Uncensored version of blog post on Interphone, first published in 2011 and re-published for the first time now…
Below is the uncensored version of my science blog published in 2011. This version was subsequently censored by, then, STUK Director General who called me personally and informed that if I do not agree to rewrite the blog post he will need to consider if I am suited to continue work at STUK. Under this threat I agreed and STUK Director General personally revised my blog post. The link to censored version of the post and to two other posts on this subject can be found in my yesterday’s blog post.
The uncensored version of the blog, published in 2011 and re-published for the first time since, gives a better idea of what happened to science and what form of scientific misconduct Interphone committed…
STUK Directors condemned me for speaking freely and openly of this problem. In the opinions of STUK Directors it was inappropriate to criticize publicly Interphone because part of it was done at STUK by STUK scientists, my colleagues… This is the kind of open and fair scientific debate that STUK likely exercises still now as several of the same STUK Directors are still in charge…
UNCENSORED version of blog post from 2011
Did Interphone commit scientific misconduct?
The definitions of the scientific misconduct used by various institutions or provided in various dictionaries differ slightly. Here are few of them.
British Medical Journal (BMJ) uses the definition of the scientific misconduct provided by the World Association of Medical Editors (WAME) that is a slightly amended version of the US Office of Research Integrity definition of scientific misconduct (http://resources.bmj.com/bmj/authors/editorial-policies/scientific-misconduct):
“…Falsification of data: ranges from fabrication to deceptive selective reporting of findings and omission of conflicting data, or willful suppression and/or distortion of data…”.
The US Office of Research Integrity (ORI) (http://ori.hhs.gov/misconduct/definition_misconduct.shtml):
“… (b) Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record…”.
“Forms of scientific misconduct include: … Obfuscation – the omission of critical data or results. Example: Only reporting positive outcomes and not adverse outcomes…”.
Now, about the possibility of INTERPHONE’s scientific misconduct. What INTERPHONE scientists did is they recently published two separate papers on the same topic – is there relation between tumor location and the area of the brain that was most exposed? This was done with the explicit knowledge that, arbitrarily, only part of data is being selectively reported whereas the other, substantial part, which was not in line with the final conclusions, was being knowingly omitted.
Of course it is possible to understand the non-scientific reason behind the decision to publish two separate articles – the bad experience with the first whole INTERPHONE paper. However, as said, it is non-scientific reason and it should be easily overridden by the science. Unfortunately, it was not the case and two separate studies were published.
The first publication was in the American Journal of Epidemiology (AJE)
Location of gliomas in relation to mobile telephone use: a case-case and case-specular analysis. Larjavaara S, Schüz J, Swerdlow A, Feychting M, Johansen C, Lagorio S, Tynes T, Klaeboe L, Tonjer SR, Blettner M, Berg-Beckhoff G, Schlehofer B, Schoemaker M, Britton J, Mäntylä R, Lönn S, Ahlbom A, Flodmark O, Lilja A, Martini S, Rastelli E, Vidiri A, Kähärä V, Raitanen J, Heinävaara S, Auvinen A. Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Jul 1;174(1):2-11. Epub 2011 May 24. PMID:21610117
The second publication was in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine (OEM)
Risk of brain tumours in relation to estimated RF dose from mobile phones: results from five Interphone countries. Cardis E, Armstrong BK, Bowman JD, Giles GG, Hours M, Krewski D, McBride M, Parent ME, Sadetzki S, Woodward A, Brown J, Chetrit A, Figuerola J, Hoffmann C, Jarus-Hakak A, Montestruq L, Nadon L, Richardson L, Villegas R, Vrijheid M. Occup Environ Med. 2011 Jun 9. [Epub ahead of print], PMID:21659469
(Just as a reminder, the participating countries of the INTERPHONE are (http://www.iarc.fr/en/research-groups/RAD/RCAd.html): Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the UK.)
The AJE study was based on the data from: Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden, and Southeast England.
The OEM study is based on data from: Australia, Canada, France, Israel and New Zealand.
The Japanese data and the Japanese scientists did not participate in either of the publications. Why?
The AJE study is negative. In the opening sentence of the Discussion section of the article the authors said:
“…Our results do not support the hypothesis of gliomas among mobile phone users being preferentially located in the parts of the brain with the highest radio-frequency exposure…”.
The OEM study is weakly positive. In the Discussion section of the article the authors said:
“…Overall, there was weak evidence of stronger associations of glioma and meningioma when a comprehensive estimate of RF dose rather than just mobile phone use was used in the case-control analysis…”.
The strength of the INTERPHONE analysis was to be the size – the largest study with the most cases of tumors. But now, by an arbitrary split of the data, this advantage has been lost.
In AJE article the authors admit that the size matters and stated in the discussion that:
“…To our knowledge, this is the largest study on detailed glioma localization published to date, with 888 glioma cases from 7 countries. Further research with similar methods but a larger number of long-term users is warranted…”.
Have they “forgotten” that in the INTERPHONE are “easily available” additional 553 glioma cases from 5 countries that are now separately reported in the OEM study? And, vice versa, the same “forgetfulness” aplies to OEM authors.
What would say the whole INTERPHONE analysis of these 888 + 553 + Japan cases of glioma say – no one knows, for now… or?
So, for me, these two recent publications from the INTERPHONE have at least flavor of scientific misconduct. And let me give and example that explains why I think so.
If a scientist would perform 13 experiments in laboratory and then would pick 7 or 5 results that fit the same conclusion, and publish them in separate article(s), such scientist would be justly accused of data manipulation, convinced of scientific misconduct and would have to withdraw the articles.
Are epidemiologists different from experimental scientists in the way scientific ethics and misconduct rules apply to them?
It is very “unhealthy” situation of the search for RF “health” effects. Especially, that everyone looks up to epidemiologists to provide the valid and reliable scientific evidence. And I think that Dr. Christopher Wild, Head of IARC, the organization that is supervising execution and publication of the INTERPHONE, should have closer look at this issue. Mobile phone users should be informed and not mislead, as it is now the case with two competing and selectively reporting and selectively data omitting publications. In the context of the plenary discussions at the recent meeting in Lyon, where IARC has classified RF as 2B carcinogen, there is urgent need for good quality scientific evidence and such is unfortunately not coming out from AJE and OEM articles.