A toxicology journal has issued an expression of concern for a group of papers about the controversial herbicide glyphosate after concluding that some of the authors didn’t adequately disclose their ties to the maker of the product.
At issue are five articles that appeared in a 2016 supplement to Critical Reviews in Toxicology, a Taylor & Francis title, about the chemical, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s blockbuster weed-killer Roundup. Although the authors of the articles don’t overlap perfectly, Keith Solomon, of the University of Guelph, in Canada, appears on three of the articles; Gary Williams, of New York Medical College, appears on three as well.
Williams was caught up in a ghost-writing scandal after court documents revealed that he had put his name on a published paper written by Monsanto employees. Solomon served on a panel funded by Monsanto that undercut the conclusions of a report from the World Health Organization that glyphosate is probably cancerous to people.
We, the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the journal, have been informed of concerns over the completeness of acknowledged contributions to the above supplement, and in the declarations of interest provided by the named contributors, for the following articles:
Williams, G. M., Aardema, M., Acquavella, J., Berry, C., Brusick, D., Burns, M. M., de Camargo, J. L. V., Garabrant, D., Greim, H. A., Kier, L. D., Kirkland, D. J., Marsh, G., Solomon, K. R., Sorahan, T., Roberts, A., & Weed, D. L. (2016). A review of the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate by four independent expert panels and comparison to the IARC assessment. Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 46(S1), pp. 3–20.
Solomon, K. R. (2016). Glyphosate in the general population and in applicators: a critical review of studies on exposures. Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 46(S1), pp. 21–27.
Acquavella, J., Garabrant, D., Marsh, G., Solomon, K. R., Sorahan, T., & Weed, D. L. (2016). Glyphosate epidemiology expert panel review: a weight of evidence systematic review of the relationship between glyphosate exposure and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or multiple myeloma. Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 46(S1), pp. 28-43.
Williams, G. M., Berry, C., Burns, M. M., de Camargo, J. L. V., & Greim, H. A. (2016). Glyphosate rodent carcinogenicity bioassay expert panel review. Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 46(S1), pp. 44–55.
Brusick, D., Aardema, M., Kier, L. D., Kirkland, D. J., & Williams, G. (2016). Genotoxicity Expert Panel review: weight of evidence evaluation of the genotoxicity of glyphosate, glyphosate-based formulations, and aminomethylphosphonic acid. Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 46(S1), pp. 56–74.
We have requested corrigenda from the authors to provide additional disclosure as to contributions to the articles. To date, we have only received corrigenda for three of the five articles that have been agreed by all authors. We have not received an adequate explanation as to why the necessary level of transparency was not met on first submission. We thank those who brought this matter to our attention. When reading the articles, we recommend that readers take this context into account. We will continue to work to update these articles and ensure full disclosure of all contributions to them.
Although the Committee on Publication Ethics says failure to disclose a major conflict of interest can be grounds for retraction, journals almost always choose to issue corrections instead. At the time of this writing, our database of retractions shows 114 removals of papers for undeclared conflicts of interest, less than 1 percent of the more than 18,000 total retractions, and most of those include other reasons without which the article more than likely wouldn’t have been retracted.
‘No guidance provided’
The first paper in the Critical Reviews in Toxicology list, a synopsis of the other articles, was written by a consulting firm called Intertek Group Plc., which received funding from Monsanto. That much initially was disclosed. However, according to Solomon, emails revealed in court documents after the supplement appeared showed that at least one Monsanto employee had made comments on the four other articles — a fact that was not revealed to the journal.
Solomon said the editors contacted the authors “a couple of months ago” asking for much more comprehensive disclosures, which he has provided.
There was no guidance provided at that time when we wrote [the initial] statements. You don’t know what to put in if they don’t give you guidance. I was surprised that they were basically wanting to know everything that you’d ever done.
Solomon isn’t angry about the developments, but he does believe the disclosure system needs refining. For starters, he said, journals should come up with reasonable time-frames for such statements. And they should try to identify what constitutes a true conflict.
If I talked to someone at a meeting seven years ago who worked for Monsanto, is that a conflict of interest?
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