March 28

Conflicts of Interest policy – New York Times

Conflicts of Interest policy – New York Times

Sun, 28 Mar 2004

To: ‘Executive-editor@nytimes’; ‘gcollins@nytimes’; ‘arosenthal@nytimes’; ‘pboffey@nytimes’; ‘lchang@nytimes’; ‘oped@nytimes’
Cc: ‘Daniel Okrent’

Promoting openness and full disclosure

Friday’s New York Times included the following Editor’s Note on the paper’s Op Ed page: “An Op-Ed article on Tuesday discussing the vulnerability of the proposed Freedom Tower to terrorist attack should have included additional information about the writer, Daniel Benjamin. Mr. Benjamin was once paid to serve as an expert witness on Al Qaeda in a lawsuit involving Larry A. Silverstein, the developer of the tower. Although the lawsuit had nothing to do with the Freedom Tower, that relationship should.”

That editor’s note represents responsible journalism. Why does the Times consistently fail to apply the same conflict of interest disclosure policy to its medical news reports and opinion columns by guest writers?

On Thursday, March 25, The Alliance for Human Research Protection (AHRP) complained about a news report pertaining to the newly issued FDA warnings about a possible suicidal link to the use of antidepressant drugs. The article quotes Dr. Harold Koplewicz stating: “The fear I have about this warning is that many teenagers will not get the medicine because it will build resistance among their parents, and that is really a tragic outcome.”

The article identified him only as director of the NYU Child Study Center. The Times failed to disclose Dr. Koplewics’ considerable the financial ties to the drug manufacturers’ whose drugs he advocates for children. See: Denise Grady and Gardiner Harris, Overprescribing Prompted Warning on Antidepressants, NYT, March 24, 2004 .

Similarly, in an earlier report about the FDA warnings (published the day before), the Times quoted several psychiatrists as experts without disclosing any of their substantial, ongoing financial ties to the companies whose products may be affected by the FDA directive: [See: Gardiner Harris, Regulators Want Antidepressants to List Warning, NYT, March 23, 2004, A-1 ]

The following psychiatrists were quoted without any indication of their financial ties to the manufacturers of antidepressant drugs:

Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of North Carolina, receives grant and/or research support from Upjohn, Bristol Myers Squibb, Novartis, Eli Lilly, Janssen, Pfizer, Hoechst and Astra Zeneca, and also serves as a consultant and is listed on speakers bureaus for many of these companies.

Dr. Regina Casper, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford is quoted worrying about the warning effect on family practice doctors. Dr. Casper has collaborated with Eli Lilly researchers and, presumably, received funding from the company for that research.

Dr. Madhukar Trivedi was simply identified as director of the mood disorders program at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School at Dallas. Dr. Trivedi is quoted as worriying that patients may become afraid of their pills, “The consequences for not treating depression are very high.”

Times readers were not informed that Dr. Trivedi was a major contributor to the development of the Texas Medication Algorithm Project (TMAP) that issued mental health practice guidelines in which antidepressants are promoted as the treatment of choice for children.

The TMAP project was sponsored by virtually every major antidepression drug manufacturer. Additionally, Dr. Trivedi has received research grants from Abbott, Akzo (Organon), Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Forest Laboratories, Glaxo Wellcome, Janssen, Johnson & Johnson, MeadJohnson, Parke-Davis, Pfizer, Pharmacia – Upjohn, Solvay, and Wyeth – Ayerst. He has been a member of speakers’ bureaus sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb, Forest Laboratories, Pharmacia – Upjohn, Solvay, and Wyeth Ayerst

What prevents the Times from applying the same conflict of interest disclosure policy to news reports about medicine and drugs that it applies to real estate development issues? Surely, ongoing financial ties between physicians and drug companies pose a far greater danger to public policy, not to mention the health and welfare of millions of citizens, than does the one time payment by a realtor to Daniel Benjamin, a Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Journalistic ethics requires that Times editors apply the paper’s financial disclosure policy equitably to news reports. Failure to apply its disclosure policy reports dealing with medicine and drugs will leave no doubt that the New York Times is under the influence of its giant pharmaceutical company advertisers.

Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav
Tel: 212-595-8974

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