Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ex BMJ editor calls med journals "creatures of the drug industry"

Dr Richard Smith should know a thing or two about medical journals. He worked at the BMJ for over a quarter of a century!

Medical journals have become "creatures of the drug industry" rife with fraudulent research and packed with articles ghost written by pharmaceutical companies, the ex British Medical Journal editor has claimed.

In a highly critical book Dr Smith, who edited the BMJ for 13 years, said: "Medical journals have many problems and need reform. The research they contain is hard to interpret and prone to bias and peer review. The process at the heart of journals and all of science, is deeply flawed."

Here is an article in the JRSM which helps with the context.

Dr Smith, author of a new book entitled 'The Trouble with Medical Journals' and now chief executive of United Healthcare Europe, said the book was an honest analysis of trends in medical journal publishing and a frank account of his own experiences as editor of the BMJ.

He said: "It is increasingly apparent that many of the studies journals contain are fraudulent, and the scientific community has not responded adequately to the problem of fraud."He added: "I went away to Venice to write this book and I was rather taken aback by how negatively it turned out. When I put together all the evidence on journals I was surprised by the extent of the problems."

Dr Smith went on: "Medical journals have increasingly become creatures of the drug industry. The authors of studies in journals have often had little do with the work they are reporting."The use of ghost writers by pharmaceutical companies is rampant and many studies have conflicts of interest that are not declared."

He estimates that research fraud is probably common in the 30,000 or so scientific journals published throughout the world.The book, published by the Royal Society of Medicine Press, cites a number of dramatic cases of questionable research including Dr Andrew Wakefield's MMR paper published in the Lancet in 1998 that cast doubts on the safety of the triple vaccine which protects against measles, mumps and rubella.

The same journal published a study six years later concluding there was no evidence to support a link between MMR and autism.

Dr Smith says a study funded by Vioxx maker Merck and Co and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2000 failed to mention that three patients suffered heart attacks while using the now withdrawn painkiller.

And earlier this year, South Korean human cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-suk was fired from his professorship at Seoul National University following allegations he faked some of his research. The Trouble with Medical Journals examines the important relationships between journals and patients, the mass media, pharmaceutical companies, open access and the developing world.

Dr Kamran Abbasi, editor of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, said: "Medical journals influence policy makers, doctors, and ultimately patient care, the best example is the MMR crisis. Richard Smith's book tells it like it is and the truth hurts — money can corrupt science and medical research."


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