28 January 2016
Dr Fiona Godlee
Re: BMJ handling of conflict of interest
Dear Dr Godlee
Thank you for your email response of January 11 2016 to our letter of July 8 2015 about Dr Elizabeth Loder’s conflict of interest in relation to editing our Restoring Study 329 paper. However, we are disappointed with the outcome.
When Dr Loder and reviewers of our submitted paper suggested that we had conflicts of interest, we argued in our responses that conflict of interest is less important than access to data. With access to the data, others can decide whether or not perceptions of conflicting interests might have translated into actual bias. However BMJ made several more comments during the review process about our conflicts, and on July 6 2015 required that the most important part of our work, the reporting of adverse events, be independently checked because of perceived bias.
It was against this background that we wrote our letter of concern about Dr Loder’s apparent COI, intending to point out the double standards that appeared to us to be operating. We had hoped that you and Dr Loder would concede that there was indeed a perceptual issue with her organisation’s present and past relationship with GSK and that of her husband’s law firm, but would reassure us that there was no actual conflict because Dr Loder had worked hard for the publication of the paper. Instead BMJ dismissed the issues we raised as ‘so attenuated’ that requiring their declaration would be ‘absurd’, a dismissal that seemed inconsistent with BMJ’s attitude towards our perceived bias.
Study 329 will be an object of study for years to come, and it is important that the full story be available. The BMJ reviews and correspondence are the data about the handling of our paper. Reading them will make it possible for others to make a judgement as to whether any bias may have been involved. Yet these documents are not included under the ‘Peer review’ tab for our published paper http://www.bmj.com/content/351/bmj.h4320/peer-review, contrary to BMJ policy http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g5394. We request that they be posted there.
Meanwhile, the correspondence is available on the Restoring Study 329 website. We would be happy to include on that site a BMJ view as to how readers should read the various reviews and correspondence, or any other commentary that you might want to add.
On behalf of 329 RIAT team