In 2006, a study by Dr. Claudia I. Henshke of the Weill Medical College at Cornell University shocked the medical professional world by reporting that the widespread use of CT scans could help prevent 80% of lung cancer deaths. The study was published in the renowned New England Journal of Medicine, and sent shock waves of hope through the medical profession. Unfortunately, the good news would be tainted by the discovery of a crippling conflict of interest: The study was funded almost entirely by the cigarette industry.
After Ms. Henshke reported her study to the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education, an investigation revealed a long string of deceivingly named non-profit funding, leading all the way back to big tobacco. After its startling discovery, the council wrote to the Journal, explaining its concern over the validity of Ms. Henshke’s findings.
The study failed to disclose that Dr. Henshke’s work had been underwritten in part by a $3.6 million grant from the parent company of the Liggett Group, a cigarette maker, something the journal editors said they had been unaware of.
The council’s criticism was received quickly by the Journal, who quickly moved into damage control mode. A letter in response from the Journal stated, “When we published Dr. Henschke’s article in 2006 it was not routine NEJM editorial policy to publish details about… funding. Since that time our thinking on this issue has evolved.” The journal now asks authors to disclose all royalties related to their research, and it publishes the information with the studies. The letter was signed by Dr. Jeffrey M. Drazen, the journal’s editor in chief, as well as Corinne Broderick, executive vice president of the medical society.
The New England Journal of Medicine has taken the proper steps to remedy this immoral conflict of interest. Unfortunately, not every journal has taken the hint. When reading a medical study that might effect your decision making process, remember to read the fine print. Don’t let your well being be effected by corporate influence on greedy doctors.
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