Another journal refuses tobacco-sponsored research

February 28, 2010 By Thomas H. Maugh II

The online, open-access journal PLoS Medicine said this week that it will no longer accept for publication reports of research sponsored by tobacco companies. The journal joins two of its sister publications, PLoS Biology and PLoS One, in formally adopting this position, but the announcement might be viewed as self-serving in that the journal has never published such a paper. In fact, PLoS One has published only two.

The decision highlights an ongoing dispute among editors. The journal Tobacco Control does not ban industry-sponsored research, in part because it does not wish to appear biased. The BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal, has a similar policy, arguing that such a decision is an unacceptable form of censorship and that papers can be judged through the normal vetting process.

The editors of PLoS Medicine cited two reasons for their decision. "First, tobacco is indisputably bad for health. Half of all smokers will die of . ... Tobacco interests in research cannot have a health aim -- if they did, tobacco companies would be better off shutting down business -- and therefore health research sponsored by is essentially advertising." Since publication in open access journals like is funded by research sponsors, "we believe it would be irresponsible to act as part of the machinery that enhances the reputation of an industry producing health-harming products."

Second, "we remain concerned about the industry's long-standing attempts to distort the science of and deflect attention away from the harmful effects of smoking. ... We do not wish to provide a forum for companies' attempts to manipulate the science of tobacco's harms."

Not everyone agrees with the editors. According to Jeff Stier, associated director of the American Council on Science and Health -- not a tobacco-funded group: "By deciding to no longer allow for research funded in any part by the , they're acknowledging that they're no longer able to evaluate science. It is the very role of journals to discern between good and bad science, and they're throwing their hands up in the air and saying, 'We can't do it.'"

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jamey
not rated yet Feb 28, 2010
I have to agree - this is a mistake. If it's bad science - SHOW that it's bad science. Require that the submitters make their *RAW* data available - but then again, shouldn't that be the rule in *ALL* fields (I'm looking at you, Climatology!) To check the work, you take their raw data, you analyze the way they apply corrections, and verify that the corrections do what they claim, and then you check the corrected data! Then the tobacco-funded researchers are just like everyone else, and the information can actually be trusted!
thermodynamics
5 / 5 (1) Mar 01, 2010
jamey: I almost agree with you. There is a problem though. The problem is that not every paper is subjected to the hundreds of hours it would take to completely verify it. The most rigorous journals still only ask the reviewers to see if the science fits in with acceptable norms, not to verify every claim. The result is that some papers are printed that are retracted years after they have been accepted. The most egregious example I can readily recall is the important paper linking MMR vaccinations to autism. It has caused many parents to avoid vaccinations for their kids and has caused deaths as well as serious diseases. It was just recalled last month more than a decade after its mistaken publication. I agree that everything should be checked but it is impossible to check every detail of an extensive or complex paper. Instead, they get published and are checked by the community as they can. That is why I almost agree with you but see the journal's argument also.

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