... an important and fascinating paper in PloS Medicine shows how editors can be exposed to dramatic conflicts of interest.
The paper is suitably po faced, as is the accompanying editorial, but, as a blogger and ex-editor, I can spell out one of the conflicts of editors in stark terms. It arises when considering a large clinical trial funded by a drug company, and, for example, a third of the trials in the New England Journal of Medicine are funded by industry with almost another half having mixed funding that includes a drug company. Editors know well that they may be able to sell a million dollars worth of reprints of such an article, with a profit margin of perhaps 70%. In other words publishing that one paper will lead to $700 000 on the bottom line. Very few actions in business provide such a substantial profit from so little.... Ex-NEJM editor Marcia Angell was quoted by Smith, having written, “it is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of the New England Journal of Medicine.”
... As the paper in PloS Medicine shows, the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005-6 published 66 trials supported solely by industry and another 95 with some industry funding.
... It’s thus very tempting to publish that drug company sponsored trial, and the temptation is increased further by such trials boosting impact factors, as the PloS Medicine paper shows. Such trials are well cited partly because they are important and partly because drug companies have considerable resources to promote the papers, not least by distributing hundreds of thousands of reprints. The PloS Medicine authors calculate that the impact factor of the New England Journal of Medicine would be reduced by about 15% if it declined to publish drug company sponsored trials.
The PloS Medicine authors show, as have others, that the proportion of trials funded solely by industry ranges from 7% in the BMJ through 26% for JAMA to 32% for the New England Journal of Medicine.