Karl-Erik Tallmo,

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Dagens Medicin (Today's Medicine) no 47, 11/17/04

Rylander's research has certainly been controlled by the tobacco industry

Ragnar Rylander always tries to make it appear as if his cooperation with the tobacco industry is just any business cooperation. But the tobacco industry is - as he writes himself in his article in Dagens Medicin no 44/04 - an industry which "manufactures products that kill". Yet, Rylander has not hesitated to cooperate with this industry for more than 40 years.

What Rylander does not mention is that this collaboration mostly has been kept secret. Had he openly declared his ties regarding the financing of various studies, the matter had still been dubious, but at least it had been possible for a reader to form an opinion about the reliability of the studies in question.

Suppose a study would conclude that, for instance, when people exposed to passive smoke develop respiratory diseases, mold or poor diet is a more important causative factor than the smoke itself - then, of course it would be of great interest to know if the study had been funded by the tobacco industry.

This would be even more revealing if several years later it would be disclosed that a certain study was financed by the tobacco industry, but that this fact had been kept a secret. One would then realize that here somebody had wanted to act but remain unseen.

Rylander has a habit of claiming that he has been a simple advisor only. But this is not correct. Rylander has been something of a tobacco industry world star among the consultants, when it comes to creating uncertainty regarding the risks of passive smoking. He has been contracted, first by Lorillard in the 60's, then by Philip Morris; the contracts have included secrecy clauses - at his own suggestion. He has transferred tobacco money to his department at the University of Geneva as well as to his department in Gothenburg, either through his own bank account or through CIAR (Center for Indoor Air Research), a cover organization for Philip Morris.

Ragnar Rylander writes that "the fact that I received subsidies from various organizations connected to the tobacco industry has of course not been unknown". However, the prefect at the institute in Geneva, André Rougemont, stated during the trials of the defamation case: "If I had seen a checque with the name Philip Morris, [...] I would never have let it pass."

Staffan Edén, formerly dean at the medical faculty in Gothenburg, wrote to me in 2002 that "the Gothenburg University had no knowledge of Rylander receiving consultancy remuneration (90 000 USD)".

Rylander received this consultancy remuneration for several years on top of the actual research grants, which were smaller (60 000 USD). In a previously confidential document from Philip Morris, dated 1991, they state: "This is a commitment: he gets paid this amount regardless of what we ask him to do."

But this is only the beginning. Rylander has also been a "supervisor" and "coordinator" at the Philip Morris research institute in Cologne, INBIFO, Institut für Biologische Forschung.

A document from Philip Morris says: "He would officially be carried on the books as a consultant [...] His duties, however, would involve supervising our projects at INBIFO and he would also assist in planning and organizing this work." In another document he is referred to as Philip Morris' "representative to INBIFO". Rylander had, however, not acknowledged this extensive extramural activity to his employers, neither at Gothenburg nor Geneva.

Rylander claims in his article that nothing was presented during the trial or in the university investigation that "even indicates fraudulent handling of research data". But indeed there was. In connection with the Geneva trials there was much discussion about whether it constituted fraud to change the data base of an ongoing study, in this case a study of respiratory diseases in children from 2000. In a letter to Philip Morris Rylander wrote: "The data from the child study now start to look extremely interesting. After corrections in the data base, there is now no correlation between ETS exposure and the frequency of upper respiratory infections." Instead, he said, there is now "a very close relationship between consumption of eggs and cheese and milk products and respiratory disease." Several experts regarded this as a clear-cut case of science fraud.

The recently published report from the investigation at the University of Geneva warns against Rylander's research: "The Commission considers it legitimate to doubt the validity of the body of Ragnar Rylander's work directly or indirectly concerned with tobacco smoke." This is, of course, an exceptional measure. The commission recommends that the university should issue a warning against Rylander's research results through three major medical journals.

Rylander writes in his polemic article that "I have myself chosen to work with the industry since I have been able to do that as an independent scientist." This is an example of what is called contradictio in adjecto. When he performs work funded with industry money, he is of course no longer independent - especially not during 40 years, under employment-like circumstances.

As one concrete example of Rylander's services to the industry one might mention when he wrote an estimate to the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), posing as an independent scientist. In a confidential document Philip Morris declare that their objective in the campaign against the EPA is to "discredit the EPA report" (on passive smoking) and "to prevent states and cities, as well as businesses from passing smoking bans". Rylander helped out by writing a statement to the EPA, where the conclusion after several fax messages to and from Philip Morris finally was this: "If [...] the advice to a mother with a child with repeated upper respiratory infections, is to stop smoking instead of the appropriate recommendation that the child should be fed a better diet, the public health effort will fail."

Unfortunately, the tobacco industry is not doing research in order to better illuminate the risks associated with its product, as Rylander wants us to believe. Several of the formerly confidential Philip Morris documents, now available on the Internet, tell us that the objective of the industry's research has been not to directly deny an association between tobacco and various diseases but "creating doubt", among journalists and the public by diverging their attention to other factors, such as diet. It is with this kind of services that Rylander has assisted the industry during four decades, as a secretly employed expert consultant.

Karl-Erik Tallmo

NOTE: The text marked in red ("in connection with the Geneva trials") was deleted by the editor of the printed journal. This is not serious but not trivial either. Fraud was discussed in connection with the Geneva trials. But in the report from the Geneva university investigation the manipulation of the child study is not regarded as an established case of fraud. On the other hand, the totality of Rylander's scientific deeds is regarded as fraudulent: "les agissements de Ragnar Rylander correspondent à 'une fraude scientifique sans précédent'." My original text also mentioned the exact amounts of the consultancy fee and the research grant, 90,000 USD and 60,000 USD respectively, but those figures were edited out in the print version.

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