National Academy of Sciences

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The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was established by an Act of Congress at the height of the Civil War to and signed onto being by President Abraham Lincoln on March 3, 1863. It's stated purpose to "investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art" for any department of U.S. government. The NAS describes itself as:

"a society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare." [1]


Scientific issues became more complex in the years following the war. To expand it's expertise, NAS created the National Research Council (NRC) under its charter in 1916. To keep pace with the growing roles of science and technology, National Academy of Engineering was established under the NAS charter in 1964. The Institute of Medicine followed in 1970.

Most NAS science policy and technical work is conducted by the NRC, which was created expressly for this purpose. The NRC works outside the framework of government in order to provide independent advice on matters of science, technology, and medicine. The NRC enlists volunteers with backgrounds in science, engineering and other fields to form committees and study specific issues, with the goal of improvements in health, education and general welfare. NAS membership is composed of approximately 2,100 members and 380 foreign associates. It is governed by a Council consisting of twelve members (councilors) and five officers, elected from among the Academy membership.[2]

NAS conflicts of interests

The NAS was created by for the purpose of providing independent, science-based advice to federal policy makers. However, according to a one year review of of 21 NAS committees, conducted by the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), almost one in five scientists appointed to an NAS panel, had direct financial ties to companies or industry groups with direct stakes in the outcome of the study. Almost half of the panels examined had scientists with readily identifiable biases, not offset by scientists with alternative points of view. CSPI didn't dispute the quality of reports produced by the National Academies, however, it recommended the NAS strengthen its policies for avoiding and disclosing conflicts of interest and for maintaining balance in the interest of maintaining public credibility.

Of the 320 committee members CSPI evaluated, 18% had direct conflicts of interest, or a direct and recent connection to a company or industry with a financial stake in the study outcome. For example, an Institute of Medicine panel evaluating the risk of mercury in fish, included a scientist who had research funded by the United States Tuna Foundation and the National Food Processors Association, pro-industry research and lobbying groups. In another example, 10 out of 11 scientists on a “State Practices in Setting Mobile Source Emissions Standards” panel had ties to carbon-emitting industries. On another NAS panel with the task of reviewing the U.S. Department of Energy’s Carbon Sequestration Program, 10 out of 11 members had ties to petroleum, energy, or chemical industries. Few of those conflicts of interest were disclosed to the public. [3]

On July 24, 2006, the debate over how to handle conflicts of interest among members of U.S. government advisory panels heated up as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a plan to more closely examine the issue on science panels. For example, FDA planned to revise the guidelines used to determine when a member with a conflict of interest deserves a waiver; issued when a conflict is deemed to be insignificant, or a scientist's expertise too great to lose. In addition, the FDA planned to examined ways to improve it's public analysis of issuing waivers to some scientists. According to FDA deputy commissioner for medical scientific affairs Scott Gottlieb:

"There's more we can do to simplify how we communicate the criteria we use to give waivers."

The FDA's plan to review its waiver policy followed the introduction of a bill in Congress the previous year, which proposed the eliminating waivers. CSPI also issued a report on July 24, 2006 which revealed that nearly one in five scientists appointed to a sample of expert panels convened by the NAS, had "direct financial ties" to companies with a stake in the outcome of the debate. Nearly half of panels contained too many scientists with industry ties and not enough with alternative viewpoints, such as ties to environmental or public interest groups. According to director of Integrity in Science at CSPI, Merrill Goozner:

"I think that there is a fairly consistent pattern, in some (NAS) committees - not all - that there is an imbalance."

According to Mr. Goozner, the NAS consistently puts out "pretty good reports" , but having an excess of pro-industry experts most likely has subtle effects on more subtle questions, such as how much dioxin is toxic:

"I believe there are scientists out there without conflicts of interest who can serve on these committees and do a comparable job." [4]

Alamogordo chimps

Gov. Bill Richardson calls for USDA investigation of transfer of Alamogordo chimps. - PCRM - November 2010

Plans to move 186 government owned chimps to the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research (SFBR) in San Antonio Texas, were postponed, due to efforts of animal welfare organizations, legislators and concerned citizens. Chimps living at the Alamogordo Primate Facility in Alamogordo, New Mexico, were slated for transfer to SFBR, in the spring of 2011. Of the original 202 chimps, two had died and fourteen had already been transferred. However, on January 4, the NIH canceled plans to transfer the remaining chimps, pending a policy review by the NAS on chimp research. The review is expected to take approximately two years. The decision followed a letter from Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Tom Udall (D-NM) and Tom Harkin (D-IA), requesting “analysis of the current and future need for chimps in biomedical research." Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson called for a similar review when meeting with the NIH in August of 2010.

Since plans to transfer the chimps were announced in the summer of 2010, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Gov. Richardson, Animal Protection of New Mexico and other groups; worked with legislators and the public to encourage the NIH to reverse its decision. Over 25,000 HSUS supporters, members of Congress and others weighed in with Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. HSUS President Wayne Pacelle, joined Gov. Richardson, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and Animal Protection of New Mexico at a joint press conference on November 18. The chimps have already been forced to endure decades of invasive research; but had not been used for the last ten years.[5]

Inefficacy & criticism of primate "models"

Many of the chimpanzee's bred during the 80's for AIDS research account for the chimpanzee “surplus." Scientists ultimately learned that chimps do not contract AIDS from HIV infection. Instead, they typically shed the virus in time. Yet, those still pushing for their use have gone to great and invasive lengths (quite outside of the normal progression) to force HIV infections in primates. Chimpanzees have proven to be a failed and dangerous model for heart and cancer research as well. In August of 2008, Dr. Jarrod Bailey presented his work on AIDS research and his previous study Chimpanzee Research at the International Primatological Society Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland. [6] See also The Case to End Chimpanzee Research: Scientific Publications. [7]

The European Union (EU) has long considered a ban on the use of wild-caught primates and great apes. It has been widely accepted that the chimpanzee model for HIV was a failure as infected chimpanzees do not develop AIDS. [8] As scientists began steering away from the chimpanzee model, they turned their attention to monkeys. However, after years of pursuit and tens of millions of dollars, the failures of the monkey models are increasingly evident as well; with AIDS patient advocacy groups calling for an end to funding this type of research. Over 85 vaccines have failed human clinical trials, with some actually increasing the likely hood of HIV infection. [9], [10] On September 8, 2010, the EU voted in favor of a ban on the use of great apes, as part of drastically tightened rules to scale back the number of animals used in scientific research. [11]

See also SFBR.

Governing Council

The NAS is governed by a 17 member governing council, including five officers and 12 councilors elected from among the Academy membership. The election of officers and councilors is held yearly and results are announced in February. For names and bios of the current officers and council members, see also NAS leadership.[12]


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Articles & sources

SourceWatch articles

External resources



  1. About the NAS, National Academy of Sciences, accessed January 2011
  2. About the NAS, NAS, accessed January 2011
  3. Are the National Academies Fair and Balanced?: One in Five Scientists on NAS Issue Panels Tied to Firms Involved in Issue, Center for Science in the Public Interest, July 24, 2006
  4. Alison McCook Conflicts of interest at Federal agencies: FDA plans to review guidelines, while new report shows conflicts common in NAS panels, The Scientist, July 24, 2006
  5. A New Year's Reprieve for Alamogordo Chimpanzees, Humane Society of the United States, January 4, 2011
  6. HIV/AIDS Debacle: Research Attributes Lack of HIV/AIDS Vaccine to Use of Chimpanzees, Project R&R, New England Anti-vivisection Society, 2009
  7. The Case to End Chimpanzee Research: Scientific Publications, Project R&R, NEAVS, 2009
  8. (Bailey, 2008; Nath, Schumann and Boyer, 2000, and others)
  9. Dr. Jarrod Bailey An assessment of the role of chimpanzees in AIDS vaccine research. Alternatives to Laboratory Animals, 36(4):, 2008
  10. An Introduction to Primate Issues: The Value of Primate Research is Challenged, Humane Society of the United States, accessed November 2009
  11. Great apes protected as EU restricts animal testing, Agence France-Presse, September 8, 2010
  12. Leadership, NAS, accessed January 2011