Kathleen Ruff, Senior Advisor, quoted in “Activist blasts McGill’s absolution of asbestos researcher”

The Montreal Gazette published Monique Beaudin’s article “Activist blasts McGill’s absolution of asbestos researcher” on October 23, 2012. Beaudin quotes Kathleen Ruff, Senior Advisor, in her piece which details the reaction to the charges against professor John Corbett McDonald, which were cleared by McGill last Wednesday.

Activist blasts McGill’s absolution of asbestos researcher

MONTREAL — The investigation into misconduct charges aimed at a former McGill University professor’s asbestos research was biased and a “whitewash,” a group of doctors and anti-asbestos activists say.

McGill’s report, released last Wednesday, cleared retired Professor John Corbett McDonald of allegations of misconduct related to his research on into the health of Quebec asbestos workers.

McGill Research Integrity Officer Abraham Fuks said McDonald acknowledged he received financial support from the asbestos industry. In his report, Fuks said McDonald’s research was replicated by other groups and that its “robustness has endured many critical analyses and legal inquiries.”

Fuks also found there were no grounds to allegations the university colluded with the asbestos industry to promote asbestos use. Fuks also said he found no reason to further investigate the allegations against McDonald.

But the anti-asbestos activists say Fuks’s conclusions were wrong and that he didn’t take into account all the evidence provided to the university.

“When the McGill report says that McDonald’s research was robust and has been replicated by other scientists, and there is much controversy in the world about the safety of chrysotile asbestos, that’s just patently wrong,” said Dr. Colin Soskolne, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health, and one of four doctors to publicly criticize Fuks’s report.

“No one, to my knowledge, has been able to replicate the findings other than if they were funded by the asbestos industry.”

By the standards of the time, McDonald’s research may not have violated any rules, Soskolne said, but McGill should have acknowledged that by 2012 standards of integrity and research, he made “grievous offences.”

In his report, Fuks said McDonald’s research generated information that led to “the near complete disappearance of the asbestos industry in the developed world and the universal recognition of the toxicity of the product.”

In fact, Soskolne said, McDonald’s research is being used in legal proceedings in the United States to downplay the risks of asbestos exposure.

The activists say McGill’s review was “self-serving and without transparency.” They said McGill refused to disclose the terms of reference of the review, rejected concerns that the review process was flawed and excluded “crucial damning information.”

McGill should have an independent panel conduct an investigation, said Kathleen Ruff, a senior adviser with the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute.

“This has been a public-relations operation, not a credible investigation, and it brings dishonour on McGill,” Ruff said. “If McGill is confident about the quality of McDonald’s research, an independent panel will be helpful to them. However it is clear that they can’t handle the truth.”

The full article is available online.

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