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French guidelines are withdrawn after court finds potential bias among authors

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d4007 (Published 24 June 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d4007

French ethical expert panel on retraction of guidelines is needed

Dear Editor,

A few inaccuracies appeared in the June 24 news (BMJ 2011;342:d4007 doi:
10.1136/bmj.d4007) on the withdrawal of guidelines by the French Health
Authority. The court ruled out that the Authority did not follow its own
rules on conflict of interest disclosure regarding experts that serve on
guidelines panels. Jeanne Lenzer had information from one source that only
represents few doctors (less than 0.5% of French doctors).

1. the retracted guidelines were removed from the French Health Authority
website: it's a mistake; there are no French ethical guidelines suggesting
a policy for retracted guidelines; we are convinced that they must remain
on the website, as the BMJ does with retracted papers;

2. the retracted guidelines are now accessible on other websites, such as
Formindep, with the proper mention of the retraction; one was published in
a Journal (Diabetes & Metabolism) that did not inform its readership;

3. there are no French guidelines such as the COPE (Committee On
Publication Ethics, http://www.publicationethics.org/) ones: "Retracted
articles should not be removed from printed copies of the journal (e.g. in
libraries) nor from electronic archives but their retracted status should
be indicated as clearly as possible". The Health On the Net foundation
(Geneva, http://www.hon.ch/) has accredited the French Health Authority
website and does not have a policy;

4. the court did not discuss the substance of the guidelines; the decision
was based on the absence of disclosure of 4 panel members; many people
incorrectly believe that the court rules that the recommendations were
flawed and do not constitute good advice; you should interview the opinion
leaders, and some experts on the panel;

5. France has no border with Holland, and Roubaix is close to Belgium!

We recommend the development of French ethical guidelines using the COPE
experience; the retracted guidelines must be posted back on the websites
with a clear mention that they were retracted.

Competing interests: Deputy editor at La Presse Medicale; member of a working group on the quality of journals at the French Health Authority

05 July 2011
Herve Maisonneuve
Associate professor
Universite Paris Sud 11