Amid lawsuits, toxicology journal corrects four asbestos papers for failure to cite author links to Georgia-Pacific

The journal Inhalation Toxicology has issued a fascinating correction notice covering four articles on various aspects of asbestos exposure by a group of researchers who failed to note their connection to Georgia-Pacific, the industrial giant that became caught up in a deluge of costly lawsuits over the carcinogenic chemical during the 1980s.

As the notice indicates, the ties weren’t mere tangents, but rather involved obvious — and obviously conflicting — relationships:

The publisher would like to apologise on behalf of the authors of the following 4 articles published in Inhalation Toxicology.

1. Brorby, Sheehan, Berman, Green, Holm, Re-Creation of Historical Chrysotile-Containing Joint Compounds, Inhalation Toxicology, 20: 1043–1053 (2008).

2. Bernstein, Donaldson, Decker, Gaering, Kunzendorf, Chevalier, Holm, A Biopersistence Study following Exposure To Chrysotile Asbestos Alone or in Combination with Fine Particles, Inhalation Toxicology, 20: 1009–1028 (2008).

3. Bernstein, Rogers, Sepulveda, Donaldson, Schuler, Gaering, Kunzendorf, Chevalier, Holm, The pathological response and fate in the lung and pleura of chrysotile in combination with fine particles compared to amosite asbestos following short-term inhalation exposure: interim results, Inhalation Toxicology, 2010, 22(11) 937–962 (2010).

4. Bernstein, Rogers, Sepulveda, Donaldson, Schuler, Gaering, Kunzendorf, Chevalier, Holm, Quantification of the pathological response and fate in the lung and pleura of chrysotile in combination with fine particles compared to amosite-asbestos following short-term inhalation exposure, Inhalation Toxicology, 2011; 23(7):372–391 (2011).

Since publication of these 4 articles we have had a request to add the following information to the Declaration of Interest section of each paper.

The additional statement reads:

“Georgia-Pacific has not sold chrysotile-containing joint compounds for more than 30 years, but litigation is pending in which individuals claim exposure to the Company’s historic products. The articles listed above report on work that Georgia-Pacific commissioned to address issues that have arisen in that litigation. I, Stewart E. Holm, representing Georgia-Pacific, am an author on all four papers. The other authors are consulting experts retained by or on behalf of Georgia-Pacific to conduct the research and prepare the articles. Dr. Donaldson has been listed as potential testifying expert witness by Georgia-Pacific, and Dr. Bernstein has testified as an expert witness for Georgia-Pacific.”

None of the papers has been cited more than eight times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, and the 2011 study has yet to be cited.

Dr. Bernstein is David Bernstein, who, according to the Center for Public Integrity, has a long history of conducting asbestos-friendly research funded by Georgia-Pacific and other companies in the industry:

Bernstein is the most active of a dozen or so industry-backed scientists who have helped fuel the asbestos trade by producing papers, lecturing, and testifying on the relative safety of chrysotile. The industry has spent tens of millions of dollars funding their studies, which have been cited some 5,000 times in the medical literature as well as by lobby groups from India to Canada. Bernstein’s work alone has been cited 460 times. He has been quoted or mentioned in Zimbabwe’s Financial Gazette, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post and other publications around the world. His curriculum vitae suggests that he’s been a one-man road show for chrysotile, giving talks in 19 countries since 1999. Among his stops: Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, and Vietnam. The industry paid for all of his travel, Bernstein told [the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists] in an interview.

Holm, according to his Linkedin page, is director of toxicology and chemical management at Georgia-Pacific. We found his name in a December 2011 court document from New York State, in which one of the issues under consideration was a claim by Holm and Georgia-Pacific that the communications between the company and the researchers in the asbestos studies were privileged. According to the record:

Georgia-Pacific vigorously asserted throughout these proceedings that it commissioned these studies in anticipation of litigation. Indeed it has admitted that “at an appropriate time and after their publication is complete, GP plans to introduce the results of these studies in litigation.

To which we say, insert raised eyebrows here.

Joris Roulleau, managing editor of Inhalation Toxicology, said the authors contacted the publication to request the correction:

They did not state why it was incomplete in the first place. Requirements have changed quite a lot in the past few years and conflict of interest policies are something that many authors are only just starting to grasp. That said these papers are used as supporting evidence in various litigations in the US, which may or may not have played a role in the authors’ request (I recall receiving an email from the other side’s lawyer about this afterwards).

The lawyer contacted us to request that we retract the papers because of ‘fraudulent’ declaration of interest. He was unaware that the authors had just a few weeks earlier asked for the DOIs to be corrected. I informed him of this and as such this is where the matter ended as far as we are concerned (it is not our role to judge whether the author’s omission was ‘fraudulent’ or a genuine mistake, let alone ‘punish’ them by retracting the paper, since the request came from them). The lawyer replied in a most slanderous manner and informed all the associate editors of the issue. We didn’t respond. …

Throughout we have tried to follow COPE’s guidelines. Also, in July last year Inhalation Toxicology had started requesting that all authors complete the ICMJE COI form when submitting a paper.

We have now realised that the ICMJE COI form doesn’t explicitly cover this kind of potential conflict of interest, nor does it require authors to disclose who reviewed their paper prior to submission and if any third party asserted control over the submission of the paper.

These shortfalls have only come to light with these cases and we are looking to address them. We feel these elements should be disclosed, but they were not (and still are not) included in our DOI requirements.

Would Inhalation Toxicology have published the articles had they contained the eventual disclosures? Roulleau:

Probably, although that would be for the peer reviewers at the time to say. It is a problem that reviewers didn’t have this information, but I doubt it would have changed their evaluation of the papers. They found the papers scientifically sound and unless the involvement of GP had resulted in doubts about the data for example, the peer review would have been conducted in the same way.

8 thoughts on “Amid lawsuits, toxicology journal corrects four asbestos papers for failure to cite author links to Georgia-Pacific”

    1. For a different perspective on this biased, inaccurate, historically false, deceptively edited, and falsely manipulated CBC “documentary”, see “Prominent Canadian asbestos Researcher Blasts slanderous reporting by the CBC” (. ) and “CBC’s “The National” on their web page falsely accuse Dr. J.C. McDonald of being “hired by the asbestos industry” in the early to mid 1960’s”. ( ). The latter will be published shortly in Statement form in a British journal’s news section.

  1. Before getting too excited about what anyone said about anyone else, recall that (as of the last, more-or-less reliable information in the mid-2000s) Georgia Pacific and the US asbestos litigation bar had comparable annual revenues, on the order of $10B annually, with the latter being vastly more profitable. I won’t burden RW readers with my own, brief, Kafka-esque experience with asbestos litigation, except to say that it didn’t exactly meet the usual standards of due process.

    I don’t mean to point the finger at CPI, but at least Bernstein’s work was peer-reviewed, doesn’t turn on personal innuendo, and has an easily identifiable history and funding source.

  2. Just a note, my “quote” is made up of sections from several emails to Adam Marcus patched together, which is why it doesn’t all make much sense. It would have been good to know I was to be quoted so extensively…

  3. Joris — We very much appreciate your comments, which we reported accurately and in proper context. I’m not sure what aspects of your remarks don’t make sense.

    1. Marcus,

      I refered in particular to the statement “We have now realised that the ICMJE COI form doesn’t explicitly cover this kind of potential conflict of interest.” It was in response to an uncharacterised specific comment you made. It may be unclear in the quote what “this kind of potential conflict of interest” refers to, although the end of the sentence gives a clue. The caveat in our DOI policy that this case helped us identify is the absence of specific requirement to disclose lawyer involvements in commissioning a study and reviewing the paper. It may be interesting to discuss this in a post (you may have already). I’ve received calls to request this disclosure often bundled with disclosing the ‘aim’ of a study (which may be controversial and rather fuzzy). What is probably more straightforward is to request that the authors disclose if third parties have reviewed their papers and if they have asserted control over their right to submit it (although what third party we should include – funding source, lawyer, IP department, colleague, tutor, director etc. – is far from obvious).

      Regarding the introductory paragraph, the authors didn’t so much fail to disclose a connection with Georgia-Pacific (the original DOI statements read “This work was supported by a grant from Georgia-Pacific, LLC.” or similar) than fail to disclose the nature and specifics of the connection (it wasn’t a grant at any rate).

      The first sentence about the recent use of the ICMJE forms doesn’t seem relevant to the discussion, not without context anyway.


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