Making Sense of Non-Financial Competing Interests

  • The PLoS Medicine Editors
  • Published: September 30, 2008
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0050199

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Using the Internet to Disclose Competing Interests

Posted by plosmedicine on 31 Mar 2009 at 00:32 GMT

Author: James Enstrom
Position: Research Professor
Institution: University of California, Los Angeles
Submitted Date: November 01, 2008
Published Date: November 3, 2008
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

Non-financial competing interests represent a serious issue and challenge (1). To increase disclosure of non-financial competing interests, use should be made of the Internet. For instance, there are Internet data bases, like PubMed and Medline, and Internet search engines, like Google, Yahoo, and LexisNexis. Careful assessment of Internet information makes it possible to reasonably determine the competing interests, both financial and non-financial, of an author.

The Internet approach can be applied to the PLoS Medicine paper that examines the impact of the California Tobacco Control Program on personal health care expenditures (2). Stanton A. Glantz and two co-authors stated that they had no competing interests, but this statement was challenged by reader Jeremy Richards, who believed that the authors might benefit from increased spending on antismoking programs in California (3).

The Internet reveals that Glantz has been an anti-tobacco activist for three decades with many financial and non-financial competing interests (4,5). Glantz’s prior use of the themes “the tobacco industry lies, nicotine is addictive, and secondhand smoke kills” could easily have influenced his PLoS Medicine paper. Thus, Glantz should have disclosed his competing interests, especially his title, “American Legacy Foundation Distinguished Professor of Tobacco Control” at UCSF (6).

The PLoS Medicine policy statement on competing interests requires such disclosure, particularly when it cites a paper by Glantz alleging limitations in my competing interest disclosures (7). I have used the Internet to refute the false statements made about my research and my competing interests made by Glantz and others. Examine my Scientific Integrity Institute website (www.scientificintegrityin...) and my detailed peer-reviewed paper (8).

The selective nature of competing interest disclosures is further illustrated by a Science article discussing tobacco industry funding at UC and quoting Glantz (9). I submitted a letter with important details about UC tobacco industry funding policy and the competing interests of Glantz. My letter also provided evidence that UC policy prohibits American Legacy Foundation funding at UC and that UCSF has evaded this policy in order to accept ALF funds for Glantz. Science rejected my letter (10).

In order to maintain their credibility with regard to competing interest disclosures, journals must publish accurate and complete disclosures about all authors. If such disclosures are not made by the journals themselves, then this information will be revealed through the Internet and other sources.

1. The PLoS Medicine Editors (2008) Making Sense of Non-Financial Competing Interests.
PLoS Med 5(9): e199.

2. Lightwood JM, Dinno A, Glantz SA (2008) Effect of the California Tobacco Control Program on personal health care expenditures. PLoS Med 5(8): e178.

3. Richards J. September 1, 2008 Reader Response to PLoS Med 5(8): e178.

4. Glantz SA. Achieving a smokefree society (editorial). Circulation 1987;76:746-752.

5. Robinson M. Tilting at Tobacco. Stanford Magazine Nov/Dec 1996.

6. Cartwright J. American Legacy Foundation Honors Champion of Anti-Tobacco Fight. August 8, 2007 (http://www.americanlegacy...).

7. The PLoS Medicine Editors (2005) How does PLoS Medicine manage competing interests. PLoS Med 2: e88.

8. Enstrom JE. Defending legitimate epidemiologic research: combating Lysenko pseudoscience. Epidemiol Perspect Innov 2007;4:11.

9. Grimm D. Philip Morris Pulls the Plug on Controversial Research Program. Science 2008;319:1173.

10. Enstrom JE. Clarifying Tobacco Industry Funding of Research at the University of California. Letter submitted to Science March 11, 2008 and rejected July 11, 2008

Competing interests declared: My competing interests, both financial and non-financial, have been thoroughly discussed in references 8-10.