PubMed, the invaluable federal database of abstracts from medical and life science journals, has started including authors’ conflict-of-interest statements beneath studies’ abstracts on search-result pages. The new policy, quietly announced in March in a Technical Bulletin from the National Library of Medicine, comes 13 months after the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest and six other organizations, 62 scientists and physicians, and five United States Senators asked the NLM and the National Institutes of Health to publish the disclosures.
Hundreds of millions of searches are conducted on PubMed annually by people around the globe. In a March 2016 letter to NIH and NLM, CSPI and other supporters cited studies published in Cochrane Collaboration, PLoS Medicine, and elsewhere that found that outcomes of studies on drugs, medical devices, and nutrition were often favorable to funders’ interests.
“Adding disclosures about researchers’ financial relationships with drug, food, chemical, and other industries makes PubMed search results even more useful than they already are,” said CSPI president Michael F. Jacobson. “We thank the National Library of Medicine for adding this feature and hope journalists who rely on PubMed make consistent use of it when reporting on studies related to nutrition and health.”
New York University nutrition scientist Marion Nestle tracked 168 industry-funded studies on her blog, foodpolitics.com. By her count, 156 of those reported studies favorable to the sponsors’ interests.
“These required extensive library searches to find the disclosure statements,” said Nestle. “I only looked for papers that seemed industry-funded from their titles, and undoubtedly missed many with both positive and negative results. This new policy will make this kind of research much easier and more accurate.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) led a group of five Senators who called on PubMed to add conflict of interest statements to its search results.
“At a time when the industry is flooding laboratories to produce research in support of their own agendas, I commend the National Library of Medicine for pulling back the veil and taking this critical step to enhance transparency and integrity in scientific research,” Blumenthal said. “Other scientists, consumers, journalists, and policymakers deserve ready access to who is funding scientific studies, so they can form their own judgments about an article’s scientific objectivity and impartiality.”