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Concerns Over Scientific Journal's Decision to Retract Decision to Retract an Ethically and Scientifically Flawed Article on Asbestos

Back on August 10 of this year, the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene’s (JOEH) Board of Directors voted to retract an article, which has since been withdrawn by the article’s authors, after numerous scientists called for its retraction over concerns of an extreme undisclosed conflict of interest, erroneous conclusions, misleading and distorted information and misrepresented data.

The conflict of interest in question came from Charlie Blake, the JOEH editor who reviewed the article and approved it for publication on the website and John L. Henshaw, one of the authors of the piece. At the time of the article’s submission and approval, both Blake and Henshaw were being paid to testify in court on behalf of companies fighting back against asbestos litigation, and were being paid by Cardno ChemRisk, a consulting company that is paid millions of dollars by companies fighting back against asbestos litigation.

A group of scientists collectively sent the JOEH Board of Directors and President a letter on September 25 in order to express their concern that those in charge were giving in to the pressure to retract their decision to retract the article. They said that:

“We call on you as President and on the other members of the Board of Directors to act with integrity and implement the decision to retract the article that the Board took at its August 10 meeting. We encourage the JOEH not to abandon scientific and ethical standards and reverse its decision to retract the article in order to bow to pressure from vested interests and / or people with an obvious conflict-of-interest.”

The JOEH’s President of the Board of Directors Stephen Reynolds, who also serves as Colorado State University’s President stated that the JOEH Board chose to retract their initial retraction, instead allowing the authors to withdraw the article themselves. He sent a message to Kathleen Ruff on November 14, stating that:

“In follow-up to your letters of July 28, 2016 and September 25, 2016, we are writing to inform you that the authors have decided to withdraw the article by Lotter et al., titled “Airborne asbestos exposures associated with the installation and removal of asbestos-containing roofing products.” The Board of Directors affirms our initial opinion, that the manuscript, which is a literature review, should have been submitted as a Review article, rather than as a Column article. As a result, the manuscript did not receive the peer review to which a Review article is subject.”

Despite the vote to retract the article and letter from Reynolds stating that the authors would withdraw the article, it remained live on the JOEH website through at least December 5.

So What’s The Problem?

Along with the clear ethical issues associated with publishing this article, its flawed information was being shown on the International Chrysotile Association’s website, a group that lobbies for asbestos companies, in order to help sell asbestos-cement roofing in the global South. Despite the article’s withdrawal, its information remains on the homepage of their website. Scientists sent yet another letter to the JOEH on November 21, this time addressed to both Reynolds and Rachael M. Jones, the Vice President of the Journal, stating that:

“The JOEH has had plenty of time in the past three months to peer review the article, if it so wished, and verify that the information the article puts forward is grossly flawed, deceptive and harmful and does not meet the standards of a reputable journal. This excuse put forward by the JOEH Board for reversing its decision lacks credibility. Instead, it seems that in the past three months of silence the JOEH board has succumbed to pressure from asbestos interests to conveniently disappear the article and disappear any scientific or ethical accountability.”

The months of silence and refusal to follow through on the Board of Directors’ decision to remove the article are means for concern for more than just the scientific community – the inaction by the JOEH stands to put countless lives at risk. Decades of research has shown that asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma, a devastating strain of cancer that has claimed the lives of people across the globe ever since the mineral was used in construction projects.

At Bailey Cowan Heckaman PLLC, our mesothelioma attorneys have spent their careers fighting for the rights of people who were exposed to asbestos and suffer from mesothelioma in order to secure them the compensation they deserve in order to cover any medical expenses or damages incurred. Thousands of Americans risk exposure every year, and we are proud to continue providing the legal representation they need to challenge the companies at fault in court and at the negotiation table. If you or a loved one was recently diagnosed with mesothelioma, fill out our online form to request a free case consultation or call us to speak with a member of our firm today.

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