The IARC candidates exposed!

May 01, 2008

The names of seven possible candidates to succeed Peter Boyle as Director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) are exposed today in an early Online report in The Lancet Oncology*, with the issues discussed in an accompanying Editorial in this week's Lancet.

IARC is soon to appoint the new Director during its annual Governing Council meeting (May 14-16). Traditionally the names of the official candidates are not publicly disclosed. The Editorial says: "At the last election in 2003 we criticised the elective process for its lack of transparency and called for a change in policy to allay concerns about political or commercial influences that could bias the selection. 5 years on, there is no change. Whereas the selection of WHO's Director-General is fully transparent--with manifestos and campaigns in the full public spotlight--the choice of a new Director for IARC remains shrouded in medieval mystery."

The Lancet Oncology has been passed the names of various candidates who are standing in the IARC election - including Boyle himself. When the The Lancet Oncology contacted IARC for comment, only seven of the 10 candidates were prepared to have their names disclosed - and we were satisfied with the reasons provided by the other three for non-disclosure at this time. The seven names have been published early Online on The Lancet Oncology website at the same time as this Editorial. Worryingly, the elective process seems even more arbitrary than before. There is no Search Committee, which previously made recommendations of candidates. And there is no formal involvement in the election process of a Scientific Council--a panel of highly-qualified scientists within IARC that advises the agency on its scientific conduct. Instead, the decision is left to the Governing Council, which consists of representatives of participating states and WHO. All candidates will be interviewed on the same day and a decision made and announced the next day, which might seem rushed for such a high-profile position.

IARC has undergone dramatic changes in recent years. Many basic scientists have been dismayed by IARC's retreat from laboratory science. Instead, IARC has shifted its emphasis towards the science of cancer control, taking up some of WHO's traditional territory. But with WHO struggling to find resources to invest in chronic diseases at a time when the non-communicable disease public-health agenda is rapidly becoming more important, IARC's repurposing makes strategic sense.

The Editorial concludes: "Unfortunately, the shortcomings of IARC's appointments process means that the agency risks losing credibility at a crucial moment of change. It remains unacceptable for an international public-funded agency that receives around US$45 million per year from the taxpayers of 20 member states not to disclose the names of leadership candidates for public scrutiny. Trust, legitimacy, and influence would all be enhanced by a more open election process."
Notes to editors: *See accompanying early Online Special Report for more details on the candidates
The Lancet & The Lancet Oncology Press Office T) +44 (0) 20 7424 4949 E)


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