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RJR and the supression of research
This may be a little bit off topic for the list, but because it
deals with secrecy and information generated through research, I
thought that maybe you might be interested.
Late last night on CSPAN they rebroadcast a House sub-committee
hearing from last Thursday on cigarettes. Two former RJR
scientists testified about the work they had done, which strongly
suggested that nicotine was highly addictive. As many of you
might know, RJR management has always denied that anything in
cigarette smoke is addictive. The two researchers testified that
top RJR management had been informed about their work, and the
picture they painted of the interactions between the science
people and management makes it pretty clear that RJR management
not only knew about the work, they understood and accepted it as
well. The company's claims that nicotine is not addictive is
sort of hard to swallow given the fact that they were conducting
research which was intended to develop other analogue substances
which would look like nicotine to the neural receptors in the
brain, but which wouldn't put so much stress on the heart.
Apparently, such substances were discovered, but the company
elected not to pursue further research. This decision was made
in the face of over 150,000 deaths each year due to smoking
induced heart-attacks in the US alone.
The reason I'm writing about this here, on the CP list, is that
RJR suppressed the information. The research itself was
conducted in a secretive manner (animals were moved into the
buildings under the cover of darkness, visitors were not allowed
in the facility, etc.). What's more, the scientists involved
signed contracts which prevented them from disclosing their work
to anyone outside of the company. Those contracts are not
unusual in the corporate world, but the researchers claimed that
it was highly unusual, unheard of even, for the company to bury
the information permanently. According to the researchers, it is
considered legitimate to withhold information temporarily, in
order to establish a market ahead of competitors, or for other
market based reasons. It is not considered to be legitimate to
use the contracts to suppress research because the company
doesn't like the results of it.
After the lab was closed by RJR, the scientists made attempts to
publish their work despite the contracts they had signed. In
each instance, the journals and the scientists were threatened
with law suits, and the journals pulled the plug on the articles.
According to the testimony, the work done at RJR during this
period (ending in the early 80's) was cutting edge stuff that
didn't exist anywhere else. Because RJR suppressed it, other
scientists didn't have the opportunity to follow up on it, and
millions of people had less information at their disposal when
they decided whether or not they ought to smoke. Apparently much
of their work still has not been duplicated elsewhere.
All of this underscores, I think, the importance of the work
that's being done here, on the CP list. It's important for
scientists, whistle blowers, or whoever, to be able to distribute
information widely and anonymously. Who knows what might have
happened if these researchers had had a copy of PGP and a network
of remailers at their disposal?