Dispatch: Snack Defense, Harvard Offense, Chemophobic, Biosimilar

A Brief Glimpse of Todd
For those of you who want to catch a glimpse of ACSH's elusive Todd Seavey, look for John Stossel's new show tonight at 8pm (EST) on Fox Business Network. Seavey can be seen briefly in the final segment, defending snack consumption as an audience commenter.

HSPH Disappoints
ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, a graduate of the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), is irate about the hyperbolic language describing the alleged “health risks” of plastics -- particularly the chemicals BPA and phthalates -- in an article titled “Plastics: Danger Where We Least Expect It” (originally “How Dangerous Are Plastics?” in the print version) from the most recent issue of the HSPH magazine Harvard Public Health Review.

“This is not balanced reporting about public health,” says Dr. Whelan. “It is pure environmental activism aimed at stirring up consumer concern about the safety of BPA and phthalates, both of which have been used safely for over fifty years. The author of the piece, an editor at the Review, talks about purely hypothetical risks -- mainly based on animal studies -- and addresses neither the benefits of these chemicals nor what substitutes, if any, they have in mind for BPA and phthalates, and what the safety profiles of those substitutes might be.

“This article is very important, as it demonstrates that academics at HSPH with distinguished titles and backgrounds are drifting from sound science and common sense to advocating the banning of useful technologies. The people quoted in the article may not be representative of the entire school. I don't know. But I will say this: when HSPH awarded their Julius Richmond Award -- their highest honor -- to Erin Brockovich, I couldn't find one person there to agree with me that it was a terrible travesty. No one spoke up.”

Dr. Whelan's full critique of the HSPH article, “The Harvard School of (Unscientific) Public Health (Activism),” is available on HealthFactsAndFears.

The Silent Majority Stays Silent
The activist group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families released a report calling for reform of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) because they believe that “by reforming TSCA, we can reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals, improve our nation's health, and lower the cost of health care.”

“The claims in this report that 'chemicals cause everything from breast cancer to autism' are scientifically baseless,” says Dr. Ross.

“When you consider the scare stories about plastics from a group of Harvard scientists and this environmental coalition demanding across-the-board regulation of myriad synthetic chemicals, I have to raise the question, 'Why is chemophobia in such full bloom recently?'” says Dr. Whelan. “The reason is that chemophobes dominate the discussion. The overwhelming majority of scientists remain mute when science is distorted. They are afraid to speak up for fear of criticism.”

“The next generation of public health experts is now being trained at the Harvard School of Public Health,” says ACSH's Jeff Stier. “They're not being trained to see through things like this.”

Dr. Whelan notes, “An ACSH-like group in England called Sense About Science actually takes out ads in newspapers with this message, which I'm paraphrasing: 'Are You A Scientist? If so, you have a moral obligation to speak out against the abuse of science and exaggeration about health risks.' Would this work here in the United States, or are mainstream scientists intimidated?”

Dr. Whelan goes on to recall that after the ACSH paper on trans fats was published -- which concluded that a ban on trans fats at the minuscule level they are present in our diet did not increase the risk of heart disease -- ACSH shared the paper with ten elite blood-lipid specialists, all of whom agreed with the conclusions of the paper but added, “Please do not quote me.”

“This is not necessarily a profession-wide problem,” Dr. Whelan points out. “Last night, I spent my time reading the Yale School of Public Health's magazine. It had nothing but very good, scientific research, nothing like what was in the Harvard Public Health Review. But the harsh reality is that the majority of scientists don't speak out to defend sound science for fear of personal humiliation, fear that they'll be called a paid shill for industry.”

Dr. Ross adds, “The increasing vehemence of the anti-chemical 'environmentalist' fringe is to some extent due to the cues they are getting from the new, highly-proactive EPA in their attack on 'chemicals of concern.'”

“Biosimilars” Not “Biothesames”
An advertisement sponsored by the North American Thrombosis Forum appeared in both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal yesterday to inform the public that the healthcare reform bills in Congress allow the FDA to approve generic versions of biologic medicines (called “follow-on biologics” or “biosimilars”).

“Biologics are not like conventional pharmaceuticals,” the ad reads. “Although a biologic might appear similar to the innovator product in laboratory tests, inherent variability could lead to important differences in potency, safety, or effectiveness when administered to a patient.”

“There's a balance between safety and getting lower-cost generics or follow-on biologics to market so we'll have more affordable biologic drugs,” says Stier. “Biologics are fundamentally different from regular pharmaceuticals, where you just copy the formula and you have a generic version. Where is Dr. Sidney Wolfe's Public Citizen on this issue? Groups usually focused on pharmaceutical safety are deafeningly silent on this issue. Where are they when their allies in Congress are pushing to allow quicker marketing of biosimilars? Here, apparently, safety is secondary, since they just want cheaper drugs. This speaks to the hypocrisy of groups like Public Citizen that claim to be concerned for the health of patients.”

Curtis Porter is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org).