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2 Journals to Review Editorial Policies

The scientific journals Science and Nature are reviewing their editorial policies after complaints that they published multiple items involving researchers with relevant financial interests that were not disclosed.

One of the examples given by the complainants concerns Roger Beachy, the director of the Danforth Plant Sciences Center in St. Louis, who published an editorial in Science and co-signed a letter published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, supporting genetically engineered crops. Nobody alerted readers to the fact that Monsanto had contributed over $11M of land and a large chunk of the $146 million startup money that made the Danforth Plant Science Center, and Beachy's role in it, possible. Beachy has also received substantial research funding from Monsanto and serves as a consultant to Akkadix, an agricultural-gene-discovery company, as well as being a core team member of the United Soybean Board.

Beachy's 17 co-signatories of the letter to Nature Biotechnology ("Divergent perspectives on GM food," December 2002), attacking an article critical of GM crops, included at least 11 with ties to companies that directly profit from the promotion of GM crops.

For example, Bruce Chassy has received research grants from major food companies and has conducted seminars for Monsanto, Genencor, Amgen, Connaught Labs and Transgene. Chris Lamb is a co-founder of and science advisor to Akkadix, which also funds the John Innes Centre, of which he is the director. Akkadix has also acquired exclusive rights to a gene-discovery technology developed by signer Martin Yanofsky, who, with his colleague and fellow-signer, Julian Schroeder, has exclusive consulting agreements with Akkadix. Charles Santerre was funded by Monsanto to study how training on food biotechnology can change consumer attitudes favourably toward GM foods.

Another flagrant example of the lack of disclosure concerns an article in Science by Steven H. Strauss, "Genomics, Genetic Engineering, and Domestication of Crops" (April 4, 2003, p. 61-2). The article contains no disclosure of interest, even though Strauss has received research grants from Monsanto and other industry sources.

And contrary to claims in the press piece below, this lack of disclosure does not just affect editorials, reviews, opinion pieces, news items and letters. It is also relevant to the publication of primary research.

Indeed, a change of policy on disclosure was recently forced on the journal Science following its publication of a 2002 study authored by Rick Roush and his colleagues at the Cooperative Research Centre in Adelaide. It was published without the authors disclosing that the study, with its reassuring findings about pollen flow from GM crops, had been part-funded by Monsanto and Aventis Crop Sciences (now owned by Bayer). The journal has consequently had to revise its disclosure policy so that researchers are asked to reveal all funding sources in the paper's reference section.

In the article below, Charles Jennings, executive editor of Nature publications, reassures scientists, "Nobody should be embarrassed about commercializing their work. It's a tremendous engine for economic growth." But it's also a tremendous engine for bias and one which many commercially-minded scientists are unscientifically failing to either explore or acknowledge.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (J. E. Bekelman, Y. Li & C. P. Gross, J. Am. Med. Assoc. 289, 454-465; 2003) concluded that **industry-sponsored studies are nearly four times more likely to reach pro-industry conclusions** than are studies that are not industry-sponsored. (see Nature 424, 369 (24 July 2003); doi:10.1038/424369c)

For a copy of the letter to Science:
For a copy of the letter to Nature:
For the CSPI press release:
2 Journals to Review Editorial Policies
Associated Press, 2 September 2003

Two leading scientific journals are reviewing their editorial policies after complaints that they published material by researchers with undisclosed financial interests in their research fields.

Editors at Science, located in Washington, and London-based Nature said none of the examples involved results of experiments.  Instead, the articles in question fall into a secondary category of editorials, commentaries and data reviews of other scientists' work. Generally, these are not covered by disclosure policies.

"I think there is no bombshell," said Donald Kennedy, editor-in-chief of Science and a former Stanford University president. He called the complaint "a useful reminder" from "responsible critics."

The complaint about articles in recent issues of the two journals was signed by 32 researchers and ethicists. Signers include former New England Journal of Medicine editor Marcia Angell, who instituted stricter disclosure rules at that publication a few years ago, complaining that drug makers and biotech firms were exerting undue influence in medical schools.

The critics said Emory University's psychiatry chairman Charles Nemeroff reviewed mood disorder therapies in the monthly journal Nature Neuroscience without revealing his ownership of a patent on one of the treatments.

Charles Jennings, executive editor of the Nature publications, said he is considering changing Nature's disclosure rules and pointing out in print which contributors decline to answer disclosure questions.

But he said most of what the critics described as "academic entrepreneurship" is appropriate and doesn't necessarily taint research.

"Nobody should be embarrassed about commercializing their work," Jennings said. "It's a tremendous engine for economic growth."

Science recently published five items involving researchers who may have financial biases, the critics said.

For example, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington advocacy group, Roger Beachy of the Danforth Plant Sciences Center in St. Louis published an editorial supporting genetically engineered crops. Beachy and the Danforth Center have been supported by agri-giant Monsanto, also based in St. Louis, CSPI said.
Former Texas AW University entomologist John Benedict has said:

"The universities are cheering us on, telling us to get closer to industry, encouraging us to consult with big business. The bottom line is to improve the corporate bottom line. It's the way we move up, get strokes.... We can't help but be influenced from time to time by our desire to see certain results happen in the lab."

"All of these companies have a piece of me. I'm getting checks waved at me from Monsanto and American Cyanamid and Dow, and it's hard to balance the public interest with the private interest. It's a very difficult juggling act, and sometimes I don't know how to juggle it all."

"These competing interests are very important. It has quite a profound influence on the conclusions and we deceive ourselves if we think science is wholly impartial."
Dr Richard Smith, Editor of the British Medical Journal