Source: New York Times
Date: 27 September 2003

Science Journals Tighten Rules
for Disclosure of Financial Ties


The editors of an influential group of scientific journals said yesterday that they were greatly expanding their policy requiring contributors to disclose financial ties to products or companies that could benefit from the articles they write.

The new policy at the journal Nature and its sister publications comes in response to widespread criticism of an article in Nature Neuroscience last November about treatments for depression. The author, Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff, chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, praised three products to which he had significant financial ties. Dr. Nemeroff later said he would have disclosed his financial interests had the journal asked him to. And the editors said yesterday that he had not violated their policy at the time.

In an editorial in Nature Neuroscience yesterday, the editors said the incident underscored the need for scientists to disclose all conflicts of interest, including corporate financing, stock holdings and patents, to keep the public's trust.

When scientists "offer their professional expertise without disclosing potential financial benefits to themselves," the editors wrote, "it threatens to undermine public trust, not simply in a particular paper or journal, but in the integrity of the scientific enterprise as a whole."

The new policy will apply to all of the Nature Publishing Group's journals, said Dr. Sandra Aamodt, editor of Nature Neuroscience.

Until now, the journals required only the authors of articles describing original research to disclose their financial ties. The editors expanded that disclosure policy to other types of articles including reviews of previously published research.

Such policies at medical journals now vary widely, from similar expansive disclosure rules at the New England Journal of Medicine to no policy at all at some journals.

Yesterday's Nature Neuroscience also carried a letter written in February by two scientists, Dr. Robert T. Rubin and Dr. Bernard J. Carroll, detailing Dr. Nemeroff's conflicts, which include holding the patent on a product that he mentioned favorably in the article.

Dr. Rubin, director of the Center for Neurosciences Research at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, and Dr. Carroll, director of the Pacific Behavioral Research Foundation in Carmel, Calif., gave a copy of their letter to The New York Times in July after asking Nature Neuroscience repeatedly to publish it. The Times wrote about the letter last month.

Yesterday, the journal also published a response from Dr. Nemeroff, who said he had "always been forthcoming" about his financial relationships. He pointed out that in a recent case he had disclosed that he was consultant to 20 pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly, Merck and Forest Laboratories.

He said he had written a balanced and accurate review of the depression treatments, including writing negatively about a drug sold by a company that he consults for.

In the future, he said, he will provide all financial disclosure information, even if a journal's editors do not request it.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Dr. Nemeroff said the letter spoke for itself.

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