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Does Industry Sponsorship Undermine the Integrity of Nutrition Research?

  • Martijn B Katan
  • Published: January 09, 2007
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0040006

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A practical proposal to reduce distortion of science by political or commercial interests.

Posted by plosmedicine on 31 Mar 2009 at 00:23 GMT

Author: Martijn Katan
Position: Professor
Institution: Institute of Health Sciences, VU University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Submitted Date: March 17, 2008
Published Date: March 17, 2008
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

I share Dr Pusztai’s concern about industry sponsorship and its effects on the integrity of science. However, similar concerns have been voiced for many years, codes of conduct have multiplied, but little has changed. How can we prevent distortion of science by commercial and political interests?

A report by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences had some useful suggestions for this.1 The Academy proposed a code of conduct linked to a certification system. A university would be certified if it declares that it will adhere to the so-called Declaration of Scientific Independence1. This is code of conduct similar to those proposed earlier, but with the difference that it includes enforcement and penalties. It obliges adhering universities to maintain a registry of all the research contracts concluded by them. The registry as well as the contracts would be confidential and are not made public, but confidential access would be given to the Council on Research Integrity of the Academy. The Council on Research Integrity would conduct spot checks of the text of contracts concluded between universities and sponsors, and if any contract is found to breach the code of conduct – e.g. by allowing a sponsor to block publication of research findings – then the certification of that university could be publicly revoked.

Whether the Netherlands will introduce such a system is uncertain. Discussions on this are ongoing between the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sciences, the Academy, and Parliament. The added layer of bureaucracy and the added costs are an obvious concern.

However, I think that the system is worth trying, because the threat posed to science and society by biased research is immediate and real.

Martijn B. Katan
Institute of Health Sciences
VU University Amsterdam
The Netherlands

1. van der Meer JWM, de Gier AM, van Swaaij WPM, Katan MB. Independent medical research? Neth J Med. 2007;65:124-26.

Funding: The author received no specific funding for this article.

Competing interests declared: I am the Corresponding Author for this manuscript. I was a member of the committee that wrote the report of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences. In the past 30 years the author has received research funding or materials from a range of food industries and trade organizations, and he has attended expenses-paid meetings organized by industries. He sometimes provides unpaid informal advice to colleagues in the food industry. He does not consult or testify for industries or trade organizations, accepts no honoraria, fees or gifts beyond a bottle of wine or book token, and owns no stocks or other interests in food or beverage companies.