Depression Research at the Heart of Journal Questions
> 7/19/2006 10:41:19 AM

Two controversial depression studies, one published in Neuropsychopharmacology, the other in the Journal of the American Medical Association, are at the center of a Wall Street Journal article today examining the new ethical questions being raised against prominent medical journals. From the WSJ:

Last week, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a correction indicating that seven authors of a February paper on depression during pregnancy failed to reveal they were paid by the makers of antidepressants. It was the third such incident at JAMA this year.

"If journals are going to have ethical standards and if those ethical standards are going to mean anything, there has to be sanctions associated with them," says Sheldon Krimsky, a Tufts University professor who has studied conflict-of-interest policies of medical journals. Most policies require authors to report financial ties, but don't include any punishment if they fail to do so.

The stories drawn into question in the WSJ report were both big news makers. A fact which makes the deception doubly deleterious. In terms of the overall public good, these are stories that ran in major news outlets and were misrepresented to a large swath of the health care public.

The JAMA article, focusing on pregnancy and depression, voiced a strong concern for relapse of depression symptoms for those expecting mothers who chose to discontinue their antidepressant treatments. The WSJ article reports that 7 of the study's 13 authors were paid by companies that produce antidepressant medications. In the Neuropsychopharmacology piece, none other than the editor of the journal was involved in penning an article that supported the controversial new vagus nerve stimulation therapy for treatment resistant depression. The trouble, according to the WSJ:

Of the nine authors of the review, eight are academic researchers who serve as consultants to the company, according to Ronnie Wilkins, executive director of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, which publishes Neuropsychopharmacology. The ninth author is an employee of Cyberonics, which was reported in the review article.

Often times the trouble arises because of partial disclosure (as it seems to have been the case with Neuropsychopharmacology). These journals have a responsibility to fully vet each of the authors that work on a given submission. This is truly an imperative as impropriety anywhere can begin to reek of impropriety everywhere.

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