Tuesday, May 30, 2006

American Legacy Foundation Again Fails to Disclose Conflict of Interest in Citing Research on Effectiveness of Itself

In a press release publicizing its summer "On the Road Again" tour (which I have suggested should be more accurately termed the "Hypocrisy" tour, the American Legacy Foundation communicates to the public and the media that research has shown that its "truth" youth anti-smoking campaign has been effective in substantially reducing youth smoking.

According to Legacy: "Efforts like the tour are clearly working with young people, as continues to be a relevant and driving force in teen culture. Research has found the truth® campaign accelerated the decline in youth smoking rates between 2000-2002. In fact, 22 percent of the overall decline in youth smoking during these years is attributable directly to the truth® campaign."

The Rest of the Story

The story here isn't anything that Legacy says in its statement to the public and the media. The story is what they don't say.

And what they fail to reveal is that the article they are citing to document the effectiveness of their "truth" campaign was paid for and authored by ...

... the American Legacy Foundation.

The study's senior author is in fact the head of the Legacy Foundation.

Now that fact is indeed disclosed in the research paper itself. That's perfectly appropriate, and I'm not suggesting that there was anything wrong with Legacy funding the research or taking part in it (so long as that is disclosed, which it is in the paper).

However, I think that same disclosure really needs to made whenever Legacy publicly reports the data, especially if the impression that the public receives is that this was some sort of independent study that found that the Legacy campaign was effective.

And reading this statement, it does seem to suggest that the study was an independently conducted one. There is no way that the reader would know, and no reason for her to suspect, that the study was not an independent one.

There is little question that the funding of the study by Legacy and the fact that the senior author is the head of Legacy represent a substantial conflict of interest. There is certainly no doubt that this conflict of interest needs to be reported in the article itself. However, it is the usual case that requirements for disclosure of conflicts of interest apply not only to the published article, but also to any presentation of the study results . Certainly, I would think that those disclosure requirements should apply to a public statement or press release posted on a web site.

This is not the first time that Legacy has pulled this. I reported here last September that the conflict of interest was not revealed in a public statement which suggested to the public that the scientific article, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health, credited the "truth" campaign with reducing youth smoking. I pointed out there that it was actually Legacy which was crediting Legacy with reducing youth smoking. That doesn't invalidate the finding by any means, but it does have important implications for how the public evaluates and critically judges the research.

It's not clear to me why the American Legacy Foundation, which is the proud developer of the "truth" campaign, and its front group-like counterpart - the Citizens Commission to Protect the Truth - have so much trouble disclosing the truth. For organizations that are trying to appear that they are deeply concerned about the truth, so much that they have truth plastered all over their names and programs, you would think they would show a little more concern for the "truth."

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