Commercial Influence on Research & on Publishing

Here’s an interesting story about commercial influence on the world of scientific publishing. In a recent article in Harvard’s Health Policy Review (HHPR), Donald W. Light and Rebecca N. Warburton detail the difficulties they had in trying to publish, in the Journal of Health Economics (JHE), a paper critical of another paper (by DiMasi et al) previously published by JHE.

Back in 2003, the JHE published a paper by DiMasi et al on the R&D costs involved in drug development (on average, $802 million). There’s plenty of skepticism about that number. Light & Warburton argue, in particular (and among other criticisms) that that number was based on data that was not made public, and that the source of the funder for DiMasi et al’s research was unclear.

In their HHPR paper, Light & Warburton detail the difficulties they had in dealing with the editors of JHE, who, it seemed to them (and they provide evidence of this in their paper) went to great lengths to soften criticism of the DiMasi et al paper, and in particular to eliminate any implication of commercial (i.e., industry) influence on the research. It’s fascinating, thought-provoking reading.

Two important notes:
1) Light & Warburton don’t provide direct evidence of commercial influence, either in the paper they wrote for JHE, or in their critical review of the JHE‘s process in the HHPR. But they do ask some very good questions, questions deserving of an answer. Direct proof of such things is hard to come by, but it behooves researchers and scholarly journals to do what they can to be sufficiently transparent to dispel any doubts.
2) There are no attacks, here, on anyone’s character. Influence — including corporate influence — can happen in many subtle ways. To imply influence is not to imply malice.

Here’s the website for the Health Policy Review.
The direct link to the article is here: Ethical Standards for Healthcare Journal Editors: A Case Report and Recommendations
Here’s the 2003 paper by DiMasi et al: The price of innovation: new estimates of drug development costs

See also:

$800 Million Pill and Elements of Pharmaceutical Pricing

~ by Nancy Walton on October 28, 2008.

2 Responses to “Commercial Influence on Research & on Publishing”

  1. Rebecca Warburton here, the health economist who helped Donald Light publish the papers referred to in the blog.Thanks, Chris, appreciate the support.The only comment I would have is that we of course couldn’t show direct commercial influence on the DiMasi paper, but we did point out (and JHE wouldn’t print this) that the Tufts Center website clearly said most of their funding came from pharmaceutical companies, in the form of unrestricted grants. This was never disclosed to JHE readers, yet the editors wouldn’t let us point it out, in our comment.We then cited just a few of the published reviews (and there are many) showing that research results are correlated with funding source; results tend overwhelmingly to favor the funder’s interests. And this is true even when the researchers themselves do not intend to be, or believe they have been, influenced.We then asked the hypothetical questions (in our comment) whether it was reasonable to think that the Center’s funding would continue, and/or whether the supply of confidential data would continue, if the Center published research unfavorable to the industry. If not, then there was a clear financial incentive to produce favorable results for drug company products.We (Light and Warburton) never attributed motives to any author of the study on which we commented; we merely pointed out the incentives that they faced and the research evidence about the effects of such incentives.All of this was deleted from our JHE commentary by the editors.We just hope readers will judge for themselves. We’ve put up a short ‘judge for yourself’ piece; but also read our JHE pieces and the HHPR paper. Cheers,Rebecca

  2. […] above) have all been corrupted by corporate money. And it’s true that there really is cause for worry here. Too many docs get too much money (and other perks) from pharma, and are insufficiently transparent […]

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