Officials: Revised medical-journal policy will not affect UI

BY ADAM SALAZAR | JULY 21, 2009 7:15 AM

The Journal of the American Medical Association recently removed a confidentiality order related to reporting conflicts of interest in its published authors, based on a case involving a UI professor of psychiatry.

The journal described its revised complaint policy in an editorial released July 8. Officials at the UI said the periodical — arguably the most influential in American medicine — did not affect the university with its new philosophy, however.

“It is very difficult to detect any effect upon University of Iowa policies governing research and guidelines developed by any publication regarding its editorial policy,” said Jim Walker, a UI interim associate vice president for Research.

The journal’s original editorial ran in response to accusations against UI Professor Robert Robinson. A Tennessee researcher had accused him of a conflict of interest for an article he published in the journal.

Robinson had described his study on an antidepressant drug, Lexapro, intended for stroke patients. However, he did not disclose that he had been paid $3,000 for speaking at a 2004 conference sponsored by Forest Laboratories, the company that makes Lexapro.

Still, officials noted, the UI has its own committee for investigating conflicts of interest in research and recent implemented policy changes intended to provide greater transparency.

“The public fully benefits from a full and public discussion of the issues,” said UI spokesman Tom Moore.

He said the UI has no gag order in place on those filing complaints or researchers under investigation.

In June, the university changed its conflict-of-interest policy to require researchers to disclose any external funding that they might have received after influential organizations such as the American Association of American Colleges urged such actions.

Months earlier, Robinson’s situation had made headlines in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Jordan Cohen, the UI vice president for Research, has said the accusations were minute and overblown by the media. It was “simple oversight,” and Robinson corrected it immediately, he told the DI in April.

In its previous editorial, the journal sought to address those salient issues. “A rush to judgment may spark heat and controversy but rarely sheds light or advances medical discourse,” it read.

The new editorial resembles the previous one for the most part — except for removing the section blasting Jonathan Leo, a Tennessee researcher who filed the complaint against UI’s Robinson, for talking to the press.

Officials at the medical journal refused to comment any further on the issue. Walker said the move was merely a response to an influx of conflict-of-interest disputes.

“What JAMA is doing is nothing more than a refining of its internal processes,” he said, and organizations are entitled to revise their own policies.

“There is no direct cause-and-effect relationship between those two very different kinds of policies,” he said.

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