Posthumous criticism of cancer researcher’s links

The late public health specialist Patricia Buffler is alleged to have had conflicts of interest

January 16, 2014

The reputation of a leading American public health researcher has come under fire just weeks after her death.

Patricia Buffler, Kenneth and Marjorie Kaiser chair in cancer epidemiology at the University of California, Berkeley, died on 26 September, and was lauded in her obituaries as a leading expert on childhood cancer.

Now, in an article published online last month, questions have been raised about her involvement with big business.

The Center for Public Integrity, a US-based investigative journalism organisation, claims in the article that Professor Buffler was paid more than $360,000 (£220,000) to work as an expert witness on behalf of companies that used to sell lead-based paint.

In another potential conflict of interest, the article alleges that “even as Buffler led research into whether pesticides and herbicides may cause leukemia, she served for 17 years on the board of directors of a $3 billion pesticide and herbicide company, FMC Corp”.

It adds: “A review of public records shows that in publishing her results in scientific journals or in applying for government funding from the National Institutes of Health, Buffler did not disclose that she owned stock in FMC or served as one of its directors.”

In a statement issued by Berkeley, Stefano Bertozzi, dean of the School of Public Health, says that since Professor Buffler’s consulting work was “completely separate from her academic activities, we are not in a position to know if the allegations are true”.

“What is indisputable is that [Professor] Buffler spent her academic career researching and publishing about the dangers of environmental toxins for adults and children,” he adds.

“Those who knew her will attest that she was always forthright in expressing her views, and she never hesitated to single out chemical agents as threats to human health when the evidence warranted.”

matthew.resiz@tsleducation.com

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