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Hot Topics: Medical Journal Editor Conflicts of Interest Common and Underreported

Jackie Werner Ethics, Hot Topics in Research, Research and Scholarly Communication

Payments by US pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers to US medical journal editors: retrospective observational study

Liu, J. J., Bell, C. M., Matelski, J. J., Detsky, A. S., & Cram, P. (2017). Payments by US pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers to US medical journal editors: Retrospective observational study. BMJ, 359 doi:10.1136/bmj.j4619

Objective To estimate financial payments from industry to US journal editors.

Design Retrospective observational study.

Setting 52 influential (high impact factor for their specialty) US medical journals from 26 specialties and US Open Payments database, 2014.

Participants 713 editors at the associate level and above identified from each journal’s online masthead.

Main outcome measures All general payments (eg, personal income) and research related payments from pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers to eligible physicians in 2014. Percentages of editors receiving payments and the magnitude of such payments were compared across journals and by specialty. Journal websites were also reviewed to determine if conflict of interest policies for editors were readily accessible.

Results Of 713 eligible editors, 361 (50.6%) received some (>$0) general payments in 2014, and 139 (19.5%) received research payments. The median general payment was $11 (£8; €9) (interquartile range $0-2923) and the median research payment was $0 ($0-0). The mean general payment was $28 136 (SD $415 045), and the mean research payment was $37 963 (SD $175 239). The highest median general payments were received by journal editors from endocrinology ($7207, $0-85 816), cardiology ($2664, $0-12 912), gastroenterology ($696, $0-20 002), rheumatology ($515, $0-14 280), and urology ($480, $90-669). For high impact general medicine journals, median payments were $0 ($0-14). A review of the 52 journal websites revealed that editor conflict of interest policies were readily accessible (ie, within five minutes) for 17/52 (32.7%) of journals.

Conclusions Industry payments to journal editors are common and often large, particularly for certain subspecialties. Journals should consider the potential impact of such payments on public trust in published research.