Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Editorials

Accepting commercial sponsorship

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.319.7211.653 (Published 11 September 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:653

Rapid Response:

Commercial and public sponsorship

The BMJ's editorial on commercial sponsorship for research (1) is
timely because commercial interests can bias the conduct and reporting of
research (2). The editorial, however, may leave the impression that
pressure on research is an issue in relation to commercial sponsorship
only.

I used to believe that public sponsors would allow the
independent conduct of research, but sad experiences have taught me
otherwise. Recent stories from the Norwegian mass media may indicate that
public sponsors may just as well breach ethical codes for research
sponsorship. Newspapers have told their readers that the ministry of
education tried to influence research into the effects of an educational
reform (3) while a labour union tried to keep secret a report on
privatisation of municipal services (4). The National Council of Tobacco
and Health asked a research team to change its methods for analysing the
economic consequences of smoking . The methods were agreed upon before the
project started, but the council later asked the team to switch to a
method that would make smoking appear more "costly" to society (5). In the
end, the funding was stopped. For all three cases, the sponsors denied any
unethical conduct.

While industry's motives for influencing research are obvious (i.e.
profit), the motives of public sponsors may be much more obscure.
Probably, the perceived benefits from getting the "right" results are
related more to organisations or interest groups than to individuals. It
is conceivable that civil servants or other parties see themselves as
agents for public interests that entitle them to influence research. In
the commercial sector agents are more used to criticism for biased
research and may be better aware of the ethical rules. Interestingly, some
researchers say they feel less pressure when undertaking research for the
pharmaceutical industry than for government.

It is in the interest of all to have unbiased conduct and reporting
of research. The same ethical rules should apply for privately as well as
for publicly funded research.

Ivar Sønbø Kristiansen

N-0853 Oslo, Norway

References

1. Bero LA. Accepting commercial sponsorship. Disclosure helps -
but is not a panacea. BMJ 1999; 319: 653-4.

2. Kristiansen IS. Interactions between physicians and drug
industry. Between Skylla and Kharybdis (in Norwegian). Tidsskr Nor
Laegeforen 1998; 118:1228-33.

3. Blichfelt J.F., Deichmann-Sørensen T., Lauvdal T. Towards a new
regime for knowledge. Evaluation of the Reform 94. Organisation and
collaboration. AFIs Rapportserie nr 7/98 (in Norwegian). Oslo: Work
Research Institute, 1998.

4. Kagge G. Holding back a FAFO report (in Norwegian). Oslo:
Aftenposten October 13, 1998.

5. Hultgren J. Denies attempting to cheat (in Norwegian). Oslo: Aftenposten April 18, 1999.

Competing interests: No competing interests

22 September 1999
Ivar Sønbø Kristiansen