Peer-Reviewed Journals Acting As Industry Mouthpieces
A recent Reuters investigation spotlighted a J&J research director in a “strictly confidential” 1975 memo to managers of the baby products division. “Our current posture with respect to the sponsorship of talc safety studies has been to initiate studies only as dictated by confrontation. This philosophy, so far, has allowed us to neutralize or hold in check data already generated by investigators who question the safety of talc.”
Not much has changed since J&J wrote that internal memo, in fact, one could make a compelling argument that much of peer-reviewed science and their respected journals have been captured by industry.
Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 1998 was a review looking at research articles published from 1980-1995 on the health effects of secondhand smoke. The analysis found that of the scientists from the tobacco industry who reviewed the effects of secondhand smoke, more than 90 percent of them found no evidence of harm. That same year, a $206B master settlement encompassing 46 states settled medicaid lawsuits against top tobacco companies. As a part of the settlement, the 40-year old Tobacco Institute and Committee for Tobacco Research were disbanded after decades of working with scientists, researchers and doctors to hide the harmful effects of big tobacco’s products.
It appears that industry influence and scientific corruption is directly proportional to potential and realized financial gains of a product. Apart from the rare move of fully disbanding an organization, another solution to weed out conflicts is to practice a culture and implement systems to demand inescapable, full transparency of both the researchers and their data.
The highly publicized 2015 reanalysis of SmithKline Beecham’s 2001 Study 329 illustrates the necessity of making primary trial data and protocols available. Study 329s objective was to compare the efficacy and safety of antidepressants paroxetine and imipramine with a placebo in the treatment of adolescents with major depression. The reanalysis, under the restoring invisible and abandoned trials (RIAT) initiative, found that neither drug showed efficacy. In addition, both drugs displayed an increase in harm. Far from an isolated incident, Study 329 was corroborated a year later in 2016 by the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology which looked at 185 meta-analyses of antidepressant studies with industry involvement. The researchers found of the studies which included an author who were employees of the manufacturer of the assessed drug were “22-fold less likely to have negative statements about the drug.” Why is this important? According to recent data, there are over 2 million kids ages 0-17 on antidepressant drugs [38,000 from ages 0-5] in the United States. The number of antidepressants prescribed to children in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland has risen over the past three years. The BBC writes, “The steepest increase was seen in the youngest patients, those aged 12 and under, where the number of prescriptions rose on average by 24%, from 14,500 to almost 18,000.”
Last month JAMA published an original investigation of 100 physicians receiving the highest compensation from large surgical and medical device manufacturers. The authors found conflicts of interest were declared by those authors only 37.3 percent of the time leading them to propose that a “policy of full disclosure for all publications, regardless of relevance.”
In 2009 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published its census study report titled Conflict of Interest In Medical Research, Education and Practice giving a detailed analysis of many issues as well as solutions. Unfortunately the IOM’s report fell on deaf ears as much of medical research and prominent peer-reviewed journals ignored their own inherent issues and conflicts with industry.
Monsanto, now a unit of Bayer AG, is the current mega-corporation in the public spotlight shown to have manipulated and sidestepped the science surrounding its flagship herbicide glyphosate. Through discovery documents, much of the industry techniques used by Monsanto to skirt and omit inconvenient science underpinning its products as well as influencing regulators were from the same ‘Big Tobacco’ playbook.
Presently, both the public and those within the medical community with integrity must rely on a mix of original investigation, journalism and whistleblower comments from past and present medical journal editors in hopes of incremental change. For example, two recent NY Times articles have forced the hands of four prominent doctors with deep conflicts of interest and the medical journals who published their research. Dr. Jose Baselga, chief medical officer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York resigned while three others that were the subject of the NY Times investigation were forced to update their disclosure statements in many of the journals they published research in. The NY Times investigation exposed inherent weaknesses to address conflicts of interest among their authors within major medical journals. The conflicts could have been easily spotted by any journal editor using the Open Payments Data system to cross reference doctors with their industry connections as the NY Times did in their investigation.
The public appears to be witnessing a slow-motion admittance of continuous research fraud at the hands of industry-funded and directed science. The far-reaching effects from each generational revolution of scientific and research fraud is larger and more damaging to the public than the last. Concealing the ill-health effects of asbestos, J&J’s baby powder talc and tobacco smoke using the good name of science and peer review as its cover left a horrific legacy on generations. Currently, the industry-corrupted scientific literature and peer-reviewed journals have opened the door to products that may change the very essence and vibrance of humanity forever. 5G WiFi, glyphosate and ever-expanding vaccine schedules have all escaped true scientific scrutiny and debate before being rolled out and upon entire populations.
Society must re-evaluate its trust and relationship in the peer-reviewed process. At its core and perhaps in a vacuum, proper peer-reviewed scientific literature and medical journals have integrity and standing. However, in our current reality, where competition, industry greed, manipulation and censorship are often unchecked, peer-reviewed journals that speak for science are now in question. Put another way, the long-standing, unaddressed elephant in the room of industry conflict of interest has now become the major impediment hindering pure, unapologetic scientific discovery that once trail-blazed exciting new paths towards human innovation, discovery and true healing modalities.