Nature and science failing to disclose authors' financial ties

The journals Nature and Science aren’t reliably disclosing their authors’ financial ties to drug and biotechnology companies, according to more than 30 scientists and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). CSPI and the scientists called on the editors of the journals to establish more robust policies for disclosing potentially biasing conflicts of interests among authors of scientific articles and quoted experts.

In letters to Science editor Donald Kennedy, Nature editor-in-chief Philip Campbell, and editors of several other Nature publications, the scientists document several cases in which such conflicts went undisclosed.

One prominent scientist, Roger Beachy, director of the Danforth Plant Science Center, published an editorial in Science and cosigned a letter in Nature Biotechnology. Neither journal disclosed that Beachy’s research on agricultural biotechnology has been funded by Monsanto and other biotech companies, even though the subjects of his submissions—the safety of genetically engineered crops and intellectual-property policies—are directly relevant to those companies.

In a Science news article by Jocelyn Kaiser, toxicologist John Doull is identified only by his academic affiliation. His connections to several chemical and food companies go undisclosed—even though he is quoted defending the use of human trials for pesticides.

And according to a recent article in The New York Times, Charles Nemeroff, the author of a Nature Neuroscience review article on treatment for mood disorders, did not disclose his ownership of a patent on a treatment he favorably reviewed.

Unlike their counterparts in biomedicine, basic-science journal editors have been slow to adopt comprehensive conflict-of-interest policies, according to CSPI.

“Science and business are intertwined,” said Virginia A. Sharpe, Director of the Integrity in Science Project at CSPI. “Strong conflict-of-interest policies in journals can help ensure that readers have all the information they need to interpret scientists’ statements.”

Among the signers to the letter are Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of New England Journal of Medicine; Alan Blum, M.D., former editor-in-chief of the Medical Journal of Australia and the New York State Journal of Medicine; Bruce C. Coull, Ph.D., Dean, School of the Environment at the University of South Carolina; Herbert Needleman, M.D., professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Edmund D. Pellegrino, M.D., Professor Emeritus of medicine and medical ethics, Georgetown University Medical Center; CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson; and a number of prominent bioethicists. –30–