Seven years ago, the Boston University School of Public Health held a meeting and voted to prevent any group or individual from placing restrictions on their research. This defense of academic freedom, though made with the right intentions, left a gaping question to the issue of what, if any, sources of funding SPH will not accept. With the issue of tobacco companies funding scientific research currently a hot topic, SPH has again called attention to the issue by holding a conversation Monday.
Tobacco’s harm is no secret. Cigarette smoke is responsible for one in five American deaths, according to the American Cancer Society.
But the question of whether SPH should ban research funds from certain sources seems to be unimportant at this rate, as none of its research has been funded by tobacco. More important is the medical school’s use of questionable funding sources, and its evasion of the issue.
The School of Medicine should follow its neighbor’s example and address the issue directly.
SPH has a right to say that it is unethical for any medical institution to accept research funds from tobacco companies, conflict of interest or not. It is against the mission of medical colleges and schools to accept funding from an industry that makes a business of destroying public health.
Harvard University announced in 2004 that it would stop accepting donations from tobacco companies to fund research products, because it did not want to send a hypocritical message. All medical schools should follow HMS’ lead. That includes this university.
The School of Public Health should do everything to foster conversations like the one held on Monday. To this point, tobacco funding conflicts of interest have not been an issue for SPH, but have been for the medical school, much to BU’s embarrassment. It is very troubling for any research university, let alone one of the size and reputation of BU, to allow these ethical lapses to continue unchecked.