Medical & Science Journals Urged to Adopt Common Policy on Disclosing Financial Conflicts of Interest

Uniform Rules Would Aid Compliance, Editors and Bioethicists Say


The Center for Science in the Public Interest today urged editors of journals of science and medicine to adopt a common standard for disclosing financial conflicts of interest among their authors, editors, and peer reviewers. The nonprofit watchdog group, whose Integrity in Science Project monitors corporate influence on science, developed a model disclosure policy with Barnett S. Kramer, Thomas F. Babor, and Wendy Cowles Husser, respectively of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the journal Addiction, and the Journal of the American College of Surgeons; and bioethicists Arthur Caplan and Jonathan Moreno, both of University of Pennsylvania.

Scientists’ undisclosed financial ties to drug or medical device companies have been a major embarrassment for medical journals in recent years. For instance, a 2006 study on using CT scans to screen for lung cancer, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, failed to disclose that the researchers received funding from a nonprofit entirely funded by a tobacco company. And just this month, controversial guidelines on cholesterol management in children, published in the journal Pediatrics, did not carry any disclosure statements, though CSPI quickly found that at least two of those guidelines’ authors have ties to food companies that make products with ingredients the guidelines claimed lowered cholesterol.

The model policy announced today would require authors to disclose any financial relationship of any size from the previous three years. That would include any kind of employment, grant funding, consulting, travel, or paid testimony, as well as patents, stock ownership, or membership on private sector or other advisory boards. In addition to relationships with companies, authors should disclose ties to nonprofit organizations that receive 50 percent or more of their funding from corporate sources. Examples of that include a drug-industry funded group (with a respectable sounding name) called the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, and the Foundation for Lung Cancer Detection, Prevention and Treatment, funded by a tobacco-funded company.

“No disclosure policy will be of help in the rare case of a researcher who wants to actively conceal a relationship she or he has with a corporate entity,” said Merrill Goozner, director of CSPI’s Integrity in Science program. “But clarifying the rules with a uniform policy would help authors and editors avoid embarrassing oversights.”

The policy also outlines an enforcement mechanism for willful violations of disclosure rules. “Journals should make it their policy not to publish authors who have previously failed to disclose their ties to industry,” Goozner said.

2004 CSPI investigation of leading medical and environmental journals found a consistent pattern of failures to disclose conflicts of interest. In the past four years, the Integrity in Science Watch newsletter of CSPI’s Integrity in Science Project, numerous press accounts and Congressional investigations have turned up many more instances.

In the wake of these scandals, several journals, including the Journal of the American Medical Association and Environmental Health Perspectives, have acted to improve their conflict-of-interest disclosure policies. In 2004, EHP instituted a three-year ban on publication on anyone who fails to disclose conflicts, and in 2006 JAMA began requiring industry-funded authors to submit data to independent reviewers prior to publication.

At 3:30 p.m. Friday afternoon, CSPI’s Goozner will moderate a panel discussion on journals’ disclosure policies comprised of Addiction’s Babor, EHP editor-in-chief Hugh A. Tilson, Tufts University’s Sheldon Krimsky, and Jeremy Theobald, chairman of the Committee on Publication Ethics in the United Kingdom. The panel discussion is part of CSPI’s day-long conference at Washington’s Ronald Reagan International Center on rejuvenating public sector science.

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