In this World Journal of Methodology article (titled “Conflicts of interest in nutritional sciences: The forgotten bias in meta-analysis”), Dr. Michel Lucas — Assistant Professor at Université Laval and Visiting Scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health — raises several interesting points.
* “Scientists delight in believing they are immune to and very mindful of conflicts of interest (COI). According to Simon Young, co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience: “We are not always aware of our own biases. The idea that scientists are objective seekers of truth is a pleasing fiction, but counterproductive in so far as it can lessen vigilance against bias.”
* “Even if we cannot accurately ascertain the beginnings of COI investigation in medicine, its consideration intensified in the 1980s and it still continues. In 2009, the Institute of Medicine dedicated a full report to COI, indicating that its concerns are justifiable.”
* “The problem of COI is complicated by the fact that not all studies sufficiently declare sponsorships and the financial affiliations of authors. Indeed, in the 2010 Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, a very low proportion of published drug studies reported funding sources (30%, or 46 out of 151 reviews), author-industry financial ties or employment (11%, or 16 out of 151 reviews).”
* “A bias should not be ignored even if we do not fully understand its mechanism, just as we should not ignore harms of interventions if we don’t understand how they arose, or ignore the harm of smoking because we don’t know how smoking causes cancer. Therefore, a study’s funding source should be evaluated as an independent risk of bias.”
* “Nutrition is one of the most vital health determinants of society, not only in regard to the etiology of chronic diseases, but also because it is an important target for public health interventions. Investment in epidemiological approaches – allowing rigorous study into the roles of both individual and overall diets in disease risk – is undoubtedly a key to success. However, to continue to attract interest and trustworthiness, nutritional sciences must be faultless.”