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A short story about the benefits of tanning and the ethics of researchers

An uproar in the global dermatology community: a renowned researcher from Boston University determined that moderate sun exposure is good for health, and was fired. It was not his scientific determination that angered his managers, but the fact that the Association of Tanning Salons finances his work and even uses it to encourage tanning

Yuval Dror, Haaretz, voila!

In recent weeks, the community of dermatologists (skin doctors) in the US and around the world has been in turmoil. The reason lies in the dismissal of Dr. Michael Holick from the Department of Dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine. Some of the reports on the affair claim that it is a matter of scientific disagreements; Holik published a book in which he states that moderate exposure to the sun's rays can contribute to people's health. The conservative establishment reacted harshly, it saw his claims as heretical and therefore demanded his dismissal. However, an examination of the case shows that more than it deals with science, it is related to the ethics of doctors and researchers.

Holik is a professor of medicine, physiology and dermatology. He runs several research laboratories, and the one at Boston University studies the importance of vitamin D. Holik is also known as the one who developed a new method for treating osteoporosis (a phenomenon of bone thinning due to calcium leakage) in women.

In recent years Holik has written extensively about the benefits of vitamin D, which is created in the body through the action of ultraviolet sunlight on chemicals found in the skin. It helps, among other things, to absorb calcium in the intestine and build bones. In his new book, The UV Advantage, Holick claims that the US medical establishment is extreme and causes harm to public health. "The mess started when I said that you should be moderately exposed to the sun, 5 to 8 minutes two or three times a week," Holik said in an interview with "Haaretz" last week. "The medical establishment of the community of dermatologists claims that it is forbidden, under any circumstances, to be exposed directly to the sun without the use of sunscreen. Dr. Gilchrest chose this position".

Dr. Barbara Gilcrest is a world-renowned scientist who heads the Department of Dermatology at Boston University. She is the one who "requested" that Holik submit a letter of resignation to her. In an interview with the "Boston Globe" she said that Holik's book is "a shame for our institution and a shame for him." I read better things in women's magazines."

Holik claims that Gilcrest "felt that my scientific argument jeopardized the message that doctors convey to the public and therefore asked me to withdraw. She chose an extreme and draconian position, according to which people should not be exposed to the sun."

Is the academic-research establishment in the US so sensitive to criticism? Holik claims that the answer is positive, while Gilchrest explained to "Haaretz" last week that the debate has nothing to do with science. "I have no problem with Dr. Holik's scientific message. My concern is that anyone who goes to the ITA website will find that they are aggressively promoting their book. They do not use the book to preach to the public to be exposed to the sun for a few minutes a week but to tell the public that it is good to be exposed to the sun. point".

Why is it Holick's fault that the ITAs are distorting his scientific message?

"He doesn't bother to fix them," she replies.

The relationship between scientists and commercial companies - including in the field of medicine - is not new and in the USA it is particularly developed. Apparently, this is a relationship in which everyone benefits: the pharmaceutical company uses the reputation of the researcher to obtain scientific confirmation of the effectiveness of its drug, while the researcher receives a large research grant. The problem is that sometimes the relationship between the researcher and society becomes too close and the credibility of the research is undermined.

What kind of connection is there between the ITA and Holik? According to Gilcrest, Holik has been the keynote speaker at the ITA's annual conference for several years. A look at the program of the ITA's annual conference to be held this November in Florida reveals that this year he will be speaking on "the latest scientific discoveries regarding the usefulness of ultraviolet radiation".

But that's not all. In American media reports, Gilcrest accused Hollick of having his research funded by the ITA. Holik replied that he does not receive direct funding from them. "I was a consultant to the tanning industry for more than a decade," he clarified in an interview with Haaretz. "From the very beginning I understood that it would be a mistake to accept money from them. In 2000 the ITA asked me to be a paid consultant and I declined, but agreed to continue advising them. Dr. Gilchrist implied that the ITA funded my book. It's ironic, considering the fact that I actually asked them to help with financing and they refused."

So you don't get money from them?

"I don't get anything from them. The only thing I received was a donation from a non-profit foundation called The UV Foundation, which gave Boston University $50 annually for a period of three years - an amount intended to support my research. But there is no obligation on my part. This is a gift to the university, not to me personally."

Is this a donation to the university that goes directly to you?

"Yes. to my research lab."

On the home page of the ITA website ( there is a huge advertisement for Holik's book. The text accompanying the advertisement leaves no room for doubt. "After 30 years of research and the publication of more than 200 articles, most of them in first-rate scientific journals, Dr. Michael P. Holick...challenges the conventional thinking of the medical establishment by showing that there are powerful effects on our health during moderate sun exposure." The ITA talks about "moderate exposure", but they don't mention that Holick talks about 8-5 minutes two or three times a week.

Although Holik claims that he received the generous donation from a "non-profit foundation", Gilchrest repeats and insists that this is not an innocent connection. A search for the mysterious horn yields no results. Among other things, she does not have a website on the Internet and she is not mentioned on the website of the ITA.

Only after long hours of intensive searching on the net is the connection revealed. The full name of the foundation is the Education Foundation The UV LightResearchand in a short notice published on a website dealing with tanning it is stated that the foundation is "a new research arm funded by the ITA". The one who heads it is Joseph Levy, vice president of a chain called "The Smart Tan".

When Holik was asked once again what the relationship between him and the foundation meant, he replied: "It is a non-profit foundation that gave the university a gift without any obligation on the part of the university, or on my part, the purpose of which is to support my research. They don't direct me or tell me what research I should do."

Is there a connection between the fund and ITA?

"Yes. It's a non-profit arm of the ITA."

Gilcrest claims that's not the only problem with Holick. According to her, his findings are not new and have been known for more than 20 years. She also claims that he usually takes epidemiological findings from different countries in the world, such as the rate of multiple sclerosis patients or the rate of osteoporosis sufferers, and links them to a lack of vitamin D. is not proof of such a relationship. No reasonable scientist jumps to such conclusions."

Holik does not retreat from his position. "The American Dermatological Association states that no person should be exposed to the sun's rays directly. I disagree with their opinion." According to him, since the incident, he has received many responses from members of the scientific community, who expressed their astonishment at the way they silenced him. Gilcrest reacts angrily. "The ITA organized a campaign where people who tan regularly sent me e-mails condemning my actions. Dr. Holik himself claimed that the case of his dismissal reminded him of the days of the Inquisition, which prevented legitimate scientific publications. This is, of course, a completely inaccurate description of what happened here."

dangerous? Depends on the type of ultraviolet radiation

The tanning salon industry in the US has been booming in recent years. According to the American Tanning Salon Association (ITA), about 26 million Americans use the services of more than 25 tanning salons across the US. These generate about 4.5 billion dollars every year.

Prof. Raphael Shapir, chairman of the committee for the early detection of skin cancer in the Cancer Society, claims that the sun's ultraviolet radiation consists of two types: UVA and UVB. "UVA is harmful radiation that causes changes in DNA, skin aging and various types of cancer. It is the UVB that causes tanning and when you are exposed to too much it can cause burns. The tanning salons tell the public 'come to us and enjoy only the UVB'."

But according to him the reality is much more complex. "At least some of the machines also emit UVA radiation, and since there is no control, no one can say which machine operates according to the standard and which does not. In fact, anyone in the US can buy a few tanning machines and set up a salon." In Israel, according to him, the phenomenon of the institutes is very small in scope because we are blessed with a lot of sunshine.

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