Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ensuring Independence and Objectivity at The National Academies

This is the Preface to the report written in 2006. The link to the entire report is below. The NAS, it seems, has committees full of scientists with conflicts of interest that damage the neutrality and validity of studies. Gee...the science community was seeing serious conflicts of interest three years ago. VUI funnels $1.2M through VA Tech who is reinvigorating its nuclear engineering program and supplying faculty and students to work at Coles Hill so that the NAS can study the feasibility of mining uranium in VA, starting with Coles Hill. Sounds ripe for a scandal to me!

This report is written out of great respect for the National Academies. Each year,
Congress and government agencies call upon the NAS to provide the best scientific
advice possible on important and controversial topics. NAS reports invariably earn high marks from the scientific community, and this study, which did not evaluate the quality any particular NAS report, makes no effort to question that consensus view.

Rather, because commercial pressures on the conduct of science have grown exponentially in recent decades, we focused on the process of nominating committees, as well as the composition of committees, both of which strongly influences the conclusions and recommendations of reports. We focused on the committee selection process because of the importance of protecting NAS committees from those pressures. Only through preventing the appearance of bias, imbalance, and conflicts of interest can the NAS ensure that the high quality and reputation of its reports will be maintained in the future.

Unfortunately, we found serious deficiencies in the NAS’s committee-selection process that could jeopardize the quality of future NAS reports. The NAS has allowed numerous scientists (and others) with blatant conflicts of interest to sit on committees. Compounding that problem, those conflicts of interest usually are not disclosed to the public. Whether complete avoidance of conflicts of interest on committees would have improved the committees’ recommendations is impossible to know. At the very least, though, improving the process of committee formation and excluding individuals with conflicts or balancing them with individuals having sharply contrasting views, would provide added insurance that Academy recommendations will continue to be both topnotch and merit respect throughout the world. (emphasis mine...SB)

Michael Jacobson, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Center for Science in the Public Interest

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