Researchers have raised concerns about how the Brussels Declaration was developed and, in particular, the extensive involvement in it of tobacco- and alcohol-industry actors.

A Tobacco Control paper published on the British Medical Journal website describes in its introduction the Brussels Declaration as a statement of ethics and principles for science and society policymaking.

‘This arose from discussions at the prestigious World Science Forum, and was designed to attract attention,’ the paper says. ‘It was launched formally at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in February 2017, accompanied by an announcement in the journal Nature.

‘It raises questions about the integrity of scientists and calls on them to be less ‘aloof and perhaps less arrogant’. It calls on policymakers to be more accountable and, crucially, demands that voices of interest groups are heard in the policy debate.

‘At a time when facts are increasingly being questioned in some political fora, it has the potential to be very influential.

‘Its avowed goal, evidence-based policymaking, will be widely shared. Yet while it makes much of the need for research integrity and transparency, the Declaration fails to disclose its own origins and funding, or the interests of those involved.

‘Moreover, on closer inspection there are many curious aspects to the organisation of what purports to be a ‘bottom up’ initiative’.

The paper, whose lead author is Professor Jim McCambridge, of the Department of Health Sciences, at the UK’s University of York, concludes that while the Brussels Declaration argues for the need to protect science from distortion by vested interests, it appears to be a vehicle for advancing the vested interests of certain corporate sectors.

‘Calls for research integrity reflect core values of the research community,’ the conclusion said. ‘They should not be used as instruments to undermine science or to assist harmful industries.

‘It will be important to study carefully to what extent this initiative, and others like it, do form part of the global political strategies of tobacco and alcohol industry actors, and the extent to which these are successful in influencing public health and science policies, in order to counter any adverse effects on population health.’

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