Intended for healthcare professionals


The rise of ambiguous competing interest declarations

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: (Published 10 April 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k1464
  1. Barbara Mintzes, senior lecturer,
  2. Quinn Grundy, postdoctoral fellow
  1. Faculty of Pharmacy and Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney, Australia
  1. barbara.mintzes{at}

Terms such as “unpaid consultancy” should be consigned to the dustbin

A recent analysis in the Journal of General Internal Medicine reports on a new trend: many more authors of medical journal articles are disclosing that they are “unpaid consultants” to pharmaceutical, biotech, or medical device companies. Before 2000, there were one or two such disclosures a year; this increased to over 150 a year from 2012 to 2014.1

This form of disclosure may reflect greater openness, or it may disguise industry sponsorship of medical research with new terminology. Menkes et al suggest that declarations of “unpaid” consultancies “may do more to conceal than illuminate.” Although it implies that cash was not transferred, the definition of “unpaid” does not preclude other financial and material advantages. These consultancies may include payments for conferences, travel, or hospitality, for example. Such gifts can be more than incidental: Australian industry reports of sponsored events for health professionals included “a $176 000 (£95 875; €144 000) junket …

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