Academic corruption by Juul

David Dayen writes:

Juul is spending millions in lobbying and persuasion to get the FDA’s green light to continue operations. But a Tuesday New York Times article on the subject contained a fascinating nugget midway through, which could be described as a buried lede (journalese for putting the most explosive part of a story in the middle of the piece). Juul, the Times reports, “paid $51,000 to have the entire May/June issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior devoted to publishing 11 studies funded by the company offering evidence that Juul products help smokers quit.”

This gets very interesting. Have a look at what David says further:

The $51,000 fee included $6,500 to unlock the entire journal for public access—so you can read the entire special 219-page Juul issue here. It’s fascinating. There are 26 named co-authors on the 11 studies. According to the “Conflict of Interest” statements associated with them, 18 of the co-authors are either current full-time employees of Juul, or were full-time employees at the time they conducted the research. Five others are consultants with PinneyAssociates, working “on an exclusive basis to Juul Labs.” And the final three, who co-authored one of the 11 studies, are employees of the Centre for Substance Use Research, an “independentconsultancy that designed that study under a contract with … Juul Labs.

(emhasis mine)

The words academic freedom, independent consultancy, and conflict of interests are merely words. There was an active discussion around Hacker News where numerous authors had posted comments around the benefits of vaping. Despite the warnings and known effects of smoking, why is it prudent to shut down the companies straight away? I fail to understand. The government earns its taxes, but a higher proportion goes to healthcare where people die of cancer. As an oncologist, it pains me to see people unable to leave a drug that’s designed to be highly addictive, and vaping falls in the grey zone. It is difficult to measure the incidence of smoking, and therefore an alternative index using their sales requires clear validation; especially the sticks sold per day, which would give a more quantifiable index.

Coming back to the idea of “academic corruption”, I have been writing against the established norms of academic publishing. Peer review is a farce unless you have transparency mechanisms built in.