The UC Board of Regents pushed back, yet again, making a decision on whether to prohibit accepting grants from tobacco companies for research, even after the Academic Senate Assembly vetoed the idea last week with a sweeping vote.
While the Regents originally planned to discuss the policy, RE-89, today at 9:30 a.m., dialogue is postponed until the Regents’ July meeting, said UC Spokesperson Jennifer Ward. She said discussion has been delayed because Regent John J. Moores, an important head of RE-89, was not able to attend this particular portion of the meeting.
Universities that already maintain policies rejecting tobacco-funded research include Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School.
UC San Francisco Professor of Medicine Stanton Glantz said it is unethical for the University to accept funding from the tobacco industry. Glantz, along with other ban supporters, claim tobacco-funded research corrupts the University’s integrity due to the tobacco industry’s long history of misrepresenting facts and manufacturing harmful products.
For instance, supporters often cite prior allegations of fraud, such as the case in which a UCLA researcher’s results on a study about second-hand smoke were allegedly influenced by the relationship between the researcher and the tobacco industry. A group linked to Philip Morris funded the study.
“To see this great University chasing after the cigarette companies is like watching a prostitute run down the street after a mobster,” Glantz said. “What you are supposed to do is consider the evidence in a dispassionate way and that is just not what happened here.”
However, the ban’s opponents claim the decision would limit the academic freedom of faculty members who already follow the University’s Policy on Integrity of Research – a set of ethical standards and practices for campus studies. According to the policy, the university ensures honest research reporting through such elements as “open publication and discussion, emphasis on quality of research, appropriate supervision, maintenance of accurate and detailed research procedures and results and suitable assignment of credit.”
On May 9, the UC Systemwide Academic Senate Assembly, comprised of various University faculty members, voted 43 to four against the RE-89 ban on tobacco-funded research with three abstentions.
UCSB History Dept. Director Ann Marie Plane, who attended the Academic Senate meeting, said she voted with the majority of the faculty against the ban.
“Basically what it came down to was: Do we already have enough to protect academic freedom and to ensure research quality was high?” Plane said. “What everyone felt was that we already have adequate safeguards in place. We certainly weren’t endorsing the tobacco industry with this decision.”
Plane said the University’s existing policies have the potential to detect skewed research results.
“If there is a researcher somewhere that isn’t objective, that’s going to come out in the normal peer review process,” Plane said.
According to RE-89, there are currently 19 active Philip Morris funded research grant awards that amount to $15.8 million. Since 1995, the University has received 108 grants total from tobacco-related companies, totaling $37 million.
UC Davis Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine Professor Thomas Jue said he received a research grant of $150 per year from Phillip Morris USA to fund an investigation into noninvasive ways of measuring oxygen content in tissue.
“I think [the ban] is silly because you just stop people from doing good for science,” Jue said. “This is an open society that values the freedom of speech and inquiry… If you stop that then there is no progress or change.”
Glantz countered the complaints of freedom being compromised by suggesting the University look at the bigger picture, and the effect such partnerships have on its reputation.
“The point of academic freedom is to promote the search for and transmission of truth,” Glantz said. “Well, you don’t do that by getting in bed with a bunch people who have committed the most massive fraud in the history of the country.”
“They’re afraid if they say no to big tobacco that it will be harder to get money. If Al Capone offered money to open a center to study tax policy… these guys would take it.”