Friday, January 05, 2024

National Academies Replaces Big Alcohol-Conflicted Researcher on Review Panel with Another Big Alcohol-Conflicted Researcher

Just over one month ago, I reported that the National Academies had appointed to their newly formed expert committee to review the health effects of alcohol two scientists who were principal investigators of a research grant funded by the alcohol industry to the tune of $67 million (Dr. Eric Rimm and Dr. Kenneth Mukamal). After New York Times reporter Roni Rabin exposed these conflicts of interest in an article, the National Academies announced that it had pulled both Dr. Rimm and Dr. Mukamal from the panel and would replace them.

The National Academies recently announced the replacement panelists, and one of them is Dr. Luc Djousse, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. 

Shockingly, it turns out that Dr. Djousse also has a conflict of interest with Big Alcohol, as he has received research funding from the Alcohol Beverage Medical Research Foundation, an alcohol industry front group that funnels money from the industry to researchers, serving as a "middle-man" that hides the connection between Big Alcohol and the research.

Furthermore, Dr. Djousse is a member of the International Scientific Forum on Alcohol Research (ISFAR), a supposedly "independent" panel that reviews alcohol research studies. However, ISFAR was funded by the alcohol industry and most of its panelists have conflicts of interest with Big Alcohol. Dr. Djousse's biography on the ISFAR site fails to reveal that he has received funding from the alcohol industry - specifically, the Alcoholic Beverage Medical Research Foundation. Not surprisingly, ISFAR is critical of any study that reports harmful effects of moderate drinking and praises any study that finds benefits of moderate drinking. In its reviews, ISFAR does not reveal the conflicts of interest of panel members.

Even worse, Dr. Djousse has not always been forthright about disclosing his previous funding from the alcohol industry. For example, in a paper published in 2019, he discloses current research funding but not his previous alcohol industry funding. That article, as well as many others that Djousse has authored, touts the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. 

Finally, Dr. Djousse is a close colleague of Dr. Mukamal's and has co-authored papers with him that tout the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. Having him on the panel is the next closest thing to having Dr. Mukamal on the panel himself.

The Rest of the Story

Because of his conflicts of interest, Dr. Djousse should be removed from this panel in order to preserve the integrity of both the panel and of the National Academies itself.

Moreover, the fact that the National Academies has now twice selected researchers with conflicts of interest with the alcohol industry to serve on this panel suggests that something more sinister is going on than simply a coincidence. The National Academies has now selected three different panelists, all of whom have received alcohol funding and all of whom have published articles touting the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. At the same time, the National Academies has failed to appoint to the panel any of the numerous non-conflicted researchers who were nominated. And even after it was called out publicly for appointing members with conflicts of interest with Big Alcohol, the National Academies simply replaced one conflicted panelist with another conflicted panelist who was a close colleague of the first conflicted panelist.

When this happened once, I was suspicious that there was something going on behind the scenes because the appointments of Dr. Rimm and Dr. Mukamal have the appearance of suggested that some sort of alcohol industry influence was taking place. But now that this has happened a second time, I think that a formal investigation into the formation of this panel is warranted. It smells of alcohol industry influence in some form. In the absence of an investigation, the conclusions of this panel will be forever tainted and cannot be trusted or viewed as impartial.

If the National Academies fails to remove Dr. Djousse from the panel, it will be a slam dunk case of their promoting the interests of the alcohol industry over objective scientific review.