A study presented last week at the Sixth International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication found that academic journals can pay a heavy price if they crack down on industry-backed research.
The Journal of the American Medical Association saw a 21 percent drop in industry-financed research after it began requiring that data in company-sponsored medical trials be independently verified by university researchers, a study has concluded.
The study, by a team of medical researchers in England and Florida, found that two of JAMA's competitors saw their proportions of industry-backed research grow after JAMA decided to impose the requirement in 2005 to deter companies from shading descriptions of medical-test results to favor their products.
The findings suggest JAMA could face significant financial pressure to abandon the policy, given the reliance of medical journals on corporate dollars, said one of the study's authors, Benjamin Djulbegovic, a professor of medicine and oncology at the University of South Florida.
"Major medical journals face an inherent conflict of interest" when trying to ensure the integrity of their published findings, Dr. Djulbegovic said in presenting the findings at the International Congress on Peer Review and Biomedical Publication here, a quadrennial conference of medical-journal publishers organized by JAMA with support from several of the other journals.
Even some areas of improvement were shown to have their limits. About 300 journals have now joined a commitment by JAMA and other leading journals to publish only research in which the authors registered their intended outcomes in advance.
The system, using either the federal registry or a recognized alternative, is designed to guard against researchers' using their studies to selectively identify data that support a drug or treatment rather than sticking to the criteria they initially promised to measure.
But studies presented in Vancouver showed that the registry system isn't yet having a significant effect because too many researchers are making registry entries that are either vague or filled with too many measurement criteria.
"Registration alone cannot improve research quality," Deborah A. Zarin, director of the federal registry, told the conference.
JAMA also found its competitors still unwilling to join its commitment to publish industry-supported studies only if the data get an independent review.