Thursday, October 19, 2006

Preventing Public Health Disasters Caused By "Sequestered Science"

Asbestos, tobacco, lead, vinyl chloride, diacetyl, DBCP, Vioxx -- what do these and countless other substances have in common (aside from the fact that they're very bad for you)? They're all examples of what George Washington University Professor David Michaels calls "tragic examples of data sequestration contributing to public health disasters.”

Michaels, also the director of the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP), has compiled a report called Sequestered Science: The Consequences of Undisclosed Knowledge, the latest issue of the Duke University School of Law’s journal Law and Contemporary Problems. “Sequestered science, ” according to Michaels is scientific knowledge concealed from the public.
Most of the articles published in Sequestered Science were originally presented at the second Coronado Conference, which was organized by the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) to explore the scientific and social consequences of failure to disclose scientific knowledge. Authors propose solutions to help balance the costs and benefits of such secrecy; these include altering courts’ settlement practices and treatment of confidentiality agreements, creating clinical trial registries, and adopting legislation modeled on the Sarbanes-Oxley Act to improve accountability in producing and submitting scientific data used in public health and environmental protection programs.

“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 proposes a “Sarbanes-Oxley for Science," modeled after the post-Enron law passed to ensure the accuracy of financial information. Similarly, Sarbanes Oxley for Science would ensure that scientific information provided to the public and regulatory agencies is accurate and complete, and provide whistleblower protections for scientists who reveal information improperly hidden from regulators.