Questioning academic integrityBMJ 1994; 309 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.309.6969.1597 (Published 17 December 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;309:1597
- Richard Smith
Be prepared to defend yourself on live television
Academic conflict of interest has suddenly been given a high profile in Britain. The media have discovered that the Portman Group, which lobbies for the drink trade, offered £2000 each to five academics to produce anonymous criticisms of a book on alcohol policy.1 The media, which have been awash with stories of “sleaze” in public life, are also concerned about the funding by the drink trade of the Alcohol Research Group in Edinburgh.2 3 These stories are forcing academics to reconsider the rules of academic life.
Alcohol Policy and the Public Good upset the Portman Group because it argues that increasing the taxation of alcohol reduces alcohol problems and that the current safe limits on alcohol consumption have a scientific basis.4 Published in association with the World Health Organisation, the book is the result of a two year review by an international group of 16 well known researchers chaired by Griffith Edwards, professor of addiction behaviour, University of London.
The Portman Group managed to obtain a prepublication copy from the WHO regional office in Copenhagen, and George Winstanley, director of strategy for the group, wrote to the academics, giving them a clear idea of what he wanted in the review:
“I do not think that this book can be allowed to go unchallenged. Apart from its excessive length, it is in my opinion, unsatisfactory in the way it selects the evidence and draws conclusions from it. Results are reported and research cited selectively. Evidence which does …