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