Great post up on Slate right now, “Under the Influence? Drug companies, medical journals, and money,” by Kent Sepkowitz. In it, Dr. Sepkowitz describes the disclosures that medical journals require their authors to go through regarding any financial relationship with or interest in the company about whose products they’re writing. But, he points out, what’s lacking is a little disclosure from the journals themselves, which reap significant sums of cash from drug company advertising, purchases of “reprints” of favorable articles to hand out to doctors, and non-peer-reviewed “supplements” sponsored by advertisers.
And so I have a modest suggestion: In addition to requiring authors to post conflict-of-interest statements when they publish an article, medical journals should tell readers how much revenue they themselves have received in the previous year from the company producing the drug or device under discussion. The total sum should include not just advertising pages purchased, but also the other ways that industry money can slip into journal pockets, by buying reprints and journal supplements. Show us the actual dollar (or euro or pounds sterling) amount. And if a professional society sponsors the journal, tell us about its financial dealings with the drug companies as well.
Such disclosures would take work, annoy scads of people (most of them honorable), and be completed under protest. But they’re worth it, to help assure the integrity of medical literature. Just as compromised relationships are unusual among researchers, they are likely, in the end, to be unusual among medical journals. But it is naive to think that only authors are influenced by who is writing the checks.