9 Mar, 12 | by Dana Loomis
I wrote recently about attempts by an industry group to prevent publication of key papers on the risk of cancer among workers exposed to diesel exhaust. A mining industry coalition had obtained an order from a court in Louisiana, USA that restrained the study’s authors, most of whom are US government scientists, from publishing the study results for 90 days while the industry and a congressional committee reviewed the papers and the raw data. An industry lawyer also sent letters to several journals, including OEM, advising the editors not to publish papers from the diesel study. An editorial on these events and their implications for scientific communication has been published online and will appear in the April issue of OEM (1).
The situation changed this week with respect to the delayed papers. The US government agencies that sponsored the study had appealed the court’s order, and on 29 February a higher court stayed the original ruling, opening the way for the papers to be published (2, 3). More details of these events have been reported in Nature news (4). The public interest in knowing the results of this important study will be served and the IARC monograph meeting on the carcinogenicity of diesel exhaust scheduled for June will presumably go forward as planned.
While this is good news for these papers and the evaluation of diesel exhaust, there are still reasons to be concerned about the larger implications of the case. A lawsuit was used to delay the open publication of important scientific findings while parties with a financial interest were given time to go through the data. While the industry is entitled to draw their own conclusions from the data, there is no scientific or ethical reason that they should be able to do so before workers, the public and the scientific community.
1. Loomis D, Sim MR. Suppressing publication threatens scientific progress. Occup Environ Med 2012;69:229 doi:10.1136/oemed-2012-100740.
2. Attfield MD, Schlieff PL, Lubin JH et al. The diesel exhaust in miners study: a cohort mortality study with emphasis on lung cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 2012;104:1-15. DOI: 10.1093/jnci/djs035.
3. Silverman DT, Sarmanic CM, Lubin JH, et al. The diesel exhaust in miners study: a nested case-control study of lung cancer and diesel exhaust. J Natl Cancer Inst 2012;104:1-14. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djs034.
4. Tollefson J. Embattled scientists publish study linking (surprise) diesel exhaust and cancer. Nature News Blog. 2012. http://blogs.nature.com/news/2012/03/embattled-scientists-publish-miner-cancer-study.html