How Conflicts of Interest Affect Research Quoted in the Media

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Story at-a-glance -

  • Regulators are mandated to screen products for safety, but in the case of vaccines, the regulators are also promoting it, while essentially ignoring safety issues—a clear and dangerous conflict of interest
  • Revolving doors between regulatory agencies and the drug industry deepen the conflicts of interest; and these revolving doors exist both at the state and national level
  • Medical journals also have problems with conflicts of interest. For starters, they accept advertising revenue from pharmaceutical companies—a practice unheard of in economic and finance journals

By Dr. Mercola

Most of us appreciate science in helping us understand the truth about health and disease. Unfortunately, much of the science we rely on today is colored and confounded by massive conflicts of interest.

Award winning associate professor Gayle Delong has an interesting perspective of this topic. While working in the Finance Department of the Baruch College in New York City, she has studied the influence of conflicts of interest as it pertains to vaccine safety and research.

"I have two daughters with autism," she admits. "When they were first diagnosed—my older daughter was diagnosed in 2000, and my younger in 2003—there was this idea kicking around that vaccines might have some kind of association with autism.

When I first heard this I thought, 'That's crazy. That couldn't possibly be the case.' It was only in 2005, when the book Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy came out, that the association between vaccines and autism really made sense to me and my husband.

We were shocked by the idea that government regulators could allow vaccines that could have such devastating side effects. But it began to make sense after we read Evidence of Harm."

Regulatory Capture—When Industry Influences Regulatory Decisions

The original theory was that mercury (thimerosal) was the main source of the problem. That theory has now been expanded, and as revealed in my interview with Dr. Lucija Tomljenovic, vaccine adjuvants, such as aluminum, as well as viruses and other ingredients, may play a significant role.

Not to mention the fact we're now "carpet bombing" our children with vaccines, to use Delong's expression.

Common sense would suggest that if we're giving our children more than five dozen vaccinations (69 doses of 16 vaccines are recommended in the US) from day of birth to age 18, we're probably overvaccinating them.

Yet, authorities continue to insist that "more is better" when it comes to vaccines, without providing adequate scientific evidence to justify that assumption.

"So, I began to think of this in terms of an economist. I began looking at something called regulatory capture," Delong says. "It's the idea that the industry influences the decisions made by a regulator.

The whole pharmaceutical industry is influencing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)... In this case... the FDA licensed vaccines. But they were also tasked with doing research on vaccines.

Here we have an agency that is approving vaccines, and then told to say, 'OK, we'll make sure these vaccines are safe.' Once they've approved some, and once they've licensed them, very rarely are they going to turn around and say, 'Oh, we made a mistake.'"

After the FDA approves a vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decides whether it should go on the recommended schedule for American citizens. Until very recently this included mainly children, but now they're expanding that to adults as well. 

In addition to adding vaccines deemed necessary to the vaccine schedule, the CDC is also supposed to provide information about vaccine safety. That too is a conflict of interest.

Regulators are mandated to screen the product for safety, but in this case, they're also promoting it. In addition to that, regulators keep moving through the revolving door between the regulatory agencies of the very industry they are regulating; a dangerous and reprehensible practice.

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Examples of 'Revolving Door' Between Regulatory Agencies and Industry Abound

Dr. Julie Gerberding is a perfect illustration of this dangerous practice. She headed up the CDC from 2002 to 2009, after which she became the president of Merck's vaccine division, a position she still holds today.

The influence her former high-level ties to the CDC wields is enormous, considering the fact that Merck makes 14 of the 17 pediatric vaccines recommended by the CDC, and nine of the 10 recommended for adults.

Dr. Thomas Verstraeten is another example. He was a researcher at the CDC working on a study looking at the safety of thimerosal back in the early 2000s. Before the study was even published, he transferred from the CDC to GlaxoSmithKline.

"Do you think that report said there was an association between thimerosal and autism? Heads up. No, it didn't," Delong says.

This type of disastrous revolving door policy doesn't just exist at the national level; it's happening at the state level as well. In New Jersey, Dr. Eddy Bresnitz went from being the state vaccine policy maker to working in Merck's vaccine division.

This type of conflict of interest goes back over a century in the US and has been prevalent in all sorts of industries. For example:

"When railroads were first regulated, the industry tried to get their guys to become regulators. And then, of course, reward them after they have done a good job as regulator by giving them nice jobs."

The Agency Theory

Conflict of interest is a well-known factor within the field of economics. According to Delong, the major problem discussed in economics is something called the agency theory—a situation in which company owners hire the managers.

The owners of the company want the value of their company to grow as much as possible. The managers want their own wealth to be maximized. What you often end up with is a situation in which one hand keeps washing the other, while the consumers or customers are seen as little more than a means to a profitable end.

"If we think about in terms of US citizens, we are hiring the regulators essentially. We want our health to be maximized, whereas the people working at the CDC and the FDA want to maximize their own wealth, their own agendas. They see their friends going to work for the private industry after they've been regulators and earning many more dollars. The consequences are tragic."

There Are No Checks and Balances...

There should be checks and balances as far as product safety goes. If a product harms someone, that person can typically sue the producer. That doesn't exist with vaccines. You cannot sue a vaccine manufacturer if you or your child is injured. You have to submit a claim to a panel.

They call it "the vaccine court"—which was started in 1985 to protect the vaccine manufacturers from lawsuits—but it's not a court at all, as there's no discovery, no judge presiding, and no appeal process. There's also no publicity to share the damage awards with the public.

"It is just a panel of special masters, who hear a claim that the vaccine injured you or your child. They decide whether you deserve compensation. Often, they only pay out about 30 percent of the claims. It's not working in a way it should be working," Delong says.

"That is why I'm not sure we can work through the government to get proper vaccine safety. I think we're basically on our own. Parents have to do their own research. They need to gather the information from different sources. Yes, look at the information from the CDC.

Look at the information from Dr. Bob Sears' books. Go to the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) Website. Get the information from there because we can't trust the regulators."

Medical Journals Are Compromised by Conflicts of Interest Too

Delong has published one article1 on the conflicts of interest in vaccine safety research in the peer-reviewed journal Accountability in Research, and another on the association between autism prevalence and childhood vaccination uptake in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health,2 in which she presents evidence showing "a positive association between vaccine uptake and autism or speech delays. In states that had higher vaccine uptake for children up to the age of 2, six years later, when the children were 8, they tended to have a higher prevalence of autism or speech delays among the population."

Now, it's worth noting that medical journals also have problems with conflicts of interest. For starters, medical journals accept advertising revenue from pharmaceutical companies—a practice unheard of in economic and finance journals, according to Delong. Another tool used by drug companies that creates financial incentive for medical journals to cherry-pick the studies they publish is the reprinting of journal articles.

The drug company also regularly orders tens or even hundreds of thousands of reprints of journal articles supporting their drug, which their drug reps dole out to doctors as a stamp of approval. What people don't realize is those reprints are enormous revenue sources for the journals and heavily incentivize them to not bite the hand that is feeding them. It's just another form of kickback linked directly to the journals.

The journal knows that if they print a certain article, the reprints will add to their bottom line; whereas a more obscure or negative study will not be reprinted because there's no sales rep demand for them. We tend to think that if a study is published, it must be good, and if there are no published studies on something, it must not be based in solid science.

Understanding that there are powerful financial incentives steering medical journals to accept a study for publication may help you loosen that prejudice against unpublished science.

Why Mainstream Media Will Not Report Important Truths About Medicine

The mainstream media is not of much help either, as the drug industry spends billions of dollars in the US alone every year on advertising with them. The influence this creates is insidious, as discussed in my recent interview with award-winning investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson, author of "Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington".

She refers to it as "soft censorship"—that situation in which a media outlet's sponsors wield power at the corporate level over the types of stories and topics that are covered. It's important to realize that you simply will not get the truth from the media on certain topics for this reason. Attkisson actually quit her job because she got fed up with her inability to run important stories, simply because they ran afoul with corporate sponsors.

"I remembered telling my mother that HPV vaccine is killing girls," Delong says. "My mother was flabbergasted. She said, 'We don't read about it in the paper.' That's, of course, because pharmaceutical companies are still buying advertisements unlike many other types of industries.

If you read any of the magazines or the inserts in the Sunday paper, you're going to see advertisements from pharmaceutical companies, page after page after page.

They're not allowed to do that in other countries, but they get away with it in the US, because they manipulated the federal regulators to allow them to do that... And, there was a study showing that if an industry pays for advertising in a media, that media tends not to report negative news about the industry."

We Need a National Vaccine Safety Board

Delong believes we need to implement a National Vaccine Safety Board, similar to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). After there's an accident, the NTSB does an investigation to determine the cause of the accident, and then presents recommendations for avoiding a repeat in the future. Importantly, the NTSB is completely removed from the Department of Transportation.

Likewise, a National Vaccine Safety Board would have to be completely outside of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The sad tragedy is that such a rational "ideal world" recommendation will never be implemented due to the massive conflicts of interests discussed earlier...

Considering the many vaccines currently on the market, where did all the vaccine studies (typically revolving around efficacy, not safety) come from? The answer is, from the industry. The problem with that is that study after study shows industry-funded research is very prone to bias in favor of the product. And, there's no impartial objective review.

When the FDA approves a product, most consumers are under the illusion that the FDA has conducted its own independent evaluation to validate the research presented to them.

Nothing could be further from the truth. All they do is examine the studies submitted to them by the very companies who want to gain massive revenues from it.

Moreover, independent researchers who manage to publish negative findings often come under heavy fire, and many have even lost their careers publishing findings that run counter to the industry's PR machine. Take vaccine researcher Lucija Tomljenovic, who studies the neurotoxic effects of aluminum vaccine adjuvants for example.

Together with neurological disease researcher Christopher Shaw, Tomljenovic has published a number of papers3,4,5,6,7 showing aluminum-containing vaccines may be unsafe. One critic blasted them saying it was irresponsible to publish this type of research because it might erode the confidence in vaccines.

But how can one have confidence when the evidence shows that many vaccine ingredients, such as aluminum, have never actually been tested for safety? Efficacy is only one side of the equation. Granted, industry-funded efficacy studies are prone to bias, but even if efficacy was top-notch, what good is a vaccine that effectively prevents one disease if it can cause lifelong disability or chronic health problems?

Safety is the other side of the equation, and vaccines need safety studies to ascertain their safety not just in isolation, but also in combination with all the other vaccines on the schedule.

This has never been done. Moreover, Tomljenovic actually discovered FDA documents from 2002 admitting that routine toxicity studies with vaccine ingredients have not been conducted because it was assumed that these ingredients are safe—emphasis on the word "assumed." I don't know about you, but to me, an assumption does not equate to proof of safety, no matter how many times you repeat it.

Helpful Resources Before You Vaccinate

One helpful resource suggested by Delong is David Kirby's book, "Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy."

She also suggests the following books for addressing the treatment of autism: Changing the Course of Autism: A Scientific Approach for Parents and Physicians by Bryan Jepson, and Dr. Kenneth Bock's Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, and Allergies: The Groundbreaking Program for the 4-A Disorders.

I also highly recommend Dr. Suzanne Humphries' book, Dissolving Illusions, which documents the historical framework for why vaccines have been an overhyped failure. It's an excellent resource for refuting the typical arguments and justifications used to push for vaccination.

On a final note, Delong says:

"I think, if I had to do it over again, before vaccinating my child I would go to the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), definitely, and the Generation Rescue [website]. is another good resource."