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Medical journals must tighten up

Following the MMR fiasco, safeguards for scientific publishing are now

needed. Themedical journals must introduce a rigorous and transparent process for establishing conflicts of interest.

One study, published in 2001, found that only 16 per cent of scientific journals had a policy on conflicts of interest and only 0.5 per cent of the papers they published disclosed such conflicts.

The same researcher found 34 per cent of the lead authors of the scientific papers he studied were compromised by their sources of funding. In other words, the great majority of the scientists with conflicts of interest are failing to disclose them.

A study of research papers examining the side-effects of a calcium channel blocker found 96 per cent of the researchers who said they were safe had financial relationships with the manufacturers.

Other studies have found similar relationships between the financial interests of researchers and their reporting of the dangers of passive smoking and the side-effects of contraceptive pills.

Last year another study revealed that British and US scientists are putting their names to papers they have not written.

The papers are 'ghosted' or co-written by employees of the drugs companies, then signed, for a

handsome fee, by respectable researchers.

In some cases, the researchers have not even seen the raw data on which the papers' conclusions are based.

It has been known for quite some time that 50 per cent of the articles on drugs in the major journals across all areas of medicine are not written in a way that the average person in the street expects.

Three years ago, 11 of the biggest medical journals drew up a code on conflicts of interest. It is plainly not working.

Since it was published, an analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that 87 per cent of the scientists who write the clinical guidelines used by doctors for prescribing drugs have financial links to drugs companies. More than half of them are connected to the companies whose drugs they are reviewing.

Of the 44 papers analysed, only one carried a declaration of conflicting interests.Why are we not doing anything about it?

The obvious answer is that this alleged co-option works against the interests of the drugs companies, while almost everyone else's works in their favour. Why?

Because in science, as in all fields of human endeavour, you get what you pay for.

Dr Kailash Chand



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