For many years now I have written about insurance companies influencing medical and neuropsychological research. For medical literature to be introduced and used at trial, it is necessary for an expert to testify that the article is the type relied upon by experts in the field or that the article is authoritative, depending on the law in an individual state. Thus, our Rules of Evidence in very large measure place a great deal of trust in the reliability of medical journals.
It was thus distressing to read in the November 24th issue of the Washington Post a story by Peter Whoriskey entitled “As Drug Industries’ Influence over Research Grows, so does the Potential for Bias.”
The article focused on seventy-three articles on original studies of new drugs published over a one year period in a New England Journal of Medicine. Of those articles, sixty were funded by the pharmaceutical company, fifty were co-written by drug company employees and thirty-seven had a lead author, typical an academic, who had previously accepted outside compensation from the sponsoring drug company in the form of consultant pay, grants or speaker fees.” The article quoted Marsha Angell, who retired as editor and chief of NEJM in 2000 who stated “that the research can be bias and that it can be difficult for medical journals to unmask the problems.” “I used to think that if studies were subject to rigorous peer review it would then be enough to simply disclose authors commercial ties. But, I know longer belief that is enough. It is too hard for anyone – editors, peer reviewers, readers – to tell whether that bias has affected the work.”
For trial attorneys, it is important when confronting an adversary’s use of medical literature to try and mine down to determine who funded the research and the biases that the article and research might contain.