In an editorial published today, the New England Journal of Medicine publicly scolded a Weill Cornell Medical College researcher who failed to disclose to the journal that her research, published in 2006, on the use of CT screening for early detection of lung cancer was funded by Vector, which owns Liggett - a cigarette company.
The Journal wrote: "In October 2006 we published an article by the Lung Cancer Screening Group in which computed tomographic (CT) scanning was used to screen a high-risk population for evidence of early-stage lung cancer. From the data they gathered, the authors concluded that the majority of stage I lung cancers treated after their detection by CT screening had a favorable prognosis. The Lung Cancer Screening Group's research was funded by 32 different entities, one of which was the Foundation for Lung Cancer: Early Detection, Prevention and Treatment. It has not been our practice to inquire about the specific sources of funding of foundations such as this. We recently learned, however, that this foundation was headed by the principal investigator of the 2006 study, that it was housed at her academic institution, and that the only contributor during most of its existence was the Vector Group, the parent company of Liggett, a major tobacco company. We and our readers were surprised to learn that the source of the funding of the charitable foundation was, in fact, a large corporation that could have an interest in the study results. This situation raises two concerns. First, as medical journal editors, we believe that it is important that the ultimate source of funding be made clear to the Journal's readers. Second, it is appropriate to ask whether a study on clinical outcomes in lung cancer should be directly underwritten in part by the tobacco industry. ... We believe that it is important for our readers and the entire biomedical community to be aware of this situation. Our goal is that readers be fully informed about funding sources. It is the responsibility of authors to disclose fully and appropriately the sources of funding of their studies. We expect that authors will be particularly attentive to transparency in reporting if a funding entity has a vested interest in the outcome. The public's trust in biomedical research depends on it."
The Rest of the Story
This editorial accompanied a letter from the researcher in question, who finally (after 18 months) revealed the actual source of the funding she had received to conduct this study.
Hiding this source of funding for 18 months, and failing to disclose it until the New York Times reported the hidden truth, is very poor ethical and scientific conduct.
The Journal makes a great point. Not only does this taint the research itself; it also threatens undermining the public's trust in biomedical research in general.