RESEARCH FUNDING: Study Calls for Full Disclosure
A new study has found that a minimal percentage of scientists disclose their level of financial interest in the research they conduct, raising serious questions in an era of ubiquitous corporate backing of scientific inquiry. The Wall Street Journal reports that a study by Sheldon Krimsky of Tufts University and L.S. Rothenberg of the University of California- Los Angeles, presented last week at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, found that "a mere 0.5% of some 62,000 articles published in 1997 included information on the authors' research-related financial ties such as stock ownership or patent rights." The figure shocked ethicists, especially in light of recent "creeping commercialization in science" that has private industry plying researchers with "grants, fees for speeches and consulting, or gifts including lab materials." In a separate study of 800 scientific papers by Krimsky, he said he found "34% of authors had conflicts of interest, none of them disclosed." And although journals increasingly require researchers to disclose the source of their funding, a mere 7% of articles carry the information, and 142 journals "carried no disclosures whatsoever."
The Journal reports that in a recent New England Journal of Medicine study, "virtually every researcher publicly supporting the use of new hypertensive drugs had financial ties to the drug manufacturers," none of which were disclosed. New England Journal of Medicine board member Dr. Allan Detsky, co-author of the study, said, "Many of these (scientists) don't perceive that these ties put them in a potential conflict of interest because they think they are incorruptible." He added that the NEJM gives authors too much leeway on disclosure. But NEJM editor-in-chief Jerome Kassirer said that going beyond NEJM's current practice of asking scientists for stock, consultancy and patent interests "requires getting their income-tax forms." Epidemiology editor Kenneth Rothman argued that "the disclosure of ties can sometimes unfairly taint studies that are scientifically solid," and called the campaign "new McCarthyism." Krimsky concluded, "Now science has as a goal not only the pursuit of knowledge but the marketing of knowledge. We need to find new ethical norms to apply to the evolution of science in this new form" (King, 2/2).