Letter: Let's clear the air

March 22, 2002

In view of recent revelations of supposedly independent commentators receiving massive retainers from, for example, the tobacco industry, you should require from your contributors statements of interest that might bias their comment.

A book by John Brignell (Books, THES , March 8) and its review by Robert Gaitskell QC offer highly contentious interpretations of the epidemiological data on smoking and passive smoking and illness. The single concession to the weight of overwhelming evidence on these matters is that your reviewer is sceptical of the figures purporting to show that smoking might be good for people. By that means he may give the impression of objectivity - but I would like to know whether he has ever accepted money from the tobacco industry.

Reviews such as this are valueless until your readers know this not to be the case. The experience in other academic journals has led inexorably to clear declarations of any competing interests as a matter of routine, both for substantive contributions and for reviews of any kind.

Klim McPherson
Professor of public health epidemiology
University of Bristol

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