Tobacco sponsors tomato work, too
The New York Times linkurl:reported;http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/26/health/research/26lung.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hp&adxnnlx=1206540626-U/Hi/ilxjsfY10QFkfyPCg today (March 26) that a major tobacco company -- the Liggett Group -- sponsored a controversial lung cancer study last year totaling about $3.6 million in grants. Interestingly enough, I got an Email a couple of weeks ago from linkurl:Stanton Glantz,;http://cancer.ucsf.edu/people/glantz_stanton.
The New York Times linkurl:reported;http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/26/health/research/26lung.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hp&adxnnlx=1206540626-U/Hi/ilxjsfY10QFkfyPCg today (March 26) that a major tobacco company -- the Liggett Group -- sponsored a controversial lung cancer study last year totaling about $3.6 million in grants. Interestingly enough, I got an Email a couple of weeks ago from linkurl:Stanton Glantz,;http://cancer.ucsf.edu/people/glantz_stanton.php University of California researcher and spokesperson against tobacco research funding, pointing me to a linkurl:story;http://cornellsun.com/node/28477 in the Cornell Daily Sun reporting that Cornell had received a nearly $1 million grant from Philip Morris USA.
A press officer for Philip Morris International declined to say how much the grant was for, but confirmed that PMI had entered a research agreement with Cornell in 2006 aimed at constructing comparative genome maps of tobacco and other solaneceous species, like tomato, eggplant, potato, and coffee, among others. PMI's interest in this research project is to "use the knowledge to potentially enhance leaf properties such as flavor, reduce the harm caused by tobacco or improve the agricultural performance of the plant," the spokesperson wrote in an Email.
According to PMI, the linkurl:project;http://vivo.cornell.edu/entity?home=1&uri=http%3a%2f%2fvivo.library.cornell.edu%2fns%2f0.1%23individual27839 is being led by linkurl:Steven Tanksley;http://plbrgen.cals.cornell.edu/people/profiles/tanksleysteven.cfm in the plant breeding and genetics department at Cornell. Cornell media relations officer Blaine Friedlander confirmed this, and also that the grant is in the amount of $923,037 for a project that is scheduled to run until this December. "Steve Tanksley is one of our premier professors," Friedlander said. "We're completely open [about the funding], it's out there. There's no secret."
Tanksley, a Wolf Prize recipient, has written more than 250 papers on linkurl:plant genetics,;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54428/ according to the ISI database. He did not immediately return calls for comment.
Many universities have chosen to ban tobacco funding, while some like the University of California continue to debate the issue of a ban (read more linkurl:here).;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/53711/
Obviously $1 million can get you far mapping plant genomes. Do you think basic research can benefit from large grants like this one, even if they come from tobacco companies? Tell us in a comment to this story.
March 27, 2008
This idea that commercially sourced funds are bad is founded on the idea that researchers will be motivated to falsify data or falsify results. And, that is true to some extent. \n\nHowever, this idea is founded on the unexamined presumption that researchers are less motivated to falsify data or results in return for grant money. And that presumption is absolutely false. \n\nThe bottom line is that in the end, bogus research will be outed, and the more money that is available to cross-validate results in an area, the more likely that both accidents and deliberate falsifications will be figured out. \n\nIn practice, I think the reality is that academic researchers who receive commercial money do better work, with less falsification of data and results than those that receive grants. The reason is that commercial/private money work is more carefully scrutinized. \n\nBut in this particular instance, the controversy has little to do with whether the money is commercial or not. The controversy is about political correctness regarding money coming from tobacco. But tobacco contributes to tax dollars, and so do arms manufacturers and a whole host of other unappetizing businesses. So in the end the question boils down to whether or not money that hasn't been laundered through the federal government is acceptable. \n\nOf course it is.