The Geneva University investigation
Soon after the Court decision the 15th December 2003, Rielle and Diethelm pushed the University to perform an investigation, offering their services. The investigation was announced in a press release by the Chancellor of the University, thanking Rielle and Ditehelm for bringing attention to the matter.
An appropriate University investigation of the Rylander affair should have focused on points of importance for science. The accuracy of the data in Rylander’s publications should have been examined. The mode of collaboration with the tobacco industry should have been investigated, particularly if it had broken any administrative rules or had been different from the conditions under which a number of other faculty members worked with industries, particularly the pharmaceutical industry. The investigation should have scrutinized the available material from a strict scientific point of view and should have based its conclusions on academic principles.
Of this there was nothing. Mauron, the head investigator, relied heavily on material provided by Rielle and Diethelm and their interpretation and even thanked them in the report. The commission called Rylander for one interview only and did not allow him to comment on a draft of the final report before this was published. A detailed critique is found in the following letter, addressed to the head of department of public instruction in the canton of Geneva, Mr C Beer. A detailed, point-to-point commentary in French is available in pdf-format (contact us).
Rylander has repeatedly asked Geneva University ad the Department of Instruction to set up an independent, scientifically based investigation.
Three questions need to be answered:
1. Was the collaboration according to the University administrative rules at the time+
2. Were the contacts between Rylander and the tobacco industry scientists different from those of other faculty members working with the pharmaceutical industry?
3. Were there any scientific shortcomings or faults in the publications arising from this collaboration?
This request has been made repeatedly but refused, probably because the University of Geneva is afraid that such an investigation would show that there were no differences and that no scientific fraud was present. Indeed it is likely that the personal remuneration from the pharmaceutical industry to members of the faculty far exceeded the daily allowance obtained by Rylander from the tobacco industry funds.
(English translation of French original – words in [ ] inserted for clarification).
Concerning: Report from the Rectorat at the University the 6th September 2004.
Monsieur le Président,
Following a press release by MM Rielle and Diethelm the 29 March 2001 in which they accused me to be responsible for a scientific fraud without precedence, for being secretly employed by Philip Morris, USA and one of their most highly paid consultants, I sued them for calumny. After a first condemnation the 22 May 2002, the accused appealed and in a judgement the 15th December 2003, the Court concluded that their accusations were based on the truth and that the accusations were correct. On the same time MM Rielle and Diethelm encouraged the University to examine my actions, and later the “Mauron commission” delivered their report the 6th September 2004.
In this report I am accused of lack of scientific integrity, to have hidden my contacts with the tobacco industry, to have altered data for the interest of the industry, and to have received an important financial compensation for this. These accusations are extremely severe and should have been based on irrefutable evidence but instead they are based on false, incomplete and biased information, and are just as slandering as the accusations by Rielle and Diethelm.
The Commission admits that the most important sources of information on which the Commission bases itself are the very large number of documents found in the internet by Rielle and Diethelm.
I formally contest the defamatory conclusions in the report and I accuse the Mauron commission for having published a fraudulent and biased report, devoid of scientific honesty. The major reasons for my rejection are presented in the following; a detailed critique is enclosed in annexes.
The information sources of the Commission are biased, incomplete and severely influenced by Rielle and Diethelm. The commission has had hearings mainly with persons who are anti-tobacco activists and cite mainly their message. This is further confirmed in the exaggerated acknowledgements to Rielle and Diethelm in the report.
During my 25 years as associated professor at the university, I have published a large number of scientific articles and from the unit that I created [at Geneva University] I had some 20 scientific collaborators. The commission invited only two of these to their hearings! The Commission does not cite any of their arguments and reports ”The hearings with MM M and S did not bring any new information”. I find that this fraudulent procedure to collect information in this investigation of great importance for the University is unacceptable and unjustified.
The Mauron commission accuses me of having conducted research with the aim to minimize the danger from tobacco smoke in the environment (ETS). Their conclusions are mainly based on selected information, thus biased. In reality during my scientific career I have published 28 articles on the toxicity of tobacco smoke, including reports on the toxic effects of particles and vapours as early as 1978. The commission does not cite these publications and does not give an impression of having read them, although it would be imperative to do so in a so-called scientific enquiry.
Regarding ETS, the commission devotes 5 pages of the report to three symposia, organised 20 and 30 years ago. The conclusions from these symposia have never been contested by the scientific society. The commission has chosen not to mention a document from a similar symposium, organised in 1983 by the National Institutes of Health in the US. The conclusions from this symposium were practically identical to those that I presented with my 37 colleagues [at my symposia]. It is incomprehensible, even disgraceful, that the commission has not contacted anyone in this group of researchers who are specialists in the field, nor any of those responsible for the symposium in the US, before arriving at the conclusion that my symposia were arranged to satisfy the interests of the tobacco industry.
The commission Mauron criticises the conclusions from a published study on the dietary habits among non-smoking females living with smokers or non-smokers, without mentioning that the results are in agreement with those from other articles or scientific reports on this theme. If they had had the competence that one would expect from this kind of commission they would have realized this. The commission also cites one of our publications on environmental agents related to respiratory disease among children. The commission does not inform that these data show an increased risk among children exposed to ETS (although not statistically significant) and it does not establish a relation to other studies which show identical results regarding bronchitits, particularly a study from Switzerland. It could equally have pointed to that among my 24 scientific articles that I published during my 25 years in Geneva, only three publications deal with tobacco smoke. My research projects were essentially directed towards other agents in the environment.
Regarding my relations with the tobacco industry, we have never tried to hide these. It is obvious that when one publishes [scientific articles] together with researchers from this industry, or when I present together with them at international congresses and when there is an exchange of personnel between our laboratories, this cannot be judged as secret. The commission has not taken contact with my scientific collaborators in the industry to obtain information on the character of our collaboration or to find out if the collaboration was known or not. My relationship [with that industry] was also well known at Geneva university and during the 25 years we received funding from tobacco related sources, I never received any comments or critical remarks from the Heads of the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, nor from the administration at the Geneva university. The Mauron commission avoids presenting these facts.
It is important to focus on the moral aspect of collaborating with the tobacco industry. The commission tries to treat this problem but without presenting arguments other than those stemming from Rielle and Diethelm. The only valid reproach that I have received during the discussions in this process is “Why did you not leave the industry when the information regarding their activities to diminish the dangers for the health started to appear?”. This question on moral responsibility is not that easy to solve when one has scientific collaborators who rely on you to continue with their research projects. Should one drop these researchers or on the contrary use the money from the industry to detect the damage that they cause and look for the truth? This is a question that has no precise or incontestable answer – for a researcher the decision should be made according to his conscience and without being influenced neither by public opinion, nor by those benevolent but manipulated, and certainly not by pressure groups and media.
In conclusion, as the opinions of the Mauron commission are according to all evidence selected, as the choice of is information biased, as there has been no appropriate scientific evaluation, as the report demonstrates a disquieting influence from particular interests outside of the university, I request you in your position as the head of the department of public instruction at the Republic of Geneva, declare this report from the Mauron commission void and null.