Depression, migraines and conflicts of interest

July 13:

The latest incident, disclosed in letters to the editor and a correction in Wednesday’s journal, involves a study showing that pregnant women who stop taking antidepressants risk slipping back into depression.

Most of the 13 authors have financial ties to drug companies including antidepressant makers, but only two of them revealed their ties when the study was published in February.

July 18:

the editor of The Journal of the American Medical Association said she was misled again, this time by the authors of a study linking severe migraines to heart attacks in women.

All six authors of the study have done consulting work or received research financing from makers of treatments for migraines or heart-related problems.

Here’s a profile of Dr. Catherine D. DeAngelis, the tough-talking chief editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

She is the first woman to edit the journal, commonly known as JAMA, in its 123-year history. Her résumé runs 25 pages, excluding minor details like these: On dull days she blasts the “William Tell Overture” across the cubicles, and the bird in her office ficus tree has a motion detector that makes visitors jump.


… Dr. DeAngelis said she had dug up conflicts she suspected, that she had questioned the authors, and that when she believed an author intended to deceive her, she asked that the author be disciplined by the dean of his or her medical school.

She also publishes corrections in which she names doctors who evade her rules. She said one such doctor from Harvard, whom she declined to name, called her in tears.

“This follows them the rest of their life,” Dr. DeAngelis said.

Further, she has tightened the journal’s guidelines, making authors sign statements that describe any possible conflicts.

“It’s very rare that it’s deliberate,” she said. “In most cases, they just don’t get it. But the rule is: You reveal, then let me or the other editors decide whether it’s relevant.”

Dr. Joseph B. Martin, dean of the Harvard Medical School, said he completely concurred with Dr. DeAngelis’s argument that doctors should disclose “more rather than less, and ideally everything.”

Dr. DeAngelis says she gets 6,000 submissions a year with an average of six authors each, and she cannot check them all. “I’m not the F.B.I.,” she said.

Asked if she could give the rules even more teeth, perhaps even arrange with editors of other top journals to blacklist cheaters, she said, “Have you ever heard of the Sherman Antitrust Act? I’ve talked to three lawyers about that. They all said: ‘You want to end up in jail? Don’t go there.’ ”

* * *

Benedict Carey’s commentary on willful non-disclosures by scientists who should know better is here. The NYTimes editorial on these recent revelations is here.


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