Trouble over conflicts of interest leads JAMA to revise its policy

An editorial in JAMA1 describes a case of an author’s undeclared conflict of interest which was reported to the journal by a reader, Jonathan Leo. The reason for the editorial (in addition to a published correction) is that Leo sent a copy of his letter to the New York Times and also posted his concerns in a BMJ Rapid Response2 which appeared before JAMA published its correction in its print issue of March 11.

The COPE flowchart on this topic advises editors to thank a reader who alerts them to possible undisclosed conflicts of interest and to inform them when the case is resolved, but it does not say what to do if the reader publishes the allegations elsewhere or feels that the journal is dragging its feet.

In the editorial, the JAMA editors explain that, in future, people making allegations about unreported conflicts of interest should not contact the media while the journal’s investigation is underway. This new policy has been criticised by Jerome Kassirer (a former editor of NEJM) according to the Wall Street Journal’s blog.3

Without knowing all the details of JAMA’s investigation (and since JAMA is not a COPE member) it would be out of place for COPE to comment on this particular case, but COPE members might find this interesting reading. And please use this blog to let us know what you think of JAMA’s new policy.

1 De Angelis CD and Fontanaroa PB. Conflicts Over Conflicts of Interest. Published Online: March 20, 2009 (doi: 10.1001/jama.2009.480).

2 Leo J, Lacasse J. Clinical trials of therapy versus medication: even in a tie, medication wins. BMJ Rapid responses. March 5, 2009.