Professor of Epidemiology discredited because of an article in newspaper

Professor of Epidemiology discredited because of an article in newspaper

The Executive Board starts an investigation

06-12-2023 · News

UM is going to investigate the additional professional duties and income of professor Maurice Zeegers. This was prompted by an article in NRC last weekend, which shows that Zeegers’ academic and commercial work continually intertwine, according to the newspaper.

As head of the Platform for Research Ethics and Integrity, he has dedicated himself for years to promoting a healthy research culture at UM, but now Maurice Zeegers himself is under fire. 

Investigations by NRC showed that Zeegers also works as a manager for his wife’s consultancy agency, but that he has never been transparent about this. Professors are obliged to report about their external professional activities.  

Zeegers also allows the same consultancy agency to hire him for the chemical industry, said NRC. In that capacity, the professor has carried out research on several occasions into the harmfulness of chemical substances. With at times surprising conclusions, said the newspaper. 

PFAS

In his research into isocyanates – substances that are used, for example, in paint and PUR foam – Zeegers summarises in a so-called meta-study the results of all previous studies and concludes, according to NRC, that there is “no serious link” between exposure to isocyanates and asthma. The European chemicals agency ECHA and supervising agencies, however, warn about health risks. Chemical concern BASF speaks of potential permanent lung damage, which could even lead to death.

The International Isocyanate Institute, representing twenty manufacturers, financed the research and subsequently ran off with Zeegers’ conclusions. The institute is using his results to lobby against stricter legislation. This has also happened with other studies by Zeegers, including PFAS.

Who the customer is and what the conclusions of his research are used for, Zeegers does not regard as his business, he said to NRC. “My responsibility is the research to which I attach my name. That must be sound and good.”

Dilemmas

Before publication, NRC asked UM for a reaction. The list of questions that the newspaper sent, prompted the Executive Board “to start an investigation into the exact nature of the external activities and income amassed from them, as well as the question whether the prevention of conflict of interest was and is safeguarded”. It is not yet known who will carry out the investigation.

FHML dean Annemie Schols sent an e-mail to staff members on Tuesday afternoon. In it, she informs them that the faculty will also to take a closer look at this case, upon the request of the Executive Board. Moreover, FHML is going check whether the registration of external activities is in order. As a result of the NRC investigation, there will be a meeting on research dilemmas in January.

Zeegers was unavailable for comments.