Friday, July 16, 2004

On the IBM/Clapp controversy

There was a furor last month when other contributors to a special November 2004 issue of Clinics in Occupational and Environmental Medicine withdrew their papers in protest over a refusal by Elsevier to publish therein a paper by Richard Clapp on occupational exposure of Silicon Valley semiconductor workers (of IBM) to various solvents.

In a recent issue of Science, IBM has presented its side of the story in the format of a "letter to the editor." In this letter, Scott R. Brooks responds to the Sciences's May 14, 2004 article about the topic, saying that Clapp's data are “incomplete and inadequate for reliable study,” and that Clinics is not a peer-reviewed journal. He adds that that Clinics' guest editor, Joe LaDou, of the University of California School of Medicine at San Francisco, was a plaintiffs' expert in litigation against IBM. The fact that Clapp's study was driven by litigation raises “serious questions about its objectivity,” he says.

The journal The Scientist talked to Joe LaDou. LaDou told The Scientist that he was asked to serve as a historical expert to present background information during the deposition for the California case because he was one of the few people in practice in Silicon Valley during the late 1960s, when many of the allegedly detrimental exposures occurred. However, he never testified in the actual trial.

“I have never been an expert witness in my entire career,” he said.

Further, the author of the May 14 article in Science, Dan Ferber, writes that he asked three epidemiologists with no relationship to the litigation to look at the study, and all said the results were preliminary but “scientifically valid and deserving of further study.”



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