When Washington Post reporter David Brown called the Harvard School of Public Health's Center for Risk Analysis (HCRA) a few weeks ago, he was looking for an impartial opinion of a recently released government report on human exposure to certain toxins. His story quoted the HCRA's spokesperson, David Ropeik, who said the study showed only the presence of toxins but not an actual hazard.
The quote caught the eye of Ron Collins at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington interest group and a watchdog for the "corporatization of science."
According to Collins, the HCRA is on the CSPI's list of "sinners," organizations that his group tracks that take large sums of money from industry sources. These groups, he says, more often than not put out studies that are favorable to those corporations.
Collins fired off a letter to the Post the next day. In that March 23 letter, Collins wrote "The public is entitled to know about such conflicts in order to make more informed decisions about the reliability of the experts quoted."
This incident is just another episode in the controversy surrounding the HCRA and its founder and director, Professor of Policy and Decision Sciences John D. Graham, who was tapped by President George Bush to head the powerful Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
The nomination has galvanized Graham's opponents who claim that he uses the Harvard name to push a pro-business point of view. His supporters counter that the opposition, including Ralph Nader's group "Public Citizen," which released a highly critical 130-page report on Graham's work last month, are waging a political battle by attacking his scientific credentials.
"This is definitely a political issue," said Graham-supporter and Yale Law School Professor E. Donald Elliott. "The Democrats are trying to portray the current administration as being anti-environment."
But Graham's critics say the real issue is the integrity of science-and Harvard's good name-and say their disagreements with Graham are more than purely political.
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