Should authors declare a conflict of interest because they suffer from the illness they are writing about?

Some researchers issued a novel demand for correction of an undeclared conflict of interest stemming from the author of a criticism of their work suffering from the illness targeted by their intervention.

Should the concept of conflict of interest be expanded?

Recently, a hostile reviewer demanded that authors of a manuscript submitted to The BMJ provide proof that they had a confirmed diagnosis of a illness from which they claimed they had suffered for decades. Should patient-authors get notes from their physicians to accompany their conflict of interest statements?

The critique that upset the PACE investigators is available here:

Keith J Geraghty. ‘PACE-Gate’: When clinical trial evidence meets open data access Journal of Health Psychology DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1359105316675213

conflict-of-interestThe email conveying the demand is reproduced below. Basically, the investigators from the PACE trial of cognitive behavior therapy and graded exercise therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome demanded:

 

  • Partial retraction of an article critical of their work.
  • Issuing of a conflict of interest because the author of the critique suffered from the illness targeted by the trial.
  • The corrected article be posted with a full response from the PACE investigators,  and not appear until readers could compare the two.

Note that the author did not mention in the article that he suffered from any illness. Should he have?

How far should we extend this requirement? Should principal investigators be required to declare on their grant applications whether they suffer from any relevant chronic illness? Should NIMH require a formal psychiatric evaluation of applicants for depression grants?

Should authors of HIV/AIDS articles declare their viral status?

How about blanket declarations: “The authors have all had recent physical examinations and declare they have no relevant health conditions?

How about reviewers? Reviewer conflict of interest can be important.

Finally, was it an invasion of the author’s privacy for the PACE investigators to seek out evidence of any illness and write to the journal editor about it?

Dear Dr Marks,

We were surprised and alarmed to read the on-line editorial by Dr Geraghty, published on Monday in the Journal of Health Psychology. http://m.hpq.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/10/27/1359105316675213.full.pdf

While we would support robust criticisms of science and believe people are entitled to their opinions, we were more than surprised by the personal criticisms made in the piece, which were often unsubstantiated. We do not believe that fellow scientists should indulge in ad hominem attacks and innuendos. For instance, Geraghty wrote ” However, there are accepted scientific procedures and standards that appear to have been neglected, or bypassed, by the PACE Trial team. Their actions have arguably caused distress to patients, added a million pounds of additional costs to a publically funded trial and have left us with two versions of ‘truth’ concerning the trial’s findings – the published analysis versus the recent re-analysis.” Where is the evidence for these statements?

Therefore we ask you:

  1. To revise the piece in order to remove all the personal attacks and innuendos.
  2. To include in a revision the author’s potential conflict of interest as a sufferer of the illness he writes about. See: http://iacfsme.org/PDFS/2016MayNesletter/Attachment-08-Dr-Keith-Geraghty-Doing-CFS-research.aspx
  3. To enable us then to respond with equal prominence to the remaining criticisms as a whole, in the same online first and print versions so that readers can see both articles side by side and then make up their own minds. At present this is not possible because of the selective, one sided nature of the editorial as it stands.

We look forward to your early reply.

Yours sincerely,

Professors White, Chalder and Sharpe

Co-principal investigators of the PACE trial