Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Think tank funding

Financial transparency: necessary but not sufficient

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: (Published 17 June 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l4149
  1. David B Menkes, academic psychiatrist
  1. University of Auckland, Waikato Clinical Campus, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand
  1. david.menkes{at}

As Coombes says, right wing think tanks are beholden to their funders and repay their patronage with “free market” advocacy.1 That such advocacy is often at odds with public health is unsurprising, given its usual opposition to environmental protection and the regulation of commodity industries, including those producing junk food, alcohol, and tobacco.2 The tabloid press is, often incoherently, willing to join cries against “nanny state” restrictions on the availability and promotion of such products.3

The BMJ sensibly advocates full disclosure of think tank funding as a prerequisite for participation in public debate.1 But this is unlikely to be enough for two reasons. First, although the requirement for declaring conflicts of interest has become the norm in academic publishing, such disclosures are frequently misleading and use euphemistic language.4 Second, and more fundamentally, disclosure of financial interests is not enough to mitigate bias and, perversely, may even aggravate it.5 In this context, one can see the proud declaration of corporate funding by a New Zealand think tank sitting comfortably alongside its enthusiastic free market agenda.6

Transparency around conflicts of interest is, quite simply, inadequate to protect public health in a market driven economy.


  • Competing interests: None declared.