Tuesday 2 December 2014

The BMJ's Integrity Sinks Still Further

I'm beginning to think that the formerly respected BMJ's self-dereliction of their integrity is not just naiveté, but more reminiscent of an organ which is now dancing wholly to the tune of the pharmaceutical industry.

This time last year, they took the decision to refuse any research - however worthy or useful - simply on the basis that it may have received funding by the tobacco industry. It wouldn't matter if it was ground-breaking research revealing the elusive cure for cancer, the BMJ would be stubbornly uninterested.

At the time, many responses - including one from former editor Richard Smith - asked the obvious question as to why pharmaceutical-funded research was not being treated in the same fashion.
I suggest that exactly the same is true of the pharmaceutical industry and that we probably have even more evidence on the misconduct of pharmaceutical companies than of tobacco companies. 
So will the editors stop publishing research funded by the pharmaceutical industry, and if not why not? Knowing the heavy financial dependence of journals on the pharmaceutical industry, I shall be looking for sophistry in the explanations.
After all, one of their darlings - Ben Goldacre - published a tome about "How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients" just a couple of years ago.

Defending the decision, editor in chief Fiona Godlee had this to say.
"[There is a] growing body of evidence that biases and research misconduct are often impossible to detect, and that the source of funding can influence the outcomes of studies in invisible ways."
Indeed it can, as was proven just the other week when a critique of the e-cig summit was published by the BMJ from a "journalist" called Ingrid Torjesen. Entitled "E-cigarette vapour could damage health of non-smokers", it made some bold claims.
Particles in secondhand vapour from e-cigarettes have the potential to damage the health of non-smokers, a study by environmental scientists presented at the e-cigarette summit in London on 13 November has found. 
Researchers presented the first results from chamber experiments that measured the concentration, size, and composition of particles in e-cigarette vapour, and how these parameters changed over time, to determine their potential effects on non-smokers. 
Roy Harrison, professor of environmental health and risk management at the University of Birmingham, and Gordon McFiggans, professor of atmospheric multiphase processes at the University of Manchester, presented the results. 
All well and good ... until the researchers themselves responded by saying that was not what they had said at all!
First, we have made no studies of vapours from e-cigarettes, our study made direct measurements of the particles in the visible "mist" from e-cigarettes with no analysis or quantification of the vapours. 
Second, we made no statement of the effects on health of non-smokers.
Incredibly, Torjesen was undaunted even when told she was wrong by those who presented the evidence that she had incorrectly reported. Instead, she reiterated the accusations and said that she was correct and that they were not.

It was then that another response pointed out that she may have an agenda.
I would like to draw your attention to a matter concerning the counter-response to claims by Professors McFiggans and Harrison that the article, “E-cigarette vapour could damage health of non-smokers,” written by Ingrid Torjesen, in which they assert that the author has seriously misrepresented their research. 
At the end of her counter-response, Ms Torjesen states that she has no competing interests. The fact that Ms Torjesen is the editor of The Advisor magazine which covers smoking cessation and is financed by McNeil Products, makers of Nicorette products, leads me to believe that she should have declared this interest. I feel that this is particularly so because the popularity of e-cigarettes is seriously impacting on the profits of the NRT companies, and her connection to the magazine could lead people to believe that her objectivity might have been somehow compromised. Indeed, in his response to her article, Professor McFiggans states, “However there is evidence that the misrepresentation of our work and misappropriation of evidence is more mischievous than simple misunderstanding.” 
Footnote: The magazine in question claims to be independent. It may well be editorially independent, but it is financed by a company that advertises their products within the magazine and who stand to profit by making the publication available to smoking cessation health workers. Surely where money is involved, it must be impossible to be totally independent - however hard one strives to be so?
Well, fancy that!

Having been busted, Torjesen then belatedly admits her competing interests may be a problem while throwing in the bereavement plea which anti-smokers tend to think should shut down all criticism.
If I have any competing interests in terms of my editorial direction, they are that I am a supporter of all forms of smoking cessation because of the damage smoking does to smokers, their families and other subjected to it through passive routes. I have also been an advocate of banning smoking in all forms since I was a child, being the child of two parents who were addicted to the habit and died prematurely of smoking-related disease.
Hmm. Bereavement coupled with the lure of payment from pharmaceutical interests - I would suggest - could meet Fiona Godlee's definition of "influence" in "invisible ways" quite comprehensively, doncha think?

Yet the BMJ published her article without any scrutiny of the person who was making such transparently outrageous claims.

All this follows on swiftly after the BMJ were slapped down by the EU for publishing execrable nonsense from Jonathan Gornall, and just last week published a load of deliberately misleading cockwaffle about e-cigs in an opinion piece so devoid of fact that it would have failed GCSE level.

So, to recap, the BMJ - which profits from, and prints articles sponsored by, Big Pharma - is quite happy to publish utter garbage from someone else who is dependent on pharmaceutical industry cash.

But it's only tobacco industry research which might be biased? Good grief.


Clive Bates said...

According to Annabel Ferriman, news editor at the BMJ: "At the Royal College of Physicians’ Harveian Oration last week, a doctor told me The BMJ had become a “political” rag.". There then follows Ferriman's reflections on whether the BMJ should be 'political'... noting that "there is a long and impressive history of The BMJ taking up what some people see as “social” or “political” issues".

Maybe.... but not by being totally clueless and/or mendacious with it.

The BMJ Today: How “political” should The BMJ be?

Junican said...

There seems to be something very peculiar going on. Why this madness from the BMJ? In the article to which Clive Bates links, the author takes female genital mutilation as an example of proper BMJ interference. That may be so as regards medical and psychological effects thereof, but the matter properly lies in the hands of the police because of the actual physical attack on the children involved.
What seems to me to be unworthy of the BMJ is that it seems to be becoming more and more emotional. Is it not supposed to be a scientific journal? It may publish articles which are concerned with the study of emotions, but it should not become emotional in itself. Refusal to publish research funded by Tobacco Companies merely because they are Tobacco Companies is not a scientific judgement but an emotional one.
Who know what the agenda is? There is much confusion.

Junican said...

I meant also to add that there seems to be a blind panic in Tobacco Control. They don't know whether they are coming or going. Do they want people to stop smoking dried leaves or do they not? Is it not absolutely perfectly obvious that any product that does not burn material and thus avoids the toxins in that burning material should be applauded? Sure, tests need to be carried out, but the obviously 'beneficial' product need not be stigmatised because it is not perfect.
Here is a question that the Zealots must surely be aware of. If it takes decades for actual smoking to pose a RISK of lung cancer, which, in itself, turns out to be a rather small risk (as a risk), why should it not be assumed that the risk of ecigs would take hundreds of years to become apparent? Thus, it is not the possibility of harm which is the important thing. It is the TIME-SCALE of the anticipated danger.
So here is a good question to ask the Zealots:
"The 'Doctors Study' showed that it takes 30 years for only a few heavy smokers to die from lung cancer. How long would it take for a Vaper to die from lung cancer?" You see, the Zealots need to be tied down to facts.

Norbert Zillatron said...

WHO knows!

Norbert Zillatron said...

Facts? WHO needs facts?
They know The Truth.
You must be a heretic to put irrelevant facts before The Truth.
They would love to burn you at the stake ...

Dragonmum said...

I seem to remember that there were many letters of protest to the BMJ over their banning of Tobacco-funded research, not least because prescription drugs, it was said (and never contradicted) are the third biggest killers after cancer and heart disease. This publication has now plumbed depths that are on a par with the Daily Fail - how can such a prestigious journal which we have all trusted for so long become so tainted. The Pharmaceutical Multinationals make the Mafia look respectable - just Wiki it and see what they've paid out in compensation or out of court settlements - WHO else are they paying???