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.