Address of this page is

Volume 51, Number 4 · March 11, 2004

Excerpt from


The Dawn of McScience

By Richard Horton

Reviewed Book
Science in the Private Interest: Has the Lure of Profits Corrupted Biomedical Research?
by Sheldon Krimsky

Rowman and Littlefield, 247 pp., $27.95


"About a quarter of scientists working in medical research have some sort of financial relationship with industry. And, not surprisingly, there is a strong association between commercial sponsorship and the conclusions scientists draw from their findings. Scientists who argue in favor of a particular product are more likely than their neutral or critical colleagues to possess a financial stake in the company that is funding their research or the product they are studying.[14] And, for the most part, these conflicts of interest are not reported when research is either presented at scientific meetings or published in medical journals.

Indeed, medical journals have become an important but underrecognized obstacle to scientific truth-telling. Journals have devolved into information-laundering operations for the pharmaceutical industry. Here is how it works. A pharmaceutical company will sponsor a scientific meeting. Speakers will be invited to talk about a product, and they will be paid a hefty fee (several thousand dollars) for doing so. They are chosen for their known views about a particular drug or because they have a reputation for being adaptable in attitude toward the needs of the company paying their fee. The meeting takes place and the speaker delivers a talk. A pharmaceutical communications company will record this lecture and convert it into an article for publication, usually as part of a collection of papers emanating from the symposium. This collection will be offered to a medical publisher for an amount that can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The publisher will then seek a reputable journal to publish the papers based on the symposium, commonly as a supplement to the main journal. The peer-review process will be minimal or nonexistent, and is sometimes not even the responsibility of the editor-in-chief of the parent journal. Publication of the supplement appears to benefit all parties. The sponsor obtains a publication whose content it has largely if not wholly influenced, but which now appears under the imprint of a journal that confers on the work a valuable credibility that the company has bought, not earned. The publisher receives a tidy high-margin revenue from the deal.

Why is this practice wrong and dangerous? The scientific quality of research in the thousands of industry-sponsored supplements published each year is notoriously inferior to the research published in properly peer-reviewed scientific journals.[15] The process of publication has been reduced to marketing dressed up as legitimate science. Pharmaceutical companies have found a way to circumvent the protective norms of peer review. In all too many cases, they are able to seed the research literature with weak science that they can then use to promote their products to physicians."


Version: March 22, 2004.

Address of this page
Send comments to Joachim Gruber