The problem with transparency

The opaque logic of public interest policies

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While the NIH is tightening its rules concerning what financial ties university researchers must disclose before getting public grants, the FDA may be loosening its own criteria for excluding potential advisors based on their industry connections.  It seems that as a consequence of the disclosure business, the only experts who would pass muster were no experts after all

Meanwhile a story in Cardiology News this month tags yet again Dr. Paul Ridker with the issue of conflict of interest.  It seems the inflammatologist felt obligated to elaborate once more on his “lengthy disclosure slide” before giving a lecture at a scientific meeting.  But Ridker is now taking a more offensive stance and argues that “Any senior scientist will tell you that the biggest conflict of interest he or she has has nothing to do with the [disclosures] they list on their PowerPoints or in their publications…It has to do with our individual belief in the biology of what we’re doing.”

Although Ridker’s unusual “bias by belief” argument is refreshing, it somehow conjures the impression of an insanity defense and is unlikely to sway the thought police…

Meanwhile the NEJM publishes a panegyric to Paul Ehrlich and his discovery of the “magic bullet” Salvarsan that doesn’t mention Ehrlich’s inextricable ties to Hoechst AG…

All-in-all a good opportunity to re-read Elizabeth Whelan’s piece on COI’s in the Washington Times.

In summary, COI disclosure requirements actually disclose that:

  1. we’re unable to judge research on its own merit
  2. we like to be able to conveniently discredit inconvenient research (HT Dr. Rich’s)
  3. COI disclosures are a helpful exercise in auto-critique, prepare for more substantial mea culpae in future
  4. peer-review mechanisms are unreliable
  5. licensing laws fail yet again to keep us safe
  6. the “deprofessionalizing” of medicine is proceeding apace