Chairmen Question Scientific Rigor of Published Medical Article

Jun 13, 2013

Washington, D.C. – Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-Ga.) and Research Subcommittee Chairman Larry Bucshon (R-Ind.) today sent a letter to National Institute of Health (NIH) Director Francis Collins raising concerns about a recent article published by Dr. Linda Birnbaum, Director of NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP).  The article, titled, “When Environmental Chemicals Act Like Uncontrolled Medicine,” was published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism.

Chairmen Broun and Bucshon, both Medical Doctors, wrote: “We encourage government scientists to continue their research and publish their work.  However, to avoid confusion, government scientists must clearly distinguish when they are speaking on their own behalf, or as a government official.  In her article, Dr. Birnbaum makes statements that either lack scientific citations, or draw conclusions not supported by the citation referenced.  Without an explicit disclaimer, it is unclear whether the article represents Dr. Birnbaum’s personal views or reflects administration policy.”

The letter raises concerns that the broad and unsubstantiated statements in Dr. Birnbaum’s article “appear to represent both her viewpoint as well as that of HHS.” The lawmakers also criticize Dr. Birnbaum’s failure to respond to official congressional questions submitted after she testified before the Science, Space, and Technology Committee in April, 2012.

“The confusing nature of Dr. Birnbaum’s authorship of her article - whether the views in the article are her own or those of NIH, HHS, or the Administration - raise questions about the NIH’s commitment to transparency,” the lawmakers wrote.  “As a senior-level employee at HHS, we hold Dr. Birnbaum to an appropriately high standard. We expect Dr. Birnbaum to be accurate and transparent in the presentation of scientific data and in describing peer reviewed studies.  We also expect her to respond to questions from Members of Congress that are part of an official hearing record.”

The Chairmen’s letter requests clarification on the views expressed in the article, and whether it was subject to NIH procedures for non-peer-reviewed publications.  If the article does not reflect the views of the administration, the lawmakers insist that “an appropriate disclaimer be added to this article and included in all similar articles by HHS employees.”

The full letter can be found HERE.