BOSTON –A Harvard review has found that a dentistry professor did not commit research misconduct while looking into potential links between fluoride in drinking water and a rare form of bone cancer.
The Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, filed an ethics complaint against Chester Douglass, a professor of oral health policy and epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Dental Medicine, in 2005, claiming he downplayed research that showed an increased risk of the bone cancer osteosarcoma for boys who drink fluoridated tap water.
An inquiry panel and the Standing Committee on Faculty Conduct at Harvard, both made up of senior faculty, conducted reviews of Douglass. They concluded he “did not intentionally omit, misrepresent or suppress research findings,” the Harvard Medical School and School of Dental Medicine said in a news release Tuesday.
EWG also claimed there was a conflict of interest because of Douglass’ work as editor of The Colgate Oral Health Report, a quarterly newsletter funded by Colgate-Palmolive Co., which makes fluoridated toothpaste. However, the Harvard review found no conflict of interest under school and federal guidelines.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Research Integrity, which oversees misconduct reviews, said no further investigation would be done. Douglass’ case was closed, Harvard Medical School spokesman John Lacey said Wednesday.
He wouldn’t comment on the review’s details, citing confidentiality rules.
Douglass’ 1992-1999 study found the odds of having osteosarcoma for those who drank fluoridated water were “not statistically different” from those who drank non-fluoridated water.
However, Elise Bassin, a doctoral student Douglass supervised, said in her 2001 thesis based on some of the same people used in Douglass’ study that boys who drink fluoridated water appear to have an increased risk of developing the bone cancer.
The Harvard committees took no position on whether there was a link between fluoride and osteosarcoma.
Richard Wiles, EWG’s senior vice president, criticized the review, saying it should have been more open, involved people not associated with Harvard and included his group during the process. EWG hoped to get records of the review, possibly through a Freedom of Information Act request, he said.
“If we had been able to participate, we would have been able to object to the setup,” Wiles said. “It looks like a white wash to us.”
Lacey said the panels were not required to contact EWG during their reviews.
A phone message left for Douglass by The Associated Press was not immediately returned.?