Is Science Censored?
Ideology may influence what studies get published.

Sept. 1992 issue

..This is how science works? Despite its objective face, science is as shot through with ideology as any political campaign, and now that dirty secret is coming out. The party line is that papers submitted to journals are rejected only for reason s of substance-the methodology is suspect, the data don't support the conclusions, the journal has better papers to use. But lately scientists have been privately fuming over rejections they blame on censorship. And this summer, the issue exploded in public. Dr.

One leading cancer journal, for instance, recently published an industry study concluding that the fluoride added to drinking water does not increase the risk of cancer in lab animals. That same journal rejected a government study, by researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, that reported an increase in rare bone cancers among male rats fed fluoride. The journal explained that it does not publish lab-animal studies anymore. "No one wants to touch this," says toxicologist James Huff of NIEHS about the persistent evidence that fluoride poses some hazard.

Chalmers hasn't made many friends at science journals by opening this debate, but some researchers applaud him. " He's made statements about something that is very, very disturbing," said toxicologist Ellen Silbergeld of the University of Maryland. "[Suppression of studies] is particularly vicious when they concern public-health issues." But the risk that censorship poses to public health may be the least of it. If science loses its reputation for probity, its conclusions will carry no more weight than any interest group's.

Sharon Begley

 

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