Ethical site names scientists

June 15, 2001

A website that reveals the names of more than 1,100 university researchers and dozens of nonprofit organisations whose work is being underwritten by the private sector has been launched in the United States.

The disclosure follows reports that scientists have been pressured to tailor research for the sake of sponsoring corporations and that journal editors and contributors have not disclosed potential conflicts.

The site was launched by the non-profit Center for Science in the Public Interest. Director Michael Jacobson said: "Corporations increasingly are funding academic scientists to conduct research... and provide advice. Too frequently, neither the scientists nor the corporations disclose that."

Concern about such conflicts of interest has escalated in the past two years. It began when the New England Journal of Medicine admitted that it had published at least 19 articles by authors who had financial connections to drug companies involved with the subject of their work.

Despite this, a study released last month found that of 61,000 articles in 181 journals, just 0.5 per cent disclosed potential conflicts.

Congressional investigators have discovered that John Graham, director of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis and a nominee for a position in the government's Office of Management and Budget, received substantial funding from more than 100 companies and trade associations, each with a potential stake in the work of his department.

Sheldon Krimsky, a professor of urban and environmental policy at Tufts University, who studies such conflicts, said that because there was no law requiring the disclosure of financial conflicts of interest among scientists, the site "provides a valuable way for citizens and the media to gain a better understanding of an important source of bias".

Organisers of the site said they wanted potential conflicts disclosed, particularly by journalists who used academics as sources.

Ronald Collins, director of the project, said: "All too often reporters quote scientists without providing the public with information about their ties to industry."

Morton Mintz, former chairman of the Fund for Investigative Journalism, said that the site would help "reporters spot possible corporate puppets masquerading as independent scientists".

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