Statement from Vice-President Research Karen Chad on recent research ethics issue

The University of Saskatchewan (U of S) takes the unproven allegations against our Canada Research Chair John Giesy very seriously. Since becoming aware of the pre-trial claims made in connection with a Minnesota state court case against 3M, which has been settled out of court, the university has conducted a review of the evidence available.

Prof. Giesy rejects the unproven claims. Further, after following our formal procedures and reviewing extensive pre-trial court documents—including email transcripts and documents provided by all parties in the dispute—we concluded on Feb. 27 that there was no evidence of a breach of our Responsible Conduct of Research policy or a breach of the Tri-Agency guidelines on Responsible Conduct of Research.  

During our review, we learned that the allegations pertain to work for 3M that Prof. Giesy conducted or initiated while he was employed at Michigan State University. Professor Giesy came to the U of S in 2006, and has not been engaged as a consultant for 3M while at the U of S. As a result of learning this and in keeping with our practice and the Tri-Agency guidelines, we have sent a letter to Michigan State University informing them of these allegations. 

Prof. Giesy conducted perfluorinated compounds (PFC) research on contract for 3M while at Michigan State University. Contrary to claims in the court document, he encouraged the company to voluntarily cease production of the chemical. He developed an alternative that was safer and was instrumental in the worldwide banning and regulating of PFCs. 

His advocacy with industry and governments around the world led directly to certain PCFs being added to the Stockholm Convention in 2009. He also shared his research findings with Environment Canada, resulting in the banning of 87 chemicals in Canada.

Prof. Giesy worked as a consultant to 3M to develop the replacement product through ENTRIX, a consulting firm that had hired a number of his former students and post-doctoral fellows. He supervised design of studies that were conducted by contract, testing labs that had the necessary procedures in place to meet regulatory guidelines for toxicity testing.

He then helped analyze the data for submission to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Significant New Uses Rules. Although he hasn’t worked as a consultant for 3M since joining the U of S, he continued to work on methods with his students and scientists at 3M until 2008, when the final method was published.

After 3M had phased out its PFC production in North America and Europe, Prof. Giesy received an unrestricted grant of $200,000 from 3M to find out how the chemical was getting to all corners of the globe. The money was used to fund the research of a U of S post-doctoral student and a visiting academic from China. Prof. Giesy also received $29,750 from 3M that was used to support a study done by the post-doctoral student.

Prof. Giesy said during the entire time he researched PFCs under contracts with 3M, he was never directed to change a single word in a paper or limited in any way as to what he could say or publish. His results were published immediately.

We will continue to monitor this situation, and would consider further steps if new information of a concerning nature were to arise.

As a research-intensive university, it is our responsibility to conduct research in an ethically responsible way and have policies and procedures to address alleged breaches. Our Responsible Conduct of Research policy states: “The research, scholarly and artistic work of members of the University of Saskatchewan must be held in the highest regard and be seen as rigorous and scrupulously honest. Scholarly work is expected to be conducted in an exemplary fashion, be ethically sound, and contribute to the creation, application and refinement of knowledge.”

The U of S also has in place safeguards to ensure that academic freedom is maintained in research contracts with third parties and that corporations cannot interfere with the interpretation or publication of research results. For instance, the university refuses funding from partners if the funding constrains a researcher’s ability to publish papers or other documents, including technical reports. 

Partnerships with industry are not only a necessity in today’s research environment to address issues of societal importance, but are also encouraged by provincial and federal governments. While the U of S looks to greater collaboration with industry, its governance structures—including University Council, Board of Governors and University Senate—help ensure that industry partners do not override our commitment to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research of a world-class standard.

Karen Chad
Vice-President Research
University of Saskatchewan

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