Scientists Often Do Not Reveal Conflicts of Interest
Scientists who publish articles in science and medical journals often do not reveal their "financial ties" to companies or entities that might "influence their work," leading some critics to call for stricter disclosure policies at scientific publications, the New York Times reports. A scientist's financial interest might include company equity and stock, honorariums, consulting arrangements, expert witness fees or patents. Previous studies have shown that as many as half of all academic researchers "consult with industry," and about 8% have "stakes in biomedical companies related to their research." However, a new study published in the April issue of Science and Engineering Ethics found that most of these researchers do not report these ties. The study reviewed 61,134 articles published in 181 academic journals in 1997 and found that only one-half of 1% of the scientists revealed their financial interests.
Dr. David Blumenthal, director of the Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital, said that financial interests can lead to skewed analyses, adding that research has shown that scientists with financial ties to the companies whose products they study are "more likely to write favorably" about those products. He added that many researchers fail to disclose potential conflicts because they "believe that they are people of integrity" who can "separate their work from their financial interests." Lead study author Dr. Sheldon Krimsky, a professor of urban and environmental policy at Tufts University, said that journal editors "are not forceful enough" in requiring scientists to document any possible conflicts of interest. Dr. Jeffrey Drazen, editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, concurred, stating that it is "not easy" for journals to "persuad[e]" scientists to disclose any potential conflicts of interests. He added that when scientists "ignore" journals' inquiries, many "assume [no conflicts] exist." Drazen stated that editors of scientific journals are scheduled to meet in May to discuss whether researchers should be required to submit either a disclosure of conflict or a form stating that the scientist has no financial conflicts (Stolberg, New York Times, 4/25).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.