Conflicts of Interest

The question I have when reading a journal or listening to a report in the media about drug efficacy, medical procedures, or other new technology is whether there is a financial relationship between the author(s) and the company behind the medical advance under evaluation.

In medical journals there is often a vague statement acknowledging financial arrangements. In other media there is almost never mention of such affiliation. In both cases I’m left to wonder whether I should discount the results because of conflicts of interest.

Slate magazine has a interesting take on the lack of such disclosure on public radio (commercial radio has similar issues).

It would be much simpler if those evaluating the efficacy of new medical products did not have such financial relationships. It’s unlikely however that such arrangements would be banned in our “free” and open society. As an alternative I would suggest full disclosure.. This would include the company involved, the amount of money provided and the specific information about extent of involvement of the donor or donor’s employees in the study’s design, analysis and publication. This information should not be buried at the end of the article/presentation but be featured prominently up front, along with the title and authors.

Transparency will help but the admission of a potential conflict of interest still leaves me with the dilemma of whether or not to believe the finding.

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