Sunday 6 June 2021

Bloomberg's dark money

If you're going to write a lengthy article in a peer-reviewed journal accusing scientists of having undisclosed competing interests, it helps if you don't have undisclosed competing interests of your own. 

On Thursday, I mentioned the BMJ article which falsely claimed that studies showing smokers to be at lower risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection have been "roundly disproved" and implied that the whole thing was a tobacco industry ruse to promote nicotine. At the moment, my Rapid Response is the only one accepted for publication by the BMJ. The main target of the article - Dr Konstantinos Farsilinos - has written a response but it has not been published. 

In my reply, I noted that one of the article's two authors works for the 'The Investigative Desk', a Dutch organisation that has received money from Bath University. This is a red flag for anyone who follows the e-cigarette debate because Bath University is the home of Anna Gilmore's Tobacco Control Research Group which has received $20 million from Mike Bloomberg (it also received a gong from the WHO last week, another bad sign for vapers).

Bloomberg is the world's leading anti-vaping crusader. He openly endorses prohibition and has so far ploughed $160 million into getting e-cigarette flavours banned. Gilmore's team specialises in ad hominem arguments, portraying scientists and advocates as hired guns on the basis of tenuous, false and/or irrelevant financial links to the vaping and tobacco industries. It is a remarkably similar approach to that used by The Investigative Desk. 

The smoking/Covid studies are the hook for the BMJ article, but it is mostly an attack on tobacco harm reduction and those who advocate it. If the authors have been funded by a billionaire anti-vaping fanatic, that should be listed as a competing interest. 

A document unearthed by Dr Farsilinos suggests that Bath University is being used as a middle man in a transaction between Bloomberg and The Investigative Desk. A Supplier Form for The Investigative Desk written on Bath University headed paper states that Bloomberg is providing the money for 'the project'. 
Moreover, the contract explicitly forbids The Investigative Desk from saying that they are directly funded by Bloomberg.
The Contractor shall not make any statement or otherwise imply to donors, investors, media or the general public that the Foundation directly funds its activities.

Strictly speaking, they are not being directly funded by Bloomberg, but they certainly seem to be indirectly funded by Bloomberg, with the University being used to essentially launder the money. Since Bath University is listed as a funder on The Investigative Desk's website, it seems reasonable to assume that this contract was signed.

Is this kind of thing considered OK at universities? It certainly can't be considered OK at the British Medical Journal when it is publishing an article by The Investigative Desk about hidden financial ties. 
Some people would call this 'dark money'. The BMJ article is a pyramid of piffle regardless of who funded it, but it is an extraordinarily hypocritical pyramid of piffle if it has been covertly funded by Mike Bloomberg.

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