Edward Calabrese gave Atomic Insights permission to publish a letter he sent to Marcia McNutt, Editor-in-Chief of Science. His letter is quoted between the two lines below with detailed contact information removed.
August 19, 2015
Dr. Marcia K. McNutt
Editor-in-Chief, Science family of journals
Dear Dr. McNutt:
I read your e-mail letter to Dr. Cuttler, rejecting his request (and others) to retract the NAS BEAR I, Committee Genetics Panel published in Science in June, 1956 due to its multiple incidents of serious falsification and fabrication. I have carefully studied your five reasons for this decision.
While I commend you for your directness and transparency in sharing the basis of the decision, I have concluded that your analysis of the issue was faulty on each of the five reasons (see attached or below) and contradicted by the factual record in a number of cases. While I know you wrote that the decision was “final”, I hope that you will be open to the new analysis and that you will reconsider this issue.
Edward J. Calabrese, Ph.D.
Department of Environmental Health Sciences
School of Public Health and Health Sciences
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA
Issue # 1: Is the situation extraordinary given the 60 year time lag?
The situation is extraordinary because the LNT model for cancer risk assessment continues to dominate all regulatory agencies, affects clinical treatments, environmental regulations, clean-up costs, medical treatment strategies, all needlessly wasting massive resources. In fact, it is widely believed that the recommendations by the NAS BEAR I Committee, Genetics Panel to switch from threshold to the LNT model was the most significant event in the history of risk assessment. It is also extraordinary because substantial contemporary toxicological discoveries have revealed serious failings with the LNT model with findings more consistent with the threshold and hormesis models.
Issue # 2: New discoveries are constantly advancing the frontiers of science:
Contrary to your statement, my letter did not challenge an older paper (i.e., NAS Genetics Panel Science paper, 1956) based on new discoveries such as DNA repair, adaptive responses, apoptosis, and hormesis that could create non-linear dose responses. It is, however, challenging this paper because it falsified and fabricated the research record and it continues to affect, in significant ways, the beliefs and actions of regulatory agencies, influential governmental and non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, materials and practices, and leaders in the risk assessment field – all without their knowledge that the Genetics Panel paper in Science is now recognized as being based on fraud and deception.
Issue # 3: Is the Science paper trustworthy? You claim that this is not knowable because; new standards for evaluation; because the authors are not alive; and the 1950s recordkeeping is poor and without knowledge of how this paper was reviewed.
The issues of falsification and fabrication are historically founded and have long been addressed by professional standards in the sciences and their journals. My published articles have shown that the research record was deliberately altered in the Science paper by the Genetics Panel and I possess and cited the text of letters and memos documenting the scientific misconduct and the reasons why the falsification/fabrication was done. The fact that none of the Panel members are alive is adequately compensated by the factual record which is substantive and unequivocal, with high internal and external consistency. It is not significant to the present case whether the Genetics Panel paper in Science received a peer-review, as most reports by high level advisory committees are usually stand alone and not subject to standard peer-review processes, as are papers of individual scientists. Nonetheless, all papers need integrity and honest reporting. My published papers have shown that the BEAR I Genetics Panel failed in this regard in multiple and critical ways, affecting key conclusions and acceptance of their findings by the scientific community, governmental agencies and the general public.
Issue # 4: Is the problem one of scientific quality or integrity?
You do not provide any specific evidence, but offer a general statement that many examples cited in the Calabrese (2015) paper concerned scientific quality rather than integrity. The fact that there were important issues raised about scientific quality (e.g. the obvious description of Jim Crow’s research method) does not detract from the integrity issue. The key point is that it was because of the poor data quality that the Panel decided to cover up their scientific weaknesses (i.e., poor quality) so that their goal of a switch to LNT could occur. The central issue is that the Panel was not honest and altered the research record to promote this goal. I suspect that if the data quality were good, they would not have “needed” to lie and deceive. However, their LNT goal was more important than truth.
Issue # 5: The continuing “pervasive influence” of the 1956 paper:
You cite an unnamed knowledgeable independent consultant who told you that the LNT is now based on many more papers than the NRC report and Muller’s work. First, the Calabrese (2015) paper never states that the LNT was based on Muller’s research. It states that Muller used his influence to promote acceptance of the LNT by being dishonest in his spoken and written words, all of which were documented. The paper traced the initial acceptance of the LNT to the work of Curt Stern and his students and these were highly criticized in the Calabrese paper. It was the Stern papers that the BEAR I Genetics Panel based their beliefs upon and cited in subsequent Congressional testimony (1957). You stated that the more recent BEIR reports do not base their recommendations on Muller’s work and focus now on cancer. In multiple papers I show that within one year of BEAR I, that major advisory groups had generalized the Genetics Panel recommendation from genetic risk to cancer risk assessment. We have also documented that the US EPA in the late 1970s specifically relied on the BEAR Genetics Panel 1956 recommendation when it adopted LNT, showing clearly that your assertions are incorrect. More specifically, Roy Albert, Chair of the EPA Carcinogen Group, in his 1994 paper in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, has reported that EPA adopted the LNT model of the Atomic Energy Commission (who adopted the BEAR I, Genetics Panel report) that had been applied to estimating risk for fallout from atomic weapon tests. He stated that it was clear, simple, and easily understood and was plausible based on the linearity of the mutation response (see BEAR I) within the framework of target theory. He then noted that “any difference between chemical carcinogens and ionizing radiation could be waved aside as both cause genetic damage.” Thus, the BEAR I report in Science served as the critical foundation for the current EPA LNT cancer risk assessment.
A vast number of published papers with experimental data contradict the LNT model. In fact, the mega-mouse (24,000 mice) study of the FDA to estimate the shape of the dose response in the low dose zone showed a striking hormetic dose response for bladder cancer as emphasized by a 14-member expert panel of the Society of Toxicology. Detailed Japanese studies with DDT showed clear hormetic dose responses for carcinogenicity. Numerous whole animal cancer bioassays with ionizing radiation show reduced cancer risks and life extension at low doses in multiple models. These and numerous other findings, along with the above conceptual developments (DNA repair, adaptive response, etc.) all happened after BEAR I. If anything, the LNT model decision should have been reversed except for the ideological grip that has long enveloped this field.
In summary, this response addresses each issue that your letter used to support your rejection of the request to retract the NAS 1956 Science paper due to research misconduct. The evidence presented here provides an objective basis for you to reconsider the proposal to retract the 1956 NAS Genetics Panel Science paper. The evidence is convincing that misconduct did occur, and the issue is too important to continue to ignore. Science has a professional and moral responsibility to correct this continuing scientific deceit.
While engaged in expanded reading to find out more about how the LNT promotional effort was sustained and reinforced until it became firmly embedded, I’ve been reading James V. Neel’s Physician to the Gene Pool. (Yes, I realize I have some odd taste in summer reading material.)
The following quote provides support for several of Calabrese’s statements. For context, Neel is sharing observations about the 1959 meetings of the NAS BEAR Genetics Panel, which was convened following a three year period from the original 1956 report. The panel was reconvened, among other reasons, to review the results of W. L. Russell’s study of the effects of dose rate on mutational rates in mice. In addition to new study results to review, the panel included a key new member, T. H. Dobzhansky.
Muller had come into the initial round of meetings with a well-thought-through position and firmly held views that exerted great influence on Committee thinking. Now these were challenged. I found myself increasingly siding with Dobzhansky, on the grounds that we knew too little about human genetics (a view certainly reinforced by the later developments we have discussed) to be as definitive in our treatment as Muller would have wished.
The exchange assumed a new dimension as Sewall Wright more actively entered the fray. Wright, and the Englishman J.B.S. Haldane and R.A. Fisher, were the founding fathers of modern statistical genetics. Wright–always a rather quiet person–had clearly not been happy with Muller’s certainty in the first round of Committee meetings, but he had not pressed the issue to an impasse. Now he was ready. He began to challenge Muller more and more. The contrast between the mathematically rigorous thinking of Wright and the brilliantly intuitive thinking of Muller was fascinating. I recall one memorable exchange when Wright pushed Muller further and further on a point of difference. The “J” which was Muller’s middle initial was an abbreviation for Joseph, and many of his friends called him Joe. “How can you be so sure of this, Joe?”, asked Wright. Muller thought for an instant and then, drawing himself to his full 5’4″, he replied, “I just know, Sewall, I just know.” That terminated that particular discussion.
(Source: Neel, James V., Physician to the Gene Pool, Wiley and Sons, 1994 pp 322-323)
For me, Neel’s observation illustrates both the impact that a well-prepared individual or small group can have on the agenda followed by a committee made up of less prepared people, and the growing resistance that can develop once other members of the group have the opportunity to reflect on the decisions they made under the influence of the forceful, but not necessarily correct person(s).
I’ve seen the same dynamic on numerous occasions; in fact, I’ve been the one with the “well-thought-through” agenda.
There is one more quote from Neel’s book that is pertinent to the question about the “pervasive influence” of the 1956 Genetics Committee report.
Unfortunately, the 1956 report received far more attention than the 1960 report, and Wright’s thoughtful essay went relatively unnoticed.
The day after the 1956 report was issued, there were no less than 4 articles about it in the New York Times, including the full text of the report which spanned three pages of newsprint. It was covered in a variety of other newspapers and repeated in full in the June 1956 issue of Science. I’d bet there was a carefully prepared communications plan associated with its release. I’m on a quest to see if such a document can be located.