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Medical Journal Admits Another Conflict Of Interest

Sun., Dec. 28, 1997

The New England Journal of Medicine allowed a chemical company official to write an unfavorable review of a book that claims chemicals in the environment are responsible for an epidemic of cancers.

The journal, which has been drawing criticism since the review was published last month, apologized for not informing readers that the author was the medical director of W.R. Grace - a company that has been accused of polluting the environment.

“We should have recognized that W.R. Grace was a conflict of interest, but unfortunately the person who handled it didn’t recognize that,” the journal’s editor-in-chief, Dr. Jerome P. Kassirer, said in Saturday editions of The Boston Globe.

Kassirer said the journal, which has had similar problems in the past, would print a complete explanation of its gaffe within four weeks.

In 1989, an article in the journal downplayed the dangers of exposure to asbestos but did not inform its readers that the author had ties to the asbestos industry.

After that, the journal changed its policy to refuse reviews or editorials whose authors were connected to firms with a financial interest in the topic.

But last year, the journal ran an editorial claiming the benefits of diet drugs outweigh the risks. It failed to note that the authors were paid consultants for companies that made or marketed one of those drugs, Redux - recently pulled off the shelves due to safety woes.

“I think there’s an infection at the New England Journal of Medicine that is badly in need of treatment,” said Paul Brodeur - a journalist who has written about chemical pollution.

Tags: ethics

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