A reader’s guide to author and sponsor biases in clinical research

jrsm.gif  This essay was just published in the December issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine [subscription required]:

Bastian H. ‘They would say that, wouldn’t they?’ A reader’s guide to author and sponsor biases in clinical research. J R Soc Med 2006; 99(12):611-614.

Excerpt: Commercial sponsorship of clinical research, especially for drugs, is ubiquitous. One of the solutions to some of the dilemmas arising from this is full disclosure of authors’ financial interests and relationships with sponsors. But is disclosure enough, and what should we as readers make of the fine print at the end of journal articles? Is sponsorship bias the only bias we should watch out for?

Key questions a reader should ask:

*  How much independence from the funders did the researchers have, and did they control the data, its interpretation and the publication?
*  Is there a systematic review on the topic the research is addressing, and if so, how do the results of this study fit into the other evidence? – If there is no systematic review, are there trials?
*  What do accompanying editorials, letters and analyses in secondary evaluation publications (such as ACP Journal Club and Evidence Based Medicine) say?
*  Is the range of opinion on the issue shown? Do they tell you what the other schools of thought on this issue are?
*  Who says so? Is there a high proportion of self-citation? Are there many unsupported claims?
*  If you disagree with the author, what evidence do you have to support your position?

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