Friday 18 September 2015

Honesty And Consistency In Short Supply At The BMJ

After a busy week here in Puddlecoteville, I shall be watching some rugby this evening and doing absolutely nothing tomorrow except eating and drinking stuff at the cricket, which means this weekend's links will appear on Sunday (if at all).

Before that, however, I'll just add an observation to the week's general commentary surrounding Martin McKee and Simon Capewell's latest pathetic attempt to pour scorn on the PHE's favourable report on e-cigs. You see, they have either told a bit of a porky pie or else they are not very bright ... or perhaps both.

At the end of their vacuous mud-slinging exercise on Tuesday they made this declaration:
Competing interests: We have read and understood BMJ policy on declaration of interests and have no relevant interests to declare.
Considering their condemnation of the PHE report rests solely on accusations of undeclared conflicts of interest (COIs), it is rather important that McKee and Capewell ensure that their own COI declaration is pristine, don't you think? Shame on them, then, because it is nothing of the sort.

To explain, here is what the BMJ - who published the McKee/Capewell piece, remember - has to say in their policy on declaring COIs (emphases mine).
A conflict of interest arises when a person has a personal or organisational interest that may influence or appear to influence the work they are doing. Usually this is a financial interest, but it may also be non-financial
Furthermore, the BMJ also advises that ...
Non-financial interests can take many different forms, including personal or professional relations with organisations and individuals. We would also want to know about strongly held beliefs where they are relevant to the task in hand.
Now, it's very clear - in fact, incontrovertible because they don't attempt to hide it - that both McKee and Capewell hold extremely strong ideological beliefs about e-cigs. In short, they hate them. This, by the BMJ's definition, is a COI.

This includes the way they orchestrated the attempt to discredit Public Health England in their advice on the Lancet editorial, their briefing to selected journalists, and their participation in the Lancet, BMJ and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine media activity surrounding pieces in the Lancet and BMJ. But their history goes back further; it includes their attempts to push their personal views on e-cigarettes in the many organisations in which they hold positions of trust and influence through personal professional relations, including in and with the Faculty of Public Health, the Society for Social Medicine, the UK Health Forum, World Health Organisation, European Public Health Association and via extensive personal communications with the Chief Medical Officer. Their strongly held beliefs also drive, of course, a hatred of vapers and grubby articles attempting to bully them.

However this blinkered and ideological position on e-cigs came about doesn't really matter. It could be a misguided crusade to put spokes in the wheels of anything the tobacco industry is interested in, their blatant far left anti-capitalism political stance, or just a contempt for smokers in general. Whichever it is is irrelevant, but it's a humdinger of a conflict of interest according to the BMJ's COI policy and they damn well should have declared it!

So to say they have read and understood the BMJ's policy is untrue, because they haven't understood it. To say they have no interests to declare is untrue because the BMJ's policy states that they do. What's more, the BMJ should have evaluated the article and pointed out to readers that the strongly held beliefs and personal and professional relations of both authors are indeed a COI, which just serves as another example of the BMJ's rapidly decaying integrity and credibility.

So next time you read an article by McKee and Capewell attacking others for not declaring conflicts of interest, remember that they do exactly that every time they write anything on e-cigs and dishonestly declare that they don't recognise any.

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