American's think doctors are influenced by drug companies' gifts

Americans seem wary of doctors’ and scientists’ ties to industry and strongly believe the news media should do a better job disclosing the corporate connections of quoted scientists, according to a new survey commissioned by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

According to the telephone poll of 1,026 randomly selected adults, 74 percent think reporters should disclose whether university scientists quoted in articles receive funding from companies that have a financial stake in the topic at hand. Only 13 percent said that the media need not disclose such ties. According to CSPI, the news media routinely fail to make that kind of disclosure.

The poll also asked people to agree or disagree with statements regarding doctors receiving gifts from drug companies. Sixty-four percent agree that the medical judgment of doctors can be influenced by such gifts; 62 percent agree that those gifts should not be allowed. Only 11 percent believe the gifts should not be banned.

“Letting physicians accept trips and other gifts from drug companies is a prescription for inferior medical care, and the public clearly believes that those gifts can skew doctors’ judgement,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “The public’s perception suggests a crisis of confidence in the medical community that I hope spurs further limits on gifts from pharmaceutical firms to doctors.”

In addition, the poll found that 64 percent believe that it is important to have university scientists who do not have financial relationships with corporations. Currently, many scientists, especially those whose research relates to matters being addresed by government regulatory agencies, receive industry funding. And, two-thirds of respondents agreed with the following statement: “Overall, science is driven by the financial interests of business and industry.”

The survey was conducted by TNS Intersearch between June 25 and June 29, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percent.

On July 11, CSPI is convening a conference in Washington on how corporations use science and scientists to manipulate public opinion and regulatory policy on health and the environment.