Meeting Standards

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Science  20 Dec 1996:
Vol. 274, Issue 5295, pp. 1993-1997
DOI: 10.1126/science.274.5295.1993e

Nigel Williams' article “Tobacco funding debate smolders” (News & Comment, 4 Oct., p. 28) highlights the disturbing tendency of some philanthropic organizations to politicize science in a way that threatens independent research. The Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) in Britain threatened to halt future funding for Cambridge University scientists because the university accepted a donation from British American Tobacco Industries to support a new professorship in international relations. The article says that, according to a statement by the CRC, “[t]he CRC's next step will be to develop a new code to ensure that its grants and intellectual scientific property are not ‘tainted with tobacco money.’”

The fact is that the vast majority of universities and scientific journals have conflict-of-interest procedures, including the disclosure of funding sources, which seek to ensure that scientific research is judged on its merit alone. It is the responsibility of the scientists (as researchers and as peer reviewers), the universities, and the scientific journals to see that research, regardless of funding source, meets the standards of the discipline. Creating controversy around science through attacks on funding sources diverts attention from the validity of the research and opens the door to intimidation of academic institutions and individual scientists alike. It is ironic that the CRC says it supports academic freedom; it seems that the CRC is actually limiting research opportunities and increasing fear of “political” retribution within the academic setting. All scientists must be alert to protecting academic freedom and enhancing the diversity of views.

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