Media portrayal of conflicts of interest in biomedical research

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  • Due to the growing industry support of biomedical research, studies are increasingly scrutinized because of conflicts of interest of investigators and concerns about inaccurate reporting of study results by the popular media. The Association of American Medical Colleges has defined conflict of interest in science as “situations in which financial or other personal considerations may compromise, or have the appearance of compromising, an investigator’s professional judgment in conducting or reporting research.” For the purpose of our study, conflict of interest referred to both “research conflicts”, the primary example of which is industry funding of research, and “researcher conflicts” which occur when the researchers themselves have financial ties to industry, and in some cases could potentially benefit from a particular study outcome. Researchers who are employed by or invest in the manufacturer of a study compound or its competitors would fall into this category. This issue is important in a media context as the general public gets much of its information about science and technology from the popular media. For this reason, media reporting has the capacity to shape public perceptions of safety and efficacy of a particular treatment, thereby influencing patterns of use. Our study compared newspaper coverage of biomedical research to the reporting of the same studies in the medical literature. To do this, we first examined 109 clinical trials of both herbal remedies (n=58) and conventional pharmaceuticals (n=51), as reported in the medical literature. We then compared them to 598 newspaper articles that reported the results of these trials. We primarily assessed the disclosure of funding information and competing interests, as well as claims of efficacy, and reporting of risk and overall tone.

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  • Type of Item
    Research Material
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  • License
    © 2007 Health Law Institute, University of Alberta. This version of this article is open access and can be downloaded and shared. The original authors and source must be cited.
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  • Citation for previous publication
    • Koper M, Bubela T Caulfield T, Boon H (2007) Media portrayal of conflicts of interest in biomedical research. Health Law Review 15: 30. [PMID: 17153272]