Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Lancet Oncology updates conflicts of interest statement for cancer-cell phone paper

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lanoncThe Lancet Oncology is correcting a 2011 article about the cancer risks of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, such as those from cell phones, to clarify information about potential conflicts of interest for one of the experts who was involved in its preparation.

The assessments appeared as a monograph for the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

However, after the 2011 paper “Carcinogenicity of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields” appeared, a reader raised allegations of conflicts of interest among its participants, which sparked a reconsideration of their disclosures.

The correction concerns the conflicts of interest for Niels Kuster of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, also a board member of the non-profit IT’IS foundation.

Kuster told Retraction Watch he disclosed everything upfront:

from the beginning, i was never declared/recruited as a member of the working group, but always as an “invited specialist” due to the funding that the IT’IS Foundation has received. All funding sources and conflicts of interest were fully declared prior to the monograph meetings….lancet will now list in addition the names of the major project funding companies.

Here’s how the IARC defines “invited specialist”:

Invited Specialists are experts who also have critical knowledge and experience but have a real or apparent conflict of interests. These experts are invited when necessary to assist in the Working Group by contributing their unique knowledge and experience during subgroup and plenary discussions.

Kuster even submitted a copy of the disclosure form he signed in 2011, which you can view here.

Kurt Straif, head of the IARC Monographs, confirmed to Retraction Watch that Kuster had declared all potential conflicts of interest (CoIs) from the beginning:

…Niels Kuster had declared his potential CoI in July 2010 (before official invitation). His funding was considered as pertinent and significant in regards of perceived or real CoI, and therefore Niels Kuster was invited as an Invited Specialist, with a restricted role. The IARC disclosure statement and his role as Invited Specialist was first published with the Preliminary List of Participants, ca. 2 months before the Monographs meeting.

Here’s the official note from The Lancet Oncology, posted just after midnight, June 25, UK time:

The conflict of interest statement for N Kuster should read: “NK is director and board member of the non-profit IT’IS foundation that performs research in the field of exposure assessments for academia, governments, and industry. IT’IS has received funding for specific projects from most mobile phone manufacturers and many service providers, including the Mobile Manufacturers Forum, Motorola, Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, Sony, GSM Association, ARIB Japan, Swisscom, Deutsche Telekom, and TDC Sunrise. NK is president of the board and shareholder of NF Technology Holding AG, which controls two companies, Schmid & Partner Engineering AG and ZMT Zurich Medtech AG, that develop near-field measurement instruments, simulation software, and medical test equipment.” This correction has been made to the online version as of June 25, 2015.

Asked for further comment, Robert Brierley, deputy editor of The Lancet Oncology, told us he thought “the correction is self explanatory.”

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Written by Alison McCook

June 24th, 2015 at 7:02 pm

Comments
  • Prof. Dr. Alexander Lerchl June 25, 2015 at 4:03 am

    Very interesting indeed to see this happening four years after IARC had classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields from mobile phones as “possibly carcinogenic” (2B). To find a researcher with such a long list of collaborators from industry, on one hand, and a profound interest in exposure research, on the other, as member of the group of experts is irritating, to say the least. Not to mention his role as co-author in a paper from 2008 which is subject to an Expression of Concern http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00420-008-0360-y/fulltext.html

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