International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, Vol 13,
No 3 (2007)
IBM, Elsevier Science, and Academic Freedom
JOHN C. BAILAR, III, PHD, ANDRE CICOLELLA, DIPL ENG, ROBERT HARRISON,
MD, MPH, JOSEPH LADOU, MD, BARRY S. LEVY, MD, MPH, TIMOTHY ROHM, PHD,
CIH,, DANIEL T. TEITELBAUM, MD, YUNG-DER WANG, MD, PHD, ANDREW
WATTERSON, PHD, FUMIKAZU YOSHIDA, PHD
Elsevier Science refused to publish a study of IBM workers that IBM
sought to keep from public view. Occupational and environmental health
(OEH) suffers from the absence of a level playing field on which science
can thrive. Industry pays for a substantial portion of OEH research.
Studies done by private consulting firms or academic institutions may be
published if the results suit the sponsoring companies, or they may be
censored. OEH journals often reflect the dominance of industry influence
on research in the papers they publish, sometimes withdrawing or
modifying papers in line with industry and advertising agendas. Although
such practices are widely recognized, no fundamental change is supported
by government and industry or by professional organizations.
In 1985, a chemist working in the Material Analysis Department at the
IBM research facility in San Jose, California, wrote a memo to IBM
Corporate Headquarters, alerting IBM officials to a cluster of cancers
that his colleagues had experienced.
1 Among the group of 12 workers in a research and development
laboratory, two had died of brain cancer, two had died of lymphatic
cancer, and two had died of gastrointestinal cancers. When two more
developed bone tumors and the group's leader later died of brain cancer,
the survivors pressed hard to bring IBM's attention to the issue. Gary
Adams, the author of the memo, said the response of a staff doctor to
his request that the company monitor its workers' health had been to say
such a program would be a waste of time, because "workers did not get
cancer from their jobs."
2 IBM commissioned a study of brain cancer mortality among electronics
workers, to be conducted by Beall and Delzell at the University of
Alabama, Birmingham (UAB).
3 The UAB investigators under contract to IBM have had considerable
experience in conducting industry- supported research over many years.
The IBM Corporate Mortality File cited in the study report recorded
deaths for virtually all U.S. IBM employees from 1969 to 1995. The study
was reported in 1996, more than a decade after the Adams memo was
submitted to management. The study prompted the authors to state that,
"Information about specific exposures in the work environment, such as
EMF, ionizing radiation, or chemical agents, was not available. Some of
the observed associations are difficult to interpret because exposure
information pertaining to division and job groups is lacking."
3 The UAB study found that mortality from brain cancer among male
electronics workers increased as the duration of employment in
"technical jobs" lengthened. This was consistent with a trend previously
reported, that the risk of dying from brain cancer is highest among
electrical and electronics workers with long-term work
histories—specifically, those of ten years or more—and with probable
exposures to solders and organic solvents.4 The earlier study found that
the risk of astrocytic tumors among electronics manufacture and repair
workers was increased tenfold among those employed for 20 years or more.
From Beperk De Straling