Medical Journals and Conflicts of Interest

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In recent years leading medical journals have sought to toughen up their approach to disclosing to readers potential conflicts of interests of authors and especially of those contributing research papers.

Taking Researcher-Industry Conflicts To Heart

"After learning that researchers for two studies it published this year didn't reveal financial ties to the maker of heart-surgery equipment that they evaluated favorably," the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery decided to go beyond publishing corrections that "reveal the financial ties of the researchers to AtriCure Inc." The American Association of Thoracic Surgery, which owns the journal, said they will impose "tougher sanctions" when authors don't disclose ties, including barring "individuals and their institutions from publishing in the journal for 'some period of time.'"

As links between researchers and industry increase, medical journals are trying "to really improve disclosure and to really improve independence," said Dr. Kevin Schulman. The Journal of the American Medical Association gives "extra scrutiny" to authors who previously failed to disclose relationships. The New England Journal of Medicine handles conflicts on "a case-by-case basis." [1]

In July 2006, for the third time in two months, Catherine DeAngelis, the editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), has been embarrassed by revelations that articles published in the journal have not included full disclosure by authors of their drug industry funding. The latest edition of JAMA includes a study which links severe migraines to heart attacks in women. "All six of the study's authors have done consulting work or received research funding from makers of treatments for migraines or heart-related problems," reported Lindsay Tanner for Associated Press. [2]

"Authors should always err on the side of full disclosure," DeAngelis wrote in a note to readers. The Center for Science in the Public Interest argues that journals should institute a three-year ban for non-disclosure and the penalty should apply to all publications involved in the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors. Last week, DeAngelis told (sub req'd) the Wall Street Journal she was against instituting a ban.

Following the renewed controversy over the lax standards and poor compliance, the New York Times editorialised that "It seems imperative that more muscle be put into forcing disclosure and publication of conflicts of interest. If all leading journals agreed to punish authors who fail to reveal their conflicts by refusing to accept further manuscripts from them, a lot more authors would be inclined to fess up. Better yet, journals should try much harder to find authors free of conflicts. That is the best hope for retaining credibility with doctors and the public." [3]

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