Editors at PLoS Medicine suggest that merely disclosing conflicts of interest is insufficient and possibly even counterproductive. From the Scientist:
“When a scientist or doctor has a financial conflict of interest, open disclosure in scientific publications might actually backfire and make bias worse, warn the editors of PLoS Medicine in an editorial out yesterday (April 24). Furthermore, disclosure policies in general do nothing to confront the issues of the conflicts of interest themselves, they write. So what can be done?
‘The reliance that many of us in the medical and publishing communities have on disclosure policy is problematical,’ said Jocalyn Clark, senior magazine editor at PLoS Medicine and one of the authors of the new editorial—’both because it leaves the real question of the conflict of interest unaddressed, but also and more importantly, because…disclosure may actually be worsening the problem.’
Indeed, a study by George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and colleagues suggests that bias may be greater when conflicts of interest are disclosed. This stems from the idea that doctors strategically exaggerate their advice to patients to counteract the possible effect the disclosure might have on patient opinions. Furthermore, simply disclosing their conflicts might make doctors feel that giving biased advice is acceptable, because the patient “has been warned.” The PLoS Medicine editors extrapolate Loewenstein’s suggestion to published articles.”
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