As we shared with you last week, the first paper has been published as a result of grants that were awarded to several prestigious research institutions by the Center for Truth in Science in March 2021. The process used by the Center to select these researchers was rigorous, and provides valuable context to this important milestone.
Call for Proposals
The Center disseminated a Request for Application (RFA) throughout the toxicology and risk assessment scientific community in the fall of 2020. The purpose of the RFA was to solicit strong proposals from top line researchers to conduct critical reviews of existing research on four key issues—ethylene oxide, glyphosate, talc, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the last of which was the subject of this first publication.
Each of these substances is the subject of significant regulatory action in the United States and, in the case of PFAS, around the world. They are also at the center of major litigation battles, many of which are covered extensively in the news media. The Center selected these topics for its initial grants because they are clear examples of issues at the intersection of science, justice, and the economy.
The RFA called for expert analysis of the methodologies and results of the research studies that have been most frequently cited in risk assessment, public policymaking, and judicial decisions on the toxicity and carcinogenicity of each of these four areas. This was promised by the Center in its mission statement.
The Center’s CEO and Board consulted with independent scientists to determine which papers in each of these four fields should be included in the critical reviews, but also left openings for applicants to identify additional papers.
The window to submit proposals was open until November 2020. As peer review is a standard of the scientific enterprise, the Center contracted with an independent expert who had retired from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to recruit subject matter scientific experts, and set up and conduct an NIH-like review process.
Ten scientific reviewers followed standard requirements of NIH peer review, including signing conflict of interest statements and participating in closed independent review panels where the merits and limitations of each application were discussed by the independent experts.
The reviewers were mostly academics, as well as some private consultants, and were from the U.S. and Canada. All reviewers brought with them expertise in toxicology, epidemiology, and other scientific specialties related to the issues being studied. It was important to have a variety of viewpoints and background experiences represented, while remaining committed to strong technical qualifications.
After review and scoring, proposals were chosen for funding by Center leadership based on the scores and reviewer comments. All awards followed priority score order (i.e., the highest scoring proposals were chosen). Awards were made in March 2021 and work began on five projects.
In our mission to ensure that sound science is used to guide regulatory and policy decisions, the Center was very careful not to interfere with the work of the scientists once they received grant funding. Each group was encouraged to prepare and submit a scientific manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal that would normally accept papers on their topics.
The Center was not involved in writing or preparing the manuscripts, nor in choosing where to submit them. The publication of these reviews represents a second layer of independent peer review, which the Center considers extremely important to our work.
The first Center-funded critical review on PFAS was featured in Environmental Research, a peer-reviewed environmental science and environmental health journal. Results from the remaining reviews on glyphosate, talc, and ethylene oxide have been submitted to additional journals for publication and are out for review.
The information received from all five reviews will be key to helping the Center devise our next round of funding. Once these findings are adequately disseminated, we can determine the best path forward to continue supporting good science and staying true to our mission.