Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Rest of the Story Author Inaccurately Implies Undisclosed Conflict of Interest to Journal

In today's blog post, I offer a criticism of an individual tobacco control advocate: myself.

Monday, I wrote a post which, based on a published statement in a journal article that the authors declared no conflict of interest, criticized the authors for what I felt was a significant potential conflict of interest that was not disclosed (Alderman J, Daynard RA. Applying lessons from tobacco litigation to obesity lawsuits. Am J Prev Med 2006; 30:82-88).

I made the assumption, based on the journal's published statement of no conflict of interest, that no conflict of interest was disclosed by the authors to the journal.

The Rest of the Story

The truth is that the conflict of interest was in fact disclosed to the journal by the authors, but that somehow, the journal erred in placing this disclosure into the article, and in fact, instead what appeared in the final article was a statement that the authors had declared no conflict of interest.

I failed to take the time, or have the decency, to call Professor Daynard directly to confirm the situation before writing the post.

I made a huge mistake, and I feel terrrible about it. I have apologized to Professor Daynard, both directly and publicly (in my correction statement), and I apologize to him here again.

What is perhaps most troublesome about this story is that I have been quite outspoken in my criticism of a number of anti-smoking organizations for making undocumented accusations of wrongdoing by individuals and groups. In my case, I thought that there was "documentation," but that "documentation" turned out to be an erroneous statement on the part of the journal. This shows why it is even more important to have documentation before issuing accusations of wrongdoing by individuals or groups. Even when you have "documentation," there is always a chance that there was some sort of mistake. So when you don't have documentation at all, it is really precarious and inappropriate to make accusations of wrongdoing.

When you dish out criticism, you have to live by the same standards to which you hold others. And for what I hope is the first and last time, I failed to live up to the standards of conduct that I feel I should have.

You learn from your mistakes, and I've certainly learned from this one.

I have always had great respect for Professor Daynard and his individual integrity and I was frankly shocked when I saw the absence of a disclosure in his article. I should have suspected that there was some explanation for the absence of the disclosure. His conduct has now been vindicated and his integrity is indeed, exactly what I had always thought.

I, on the other hand, acted rashly and inappropriately. Sometimes you need to pause for a while and get your own house in order. That's what I'm doing now.

The rest of the story is that I made a huge mistake. I admit it, apologize for it, and I hope what I learned from this experience can help make this blog more accurate and thoughtful than I hope it already (with a major exception) is.

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