Sponsorship, Authorship and Accountability

The New England Journal of Medicine has issued an editorial describing its new policy designed to guarantee the independence of scientists who publish papers in medical journals. The new policy, which has been adopted simultaneously by members of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, strengthens requirements that the authors of published studies disclose who sponsored the study, and states that participating medical journals "will not review or publish articles based on studies that are conducted under conditions that allow the sponsor to have sole control of the data or to withhold publication." Medical journals are adopting this policy, the editorial explains, because their "precious objectivity" is threatened by "the current intellectual environment in which some clinical research is conceived, study subjects are recruited, and the data are analyzed. ... [C]orporate sponsors have been able to dictate the terms of participation in the trial -- terms that are not always in the best interests of academic investigators, the study participants, or the advancement of science generally. Investigators may have little or no input into trial design, no access to the raw data, and limited participation in data interpretation. These terms are draconian for self-respecting scientists, but many have accepted them because they know that if they do not, the sponsor will find someone else who will." Although this new policy certainly reflects a step in the right direction, it has not yet been adopted by a number of leading scientific journalist, such as Science, Nature and the American Heart Association's journals.