Conflicts of Interest and Financial Disclosures: It’s Time to Take a Stand Against Dishonest Authors

The recent announcement that the Chief Medical Officer of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center failed multiple times to report significant financial conflicts of interest in journal articles and letters authored or co-authored by him has justifiably stirred up quite a hornets nest of controversy.

Truth be told, I too am personally quite angry about his glaring oversight, which at its worst, involved opinions communicated broadly to the medical community via the New England Journal of Medicine. As a physician innovator, entrepreneur and scholar I have sought to play by these disclosure rules, which simply mandate transparency, because I think they are the best tools for fairly communicating possible bias to readers.

Moreover, the process of declaring conflicts of interest is also generally not that difficult. Yes, I can imagine how a busy scholar who is a co-author on a small commercially irrelevant research article might “overlook” adding a long list of financial conflicts, but when the opposite is true, and the written scholarship in question has major commercial implications, it is unforgivable to obfuscate such facts for one’s audience. So yes, I am pissed off. Stuff like this besmirches the reputation of all physicians who are trying to honestly help advance patient care via commercial products.

Cureus’ own set of rules, as clearly spelled out in its Author Guide’s “Conflicts of Interest” section, obligate the self-declaration of financial conflicts. Like nearly all journals, Cureus deems it the responsibility of all authors to declare any relevant ethical problems, and especially financial conflicts; moreover we also make it easy to add such information through our wizard-based publication platform. While The New York Times has suggested that some, as yet to be defined, elaborate process should be instituted by journals to broadly explore for financial conflicts, I find that perspective to be utterly naïve.

Who is going to pay for and police such a complex system, especially when the costs of peer-reviewed publishing already restrict journal access for much of the world? If you cannot trust physician scientists to self-declare conflicts of interest, how can you possibly trust the research findings that they report? To me the answer is simple. If an author betrays the trust of a journal in any way, be it plagiarism, scientific fraud or failure to declare conflicts of interest, they should be harshly dealt with – preferably by being banned from the peer-reviewed community they betray.

With this principle in mind, Cureus intends to assertively BAN FOR LIFE any author who willfully fails to declare relevant conflicts of interest within an article they publish. Some may find this perspective to be too harsh, but if we are going to uphold the primacy of our readers’ interests, it is vital that our process for reporting bias be aggressively enforced. I urge any and all readers with knowledge about unreported conflicts of interest within any Cureus article to report it to our editorial team. After all, all articles published in Cureus reflect not just our journal’s editorial practices, but also the goodwill and commitment to truth from our entire community of users.

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