Scientists have long been required to list any and all conflicts of interest that could unduly influence the objectivity of their research — for example, they would need to reveal if a tobacco company funded research showing that smoking doesn't cause cancer. However, this kind of information is not always readily accessible to members of the general public. Now, it would appear that a highly-publicized and widely-supported effort to increase transparency surrounding research funding has been shot down.
Last year, a new rule was proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services that would require universities and medical schools to disclose all financial conflicts of interest in a more public forum. The proposal came shortly after congressional investigations revealed that prominent NIH grant recipients had neglected to disclose information on high-dollar funding from companies that could have tainted the objectivity of researchers' investigations.
Establishing a consortium of publically-accessible websites documenting these financial conflicts was a favored method of conveying such information – one the DHHS called "an important and significant new requirement to…underscore our commitment to fostering transparency, accountability, and public trust."
Francis Collins, the director of the NIH, also lauded the proposal, claiming it would help "usher in a new era of clarity and transparency in the management of financial conflicts of interest."
But now, Nature News is reporting that plans to see these publically accessible websites put up have been abandoned. From the article, written by Nature's Meredith Wadman:
Nature has learned that a cornerstone of that transparency drive - a series of publicly accessible websites detailing such financial conflicts - has now been dropped. "They have pulled the rug out from under this," says Sidney Wolfe, director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen, a consumer-protection organization based in Washington DC. "It greatly diminishes the amount of vigilance that the public can exercise over financially conflicted research being funded by the NIH." It will also make it more difficult for "scholars to study the effects of conflicts of interest in universities", adds Sheldon Krimsky, who studies science ethics at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts.
You'll find the article in its entirety over at Nature News