Scientists’ Letter to Editors Regarding Journal Disclosure Policies

February 4, 2002

Dear Editor:

     Increasing concern about conflicts of interest in the scientific community, especially in the biomedical area, has prompted government and other institutional inquiries, discussions at scientific conferences (including the AAAS), and litigation. As a consequence of those activities, major scientific and clinical journals have strengthened their conflicts of interest policies and procedures.

     Most journals have long disclosed the funders of studies. Now, the British Medical Journal, New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, Nature, and others have begun to disclose information about contributors’ stockholdings, consultancies, and other relationships that authors have with corporations or other entities. (1)Declaration of that information in the publication is becoming the norm.

     To allow scientists, the public, and policy makers to make more informed judgments about research reports, letters, commentaries, editorials, book and literature reviews, and news articles, and to further enhance the integrity of science, we respectfully urge your journal to adopt a more complete disclosure policy. Such a policy should require contributors to disclose to journal editors at least the following information:

  • Sources of funding for the study, review, or other item being published
     
  • Financial or other significant relations (e.g., consulting, speaker fees, corporate advisory committee memberships, expert testimony given in legal cases) of the author and the author’s immediate family in the last 5 years with companies, trade associations, unions, or groups (including civic associations and public interest groups) that may gain or lose financially from the results or conclusions in the study, review, editorial, or letter.
     
  • Specific contribution of each author of the published paper (conception and design; analysis and interpretation of data; drafting of the article; critical revision of the article for intellectual contents; final approval of the article; statistical expertise; administrative, technical or logistical support; and collection and assembly of data (2))
     

     We urge your journal to adopt a policy whose presumption is that all relevant financial and authorial information will appear in the publication alongside the study, review, editorial, or letter.

     Financial and other relationships with businesses may introduce biases in the conduct or reporting of research or in letters or statements made in news articles. Disclosure, of course, does not nullify any biases, but it recognizes that relationships with third parties may influence the conduct, reporting, and oversight of research. Disclosure also reflects the need for transparency as a way of maintaining the public’s trust. Finally, disclosure of conflicts of interest enables readers to consider conclusions or contentions of the researchers’ statements in the light of that additional information.

     That said, a strong disclosure policy should be understood to be just one part of broader editorial oversight of conflicts of interest. Journal editors have an obligation to reject submissions where authors’ conflicts are incompatible with integrity in science and cannot be resolved by disclosure.

     We appreciate your consideration and look forward to hearing from you. Please respond via Virginia A. Sharpe, Ph.D., at (202)332-9110, ext. 331.

 

Sincerely,

 
 

Marcia Angell, M.D.
Senior Lecturer
Department of Social Medicine
Harvard Medical School
Former Editor-in-Chief
New England Journal of Medicine
 
Bertrand M. Bell, M.D.
Distinguished University Professor
Professor of Medicine
Albert Einstein College of Medicine
 
Lisa Bero, Ph.D.
Professor, Clinical Pharmacy and Health Policy
Co-Director, San Francisco Cochrane Center
University of California, San Francisco
 
Dr. Thomas Bodenheimer, M.D.
Clinical Professor, Family and
Community Medicine
University of California, San Francisco
 
Barry Castleman, Sc.D.
Environmental Consultant
Baltimore, Maryland
 
Richard Clapp, D.Sc.
School of Public Health
Boston University
 
Bruce C. Coull, Ph.D.
Dean and Carolina Distinguish Professor
School of the Environment
University of South Carolina
 
Russell F. Doolittle, Ph.D.
Research Professor
Center for Molecular Genetics
University of California, San Diego
 
Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.
Professor Emeritus, Environmental and
Occupational Medicine
School of Public Health
University of Illinois at Chicago
Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition
 
Donald Fox, Ph.D.
Professor, Vision Sciences, Biology and
Biochemistry, and Pharmacology
College of Optometry
University of Houston
 
Albert J. Fritsch, S.J.
Executive Director
Appalachia -- Science in the Public Interest
 
Michael A. Grodin, M.D.
Director, Law Medicine and Ethics Program
Professor, Health Law, Psychiatry, Socio-Medical Sciences and Community Medicine
Schools of Medicine and Public Health
Boston University
 
Paul Heltne, Ph.D.
President Emeritus
Chicago Academy of Sciences
 
Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Center for Science in the Public Interest
 
Dr. P.C. Kesavan
Executive Director
M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation
Chennai, India
 
Sheldon Krimsky, Ph.D.
Professor of Urban and Environmental
Policy and Planning
Adjunct Professor of Family Medicine
and Community Health
Tufts University
 
George D. Lundberg, M.D.
Editor
Medscape General Medicine
.
Glenn McGee, Ph.D.
Center for Bioethics
University of Pennsylvania
 
James A. Merchant, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor and Dean
College of Public Health
The University of Iowa
 
Herbert Needleman, M.D.
Professor of Psychiatry
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Founder, Alliance to End Childhood
Lead Poisoning
Heinz Prize Recipient
 
Marion Nestle, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Chair, Department of Nutrition and Food Studies
New York University
 
Edmund D. Pellegrino, M.D.
John Carrol Professor of Medicine and
Medical Ethics
Center for Clinical Bioethics
Georgetown University Medical Center
 
Orrin H. Pilkey, Ph.D.
Director, Program for the Study of
Developed Shorelines
Duke University
 
Arnold S. Relman, M.D.
Emeritus Professor of Medicine
and of Social Medicine
Harvard Medical School
Editor-in-Chief Emeritus
New England Journal of Medicine
 
Dr. Jill S. Schneiderman, Ph.D.
Professor of Geology
Vassar College
 
Virginia A. Sharpe, Ph.D.
Director, Integrity in Science Project
Center for Science in the Public Interest
 
Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D.
Author, "Living Downstream"
Jenifer Altman Foundation Award Recipient
Visiting Assistant Professor
Cornell University
 
David Suzuki, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Sustainable Development
Research Institute
University of British Columbia
 
Norman J. Temple, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Nutrition
Centre for Science
Athabasca (Alberta) University
 
Andrew Thompson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor (Retired)
University Counseling Center and
Department of Counseling Psychology
University of Oregon
 
Arthur C. Upton, M.D.
Professor, Environmental and
Community Medicine
University of Medicine and Dentistry of
New Jersey
 
Walter C. Willett, M.D., Dr.P.H.
Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition
Chair, Department of Nutrition
Harvard School of Public Health
 
Raymond Woosley, Ph.D.
Vice President, Health Sciences Center
Dean, College of Medicine, University of Arizona


 
1. See, among others, Davidoff, Frank et al, “Sponsorship, Authorship, and Accountability,” Journal of the American Medical Association 2001;286:1232-4; Campbell, Philip, “Declaration of Financial Interests,” Nature 2001;412:751; and Smith, Richard, “Beyond Conflict of Interest,” British Medical Journal 1998;317:291-2.

2. See “Information for Authors,” Annals of Internal Medicine 2001;135:I6-9.


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