK and the US.

For OEM, the actual impact of the letter and the court’s order is minimal at this stage.  The papers in question have been submitted to other journals and it is questionable whether a US judge’s order would apply to the Journal as an entity based in the UK.  However, the broader implications of the court order and the industry’s tactics are cause for concern.

The judge’s order is a highly unusual instance of prior restraint of scientific publication.  It was issued in a lawsuit filed by the mining industry against the US government agencies that conducted the diesel study, which alleges that the study results are “inaccurate and faulty.”  The order requires the study’s authors to turn over materials related to the research to the industry and a committee of the US Congress and gives those groups 90 days to review them before the papers can be published.  The judge’s order is being appealed, but it’s likely that the papers will be held up for some time with further court filings and motions.   A substantial delay in publication of key results from the study could affect IARC’s planned re-evaluation of the carcinogenicity of diesel exhaust scheduled for June.

Ironically, Mr. Chajet has said that the purpose of challenging the diesel study was “to get the information and open the door and let the participants and the public see what the conclusions are based on the science ” (1), but the industry’s action may have exactly the opposite effect.  The public have a compelling interest in knowing the findings of this important study, which is not served by using the legal system to restrain publication of the key papers and the open discussion and debate that is sure to follow.



Re: Response to “Does self-reported computer work add biologically relevant information beyond that of objectively recorded computer work?”

18 Feb, 12 | by lelliott

We thank Gerr and Fethke for their response to our remarks on their editorial on self-reported versus objectively recorded computer times [1]. Gerr and Fethke continue to disregard the consistent evidence that objectively recorded computer times are much more accurate and valid than self-reported computer times when compared to external “gold” standards [2,3]. They suggest that self-reported computer times may be superior to objectively recorded computer times in capturing biologically relevant risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders. Their basic argument is that musculoskeletal disorders seem to be related to self-reported but not to objectively recorded computer times. According to Gerr and Fethke this discrepancy could be due to error in self report, differences in the kind of exposure information captured, or both. They blame us that our “claims of methodological objectivity and validity … do not address this fundamental question”.

However, we did address this question [3]. We studied if the differences between self-reported and objectively recorded computer times depended on the level of computer times, variation in computer times, level of arm pain, psychosocial work characteristics, age, gender, and personality characteristics. Concerning work characteristics, self-reported computer times increased with a high degree of variation between weeks; and a one hour increase in weekly computer time was overestimated, especially at low levels of computer time. In our opinion these findings reflect self-report biases, rather than self-report “captures” of biologically relevant information. We found no musculoskeletal health effects of computer work speed, sustained activity or micropauses or their interactions with computer times [2,4]. Of course, other factors may also be considered and our findings should be replicated.

Gerr and Fethke are concerned about the generalisability of the NUDATA results with reference to our objective median exposure times [2,4]. However, these are without any relevance to generalisabilty. The NUDATA cohort was designed to include persons with low as well as high computer work hours in order to examine internal exposure-response relations. Therefore, it is the representation of variation in computer work hours that counts, not means or medians. These problems have been thoroughly discussed in our previous publications [2,4].

Sigurd Mikkelsen
Johan Hviid Andersen


1. Gerr F, Fethke N. Ascertaining computer use in studies of musculoskeletal outcomes among computer workers: differences between self-report and computer registration software. Occup Environ Med 2011; 68: 465-66.

2. Mikkelsen S, Lassen CF, Vilstrup I, et al. Does computer use affect the incidence of distal arm pain? A one-year prospective study using objective measures of computer use. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 2012;85:139-52.

3. Mikkelsen S, Vilstrup I, Lassen CF, et al. Validity of questionnaire self-reports on computer, mouse and keyboard usage during a four-week period. Occup Environ Med 2007; 64:541-7.

4. Andersen JH, Harhoff M, Grimstrup S, et al. Computer mouse use predicts acute pain but not prolonged or chronic pain in the neck and shoulder. Occup Environ Med 2008;65 :126-31.

Conflict of Interest: None declared

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