Monsanto is facing the first ever lawsuit over its flagship product and weedkiller Roundup on Monday. Thousands of pages of discovery documents related to the case were analyzed by researchers who found that Monsanto has been spending huge amounts of money to promote, manipulate and validate the alleged scientific safety of its products. Research experts found three trends Monsanto employed to distort science in favor of its Roundup herbicide and published their findings in Environmental Health News.
Sheldon Krimsky, a Lenore Stern Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences as well as Adjunct Professor of Public Policy and Community Medicine at Tufts University, published a review of these documents in the Journal of Public Health Policy. She along with colleagues analyzed the thousands of discovery documents which were composed largely of internal Monsanto communications detailing how the company subverts scientists to promote its products.
Monsanto Ghostwrites Journal Papers by Paying Scientists Who Use Their Own Names
One of the practices revealed in Monsanto’s internal communications was the company policy to pay scientists to put their names on research papers ghostwritten by Monsanto employees, and that proclaimed the environmental safety of glyphosate, Roundup’s main active ingredient. This was practiced when scientific reports did not show glyphosate in a favorable light; to counter this Monsanto would pay the scientists to put their names on the ghostwritten Monsanto studies that were then published in peer-reviewed journals.
“Our first finding showed that when the scientific literature did not yield the results Monsanto desired, the company talked internally about writing its own journal articles and paying outside scientists to list their names on the documents when they were sent for publication,” said Krimsky.
Ghostwriting is when the name of the person who actually wrote the report isn’t revealed, which Krimsky says is a practice largely considered a form of plagiarism by respected journals. Part of the problem with ghostwriting is that the independence of the study is put into question when it’s not possible to track who wrote the report.
“We found evidence that while the papers were presented as independent – indeed, in at least one case, a series of papers were titled as “independent” – Monsanto employees were involved in writing, drafting and determining conclusions,” said Krimsky.
Monsanto Pressures Journal Editors to Edit or Retract Unpleasant Papers
Another company practice adopted by Monsanto, revealed in the documents, was to influence scientific journal publications to retract papers unfavorable to glyphosate.
In one particular case, Monsanto applied pressure to a journal editor to completely retract a paper, against the wishes of the writers, that Monsanto found unfavorable. Krimsky said the internal documents revealed Monsanto’s efforts to pressure the editor and their insistence that Monsanto’s role go unknown.
Initially, one journal editor supported a scientific debate of the paper and its results. Weeks later when an ex-worker with Monsanto was appointed to the editorial board of the journal, the published piece was retracted with the editor-in-chief saying he retracted the piece because he found the results “inconclusive.”
Monsanto Subverts Industry Regulators to Influence Official Findings
A third instance where Monsanto engaged in interference was when it tried to influence the Environmental Protection Agency to persuade the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry from running an independent analysis on glyphosate. That agency is the toxicological arm of the Department of Health and Human Services.
“On one hand, [Monsanto] represents itself publicly as a vigorous champion of science against myths, fanaticism, emotion, politics and any failure to consider the total weight of evidence and, on the other, it privately seeks to protect itself against possible refutation by secretly controlling the scientific process…” wrote Leemon McHenry, a member of the Philosophy Department at California State University, who published his analysis of the Monsanto documents in the International Journal of Rish and Safety in Medicine.
McHenry found other examples of Monsanto interfering to alter public perception of glyphosate as well. He found that Monsanto backed a website at the University of Illinois at Urban-Champagne to enable two so-called “independent” faculty to do its bidding in criticizing unfavorable reviews.
Krimsky concluded the report by advocating for “firewalls” between science and corporate sectors.
“To protect the scientific enterprise, one of the core pillars of a modern democratic society, against the forces that would turn it into the handmaiden of industry or politics our society must support firewalls between academic science and the corporate sectors and educate young scientists and journal editors on the moral principles behind their respective professional roles.”