2nd November 2006
Research conducted by GeneWatch UK, and published this week in the Journal of Medical Ethics (1), shows that scientists are failing to disclose their financial interests in the form of patents. The study of research papers on molecular biology and genetics, published in the leading science journal, Nature, between January and June 2005, showed that the authors of seven papers did not reveal that they had made patent applications and the authors of an eighth paper did not reveal connections to the biotech industry.
"GeneWatch's study has shown that scientists are failing to be open with the public about their financial interests. Publishing a scientific paper will be come to be seen as concealed commercial advertising if journals donít take steps to bring scientists into line", said Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch's Director and author of the research. "If they are to be held in respect, scientists are going to have to start operating to the standards of others in public life".
Good practice for scientific publications requires authors to reveal any competing interests so that readers can consider whether there may be any bias in the research or the way in which it is presented. Nature, like many other journals, requires authors to declare patent applications and any other financial or other competing interests, but this study shows that scientists are not following the rules.
Before conducting this research, GeneWatch had informed Nature in 2004 that an author had not revealed his patent application. This resulted in a correction being published but no other action being taken(2).
As a result of the findings of the research, GeneWatch UK is calling for:
- scientific journals to impose sanctions on scientists who are discovered to have concealed financial interests - such as refusing to publish research from the authors for a certain period of time;
- universities and institutes to establish a public register of scientistsí interests, as in other areas of public life;
- scientific journals to make much more effort to ensure competing interests are declared and to include these with the paper rather than only as a separate web site entry as is the practice at Nature.
"If a scientist fails to reveal a financial interest when they get their research published, they should be blacklisted by the journal in future," said Dr Mayer. "To maintain confidence in science, universities and research institutes must publish a register of scientists interests".
For more information contact Sue Mayer on 01298 871898 (office) or 07930 308807 (mobile).
Notes to editors
- Mayer S (2006) The declaration of patent applications as financial interests - a survey of practice among authors of molecular biology papers in the journal, Nature. Journal of Medical Ethics 32: 658-661.
- GM animals high in omega-3 fatty acids: scientist ready to cash in via patent. GeneWatch UK response to paper published in Nature today. Press release, February 5, 2004. Available at http://www.genewatch.org/article.shtml?als[cid]=492860&als[itemid]=508012
Abstract of the paper:
Objectives: To determine whether authors of scientific publications in molecular biology declare patents and other potential financial interests.
Design: Survey of a 6-month sample of papers related to molecular biology Nature.
Methods: The esp@cenet worldwide patent search engine was used to search for patents applied for by the authors of scientific papers in Nature that were related to molecular biology and genetics, between January and June 2005.
Results: Of the 79 papers considered, four had declared that certain authors had competing financial interests. Seven papers in which no financial interests were declared had authors with patent applications that were based on the research in the paper or were closely related to it. Another paper had two authors with connections to biotechnology companies that were not disclosed.
Conclusion: Two thirds of the papers in which authors had patent applications or company affiliations that might be considered to be competing financial interests did not disclose them. Failure to disclose such information may have negative implications on the perception of science in society and on its quality if the possible bias is hidden. Journals should make greater efforts to ensure full disclosure, and scientific institutions should consider failure to disclose financial interests as an example of scientific malpractice. Establishing a register of interests for scientists is one way to increase transparency and openness.