More on conflicts of interest (created 2005-03-23).

This page is moving to a new website.

I need to write up something on my very incomplete page on Intellectual conflict of interest. A review in JAMA of the report, Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States, which I commented on in a January 24, 2005 weblog entry, has an interesting quote:

Because research funding is limited, the report also offered several criteria for choosing which alternative treatments should be studied. They include biological plausibility of the treatment, some existing evidence of safety and effectiveness, and treatments that are targeted toward prevalent conditions that cause a substantial burden of suffering. But the committee said no therapy will meet all the criteria, and that even treatments without obvious biological plausibility should not automatically be excluded from study. One critic of the report took a swipe at that notion. “Normally grants are given to study what [agent] looks most promising,” said Stephen Barrett, MD, a retired psychiatrist and operator of the Web site. “There is very little discrimination, none by this committee, used to determine which [agents] should have priority. Research ought to be assigned on the basis of promise.” Barrett also raised conflict-of-interest issues because several of the committee members have received research grants from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a cosponsor of the report. “It's extremely important to look at the composition of this committee,” he said. Rebecca Voelker, IOM Points to Need for More Research, Regulation in Alternative Medicine, JAMA 293(10); 1178-1180.

This is a common complaint is that researchers are dependent on grants, and so try to present their results in a way to exaggerate the importance of their findings and to build a case for the need for more research funding, some of which will hopefully return to those same researchers.

A similar claim of conflict has been made for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They have been accused of overstating the problems with the environment in order to encourage Congress to give them more money. In a criticism of  the National Environmental Education Advancement Project (NEEAP), an environmental educational program funded by EPA, Michael Sanera asks

Regardless of the effects of the NEEAP program, the larger issue is this: Should an environmental agency which has a stake in the outcome of environmental policy debates be responsible for environmental education, especially when that environmental education includes a heavy dose of political action training? It would seem only common sense that this situation represents a serious conflict of interest. Does anyone truly expect that the EPA can support a dispassionate, objective, and unbiased educational program which examines both the strengths and weaknesses of the EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air or Water Acts or the Superfund program?,02412.cfm