In response to concerns about the increasing influence of sponsors in medical research, several international medical journals, including the BMJ, have taken steps to restrict the publication of research that is not independent.
The agreement follows several cases in which researchers have not participated in the design of the study, had no access to the raw data, had little to do with the interpretation of the data, and had no control over whether the results were published. Instead the sponsors of the study, often pharmaceutical companies, have designed, analysed, and interpreted the data, and sometimes stopped publication if the results don't please them. Readers and editors are thus being deceived.
As a member of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, the BMJ will now routinely require authors to disclose details of their own and the sponsor's role in a study. "This initiative should not be seen as an attack on the pharmaceutical industry," says Richard Smith, Editor of the BMJ. "Many companies have high ethical standards and will see no problem in complying with the new policies. Other groups, including hospitals and governments, may often be keen to control publication especially if results appear to contradict current policy."
He concludes: "We will ask contributors to sign a statement that they accept full responsibility for the conduct of the study, had access to the data, and controlled the decision to publish. If authors cannot satisfy us on these points then we will not publish. In this way we hope to contribute to maintaining and improving the integrity of the scientific record."
An editorial with this same message is appearing simultaneously in the other journals that are members of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.