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  1. 1

    Margaret Simons

    Extraordinarily thorough. Good stuff.

  2. 2

    William Parsonage

    Well about time to.

    The much maligned medical profession is way ahead of the journalists game here. Journals and meetings for several years have required mandatory declarations of conflicts of interest for all publications and presentations. In contrast, the public media (and that includes Crikey, of which I am an avid follower and subscriber) is able to publish and broadcast widely and with ‘authority’ without a policy at all.

    Your so called register of interests is a nonsense – as pointed out eloquently by the couple of colleagues who could be bothered to respond. The implications of the list are clear – despite your qualifying statement.

    This links very nicely to your current ‘campaign’ regarding involvement of the pharmaceutical industry in education and research. Whilst accepting that this is an area that is ripe for reform there is a dire need for some balance in the argument, not least recognition of the fact that successive governments (globally) have increasingly abrogated their responsibility to support these areas adequately for years now.

    The health system in Australia could surely be better, but is probably second to few. Someone has been investing in it. Have you??

    Conflicts of interest: Several, but none that are directly linked to these comments

  3. 3

    Trevor Kerr

    It’s only about the money, and the difference between a $10 sandwich and $10,000 worth of shares. All the other interests may be listed, but they cannot be weighted.
    We see the NHMRC is talking about smartening up its own COI guidelines.
    What may we expect? Something gentle, like the usual practice of the chair asking around at each meeting? Maybe a confidential off-the-record chat with the Minister?
    How about the NHMRC does a global scan, seeking out how other bodies do it?
    Would it be too much to expect that partners/spouses of NHMRC Council members put their assets and appropriations up for declaration, too?
    Australia’s research future may be on a sounder footing if there was less risk of reputable investors being undercut by competitors who are prepared to support slack standards of disclosure.

  4. 4

    Trevor Kerr

    Bob Williamson (AAS) just on ABC radio crowing about Liz Blackburn. Well, yes, will tighter COI standards at the highest levels promote more, or less, involvement in, say, international clinical trials for cancer treatments? Who knows? Who cares? Why not flog off access to punters for trials to the lowest bidders?
    Do any of our notable clinical researchers insist that *all* results are published, not just the ones with positive outcomes? Or are there incentives to bury the “unhelpful” results? Why should these questions be aired in public, when there are delicate reputations to uphold?
    [I will disclose my pecuniary interests (49 tanking shares in Bluescope Steel) when the Chief Medical Officer does likewise.]

  5. 5

    Steve Lambert

    Melissa Sweet’s statement of interests is welcome and timely, but there are subtleties that are missed with any such listing.

    Journalists are inherently conflicted by the need to have their articles read. Controversy attracts readers. How is this conflict to be captured in a list? Sweet has moderated, written, or overseen a large volume of commentary on Crikey that has been, in my opinion, unreasonably critical of the Commonwealth Government’s H1N1 vaccination program using the CSL Ltd produced, TGA licensed vaccine. This commentary has focussed on rare, mild, or theoretical adverse effects of vaccination whilst almost universally ignoring the now 183 people who have died from H1N1 infection, and the 4,806 people hospitalised this flu season. In this last week alone, according to the Commonwealth’s most recent report, there have been 36 people hospitalised, 10 into intensive care, with H1N1.

    For a thematic discussion allegedly on the merits of the vaccination program, the coverage has been extremely unbalanced. As Editors of the Lancet learned following the publication of Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 paper suggesting a link between measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism, you need to be careful and sure of your facts when raising safety issues about vaccines.

    But back to declarations of interest. Blog posts and articles with titles that imply the Minister is covering up facts, that there is real reason to be concerned about severe vaccine adverse events, will draw more readers than neutral or positive titles. Becoming known for promoting such controversial views will generate interest from other media outlets: radio interviews, guest articles and the like, all improving the journalist’s profile. How is any of this captured in a declaration of interest? I don’t think it can be. And whilst it may be good copy for the media outlet and journalist involved, we have no way of measuring the damage it may do in terms of generating irrational, non-evidence based fear of vaccination in the broader community.

    Stephen Lambert

    Declaration of interest: I am a public health physician and medical epidemiologist. I have a primary interest in the epidemiology of vaccine preventable and other infectious diseases. I have been a co-investigator on numerous industry sponsored vaccine trials since 1999 (including the current CSL Ltd sponsored H1N1 paediatric trial), received fees as a member of industry advisory panels relating to vaccines, and received travel support to attend and present at international conferences by pharma companies.


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