A new player in the conflicts of interest pageant

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it” These famous words were uttered by Upton Sinclair long ago but, although his concern was more with politics than the types of conflicts of interest discussed in this blog, its logic is no less applicable to the latter – and no less forceful with the passage of time.  If money can’t always buy people’s souls, it still very frequently affects their understanding and actions. And, in at least one way, the situation may be getting worse.

The pageant of COIs indeed seems endless: lawyers, financial advisors, journalists, economists, medical doctors, auditors, compensation consultants.  (For more on this see the posts collected  in the  Industries and Professions tab on the left hand side of the screen.)  To this list should now be added – dental researchers.

According to story last month in Medscape Today News, a recent published study showed: “Researchers are more likely to report positive results about dental treatments if they get paid by the [companies’] marketing the treatments… In an analysis of 135 randomized clinical trials from leading dental journals, those in which the authors had a conflict of interest were 2.4 times more likely to have positive results, the study shows.”

The article did note the view of a “former editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Dental Association and past president of the [International Association for Dental Research ] … that she is confident existing safeguards will keep the dental literature from being distorted.” On the other hand, one of the study’s authors – University of Toronto researcher Romina Brignardello-Petersen, DDS –  said, “many readers do not know how to assess the evidence critically…To be completely honest, probably it does have a big impact because most people who use the literature are not accustomed to doing critical analysis of it.”

Still, this may be a difficult problem to address.  As also noted by Dr. Brignardello-Petersen, “’unfortunately, it would be very hard to conduct clinical research if there was no sponsorship… . Randomized clinical trials are expensive to conduct, and researchers have a bigger opportunity to conduct research if they work with one of the companies,’”  a factor which is particularly relevant to dentistry  given that government funding for research in that field is “meager.”

Indeed, at a time when government funding for other types of medical research is increasingly in jeopardy, it is scary to contemplate the broader implications of the dental research COI study.  But Sinclair wouldn’t be surprised by any of it.

 

One Comment
  1. David Pije 4 years ago

    Did we ever thoroughly investigate to which extent compliance officers themselves who are paid by the financial institutions they advise are subject to conflicts of interest?

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