In an article originally published on July 10, 2020, in Le Monde, and later republished in English in Environmental Health News (EHN), authors Stéphane Horel and Stéphane Foucart criticize the “veiled conflicts of interest” held by 19 scientists who recently published an editorial article on evaluating the risks of synthetic endocrine disrupting chemicals (S-EDCs) (with the same text also appearing in seven other toxicology journals, see below for references). The 19 authors of this editorial describe themselves as “a group of senior scientists with a long interest in the subject” and argue that “human exposure to synthetic endocrine-disrupting chemicals is generally negligible”, hence “further studies and regulatory consequences will not be warranted.” In contrast, Le Monde writes that the editorial’s authors “call themselves ‘prominent’ specialists” though “they are not” and points out that their arguments are based on self-citation of earlier editorials, articles written by non-independent consultants on behalf of industry partners, and outdated studies that were carried out before most of the research on EDCs began.
Thus, toxicologist Linda Birnbaum, who is the former head of the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), commented that the scientific content of the editorial is “out-of-date and one-sided.” The Endocrine Society, the largest scientific society in the field of endocrine research, has also strongly criticized the editorial. “The editorial disregards the large body of evidence linking endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure to public health harms,” said Barbara Demeneix, Chair of the Society’s EDC Advisory Group and Professor within the Comparative Physiology Laboratory at the Natural History Museum in Paris, France.
The Le Monde article goes on to present a detailed review completed on the research output of the EDC editorial’s authors. This analysis found that the key terms “endocrine,” “estrogen,” “androgen,” “thyroid,” and “bisphenol A” have rarely appeared in their earlier published articles and that for many these terms appeared only in commentaries, letters, or editorial pieces, but not in peer-reviewed research articles or reviews. These are “self-proclaimed experts with no expertise,” said Ana Soto, Professor of Immunology at the Tufts University School of Medicine, US.
Another important criticism raised about this editorial focuses on the repeat publication of the same article across eight different journals where some of the authors also serve as editors. Such duplicate publication is grossly misleading and therefore widely regarded as an unacceptable practice in scientific research and publishing. Birnbaum calls it “inexcusable.”
Further, although all authors declared no competing interests, Le Monde writes that a review of their (past) professional connections brings to light questionable working relationships with chemical and product manufactures that could be adversely impacted by EDC regulation. Helmut Greim, corresponding author of the editorial and former Professor of Toxicology at the Technical University of Munich, Germany, told Le Monde that the group’s editorial “is merely science based” and that he hopes that Le Monde article “will discuss science and not whether one or the other of the authors has worked with industry.”
In a separate article published by Environmental Health News (EHN) on July 10, 2020, Jerrold Heindel, a former program administrator at the US NIEHS, provided further comments on the editorial. “How can one assess the state of a field with references this old, no up-to-date original articles or recent reviews upon which to base their opinions, and no real expertise in the field?” he writes. “This editorial and its repeat publication are an unethical attempt to foster the views of the chemical industry at the expense of human health.”
Stéphane Horel and Stéphane Foucart (June 23, 2020). “Endocrine disruptors in Europe: Nineteen “experts” are polluting the debate.” Environmental Health News from Le Monde
Stéphane Horel and Stéphane Foucart (June 23, 2020). “Perturbateurs endocriniens: ces experts contestés qui jouent les semeurs de doute.” Le Monde
Jerrold J. Heindel (July 10, 2020). “The dangers of opinion masquerading as fact in science journals: Jerrold J. Heindel.” Environmental Health News
Autrup, H et al. (2020). “Human exposure to synthetic endocrine disrupting chemicals (S-EDCs) is generally negligible as compared to natural compounds with higher or comparable endocrine activity. How to evaluate the risk of the S-EDCs?” Toxicology in Vitro 67: 104861. [The same editorial text has also been published by 7 other toxicology journals: Archives of Toxicology; Chemico-Biological Interactions; Computational Toxicology; Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology; Food and Chemical Toxicology; Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A; Toxicology Letters.]