The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article on an American Psychological Association panel on the role of external funding on psychological research, the Presidential Task Force on External Funding,created by former APA President Phillip Zimbardo:
American Psychological Association Panel Urges Curbs on Corporate Influence on the Discipline
by Peter Monaghan
The profession of psychology should become far more vigilant in repelling the influence of corporations, particularly pharmaceutical companies, suggests a report from the American Psychological Association’s Presidential Task Force on External Funding.
The committee has recommended that the association develop policies, training materials, and continuing-education programs that help to preserve the independence of psychological science, practice, and education.
In its report, which is scheduled to be issued today, the task force concludes that “strong measures” will be needed to keep at bay predatory, corrupt, or merely venal influences and practices that already are rife in many areas of medical and scientific research.
Most prominently, the report recommends that the association should require that all of its publications disclose any relationships between researchers and companies. The panel also called for the creation of a registry that would permit qualified researchers to review, after two or three years, all data used in the preparation of articles published in the association’s journals.
“When you make an agreement with human subjects to collect data from them, the subjects have an implicit, if not explicit, expectation that the data will be used to advance science,” said David O. Antonuccio, one member of the panel. Yet, he said, “there have been many examples of data being suppressed” through the malign influence of companies interested in the results, and “that is not acceptable anymore.”
Science organizations and some members of Congress, he said, increasingly object to the way that corporations influence science by such means as claiming ownership of data from research they sponsor.
Also common among corporations, he said, was hostile litigation and other actions geared to suppress unfavorable findings. Overwhelmingly, his committee found, data revealed that pharmaceutical-industry-financed researchers tend to produce results favorable to their sponsors.
“If raw data are accessible, any biases in the initial publications will emerge in subsequent analyses,” said Mr. Antonuccio, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Nevada School of Medicine who has long decried the way that suppression of unfavorable research has distorted claims about the effectiveness of antidepressants.
Focus on Pharmaceuticals
The APA panel focused on pharmaceutical-industry funding because it provides “a telling example of the distortions and unintended consequences that can occur when academic centers, scientists, and practitioners become overly dependent on for-profit industries,” says the report. The panel’s 23 unanimously approved recommendations are included in an article, “Corporate Funding and Conflicts of Interest: A Primer for Psychologists,” that is being published today in the December issue of American Psychologist. That periodical is the official journal of the American Psychological Association, which is the world’s largest organization of its kind and represents 148,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students.
The committee was set up as a direct result of the experience of one of its members, Philip G. Zimbardo, an emeritus professor of psychology at Stanford University. In 2002, when he was the president of the APA, he attended the annual convention of a counterpart and historically rival organization, the American Psychiatric Association. He was, he said in an interview, “stunned” at what he saw: huge, extravagant corporate exhibits decked with glitzy chill-out areas, aquariums, and the like where large teams of staffersa?”most of them attractive young womena ?”loudly touted companies’ drugs, handed out gifts, and even administered quasi-medical tests that appeared to be invalid.
“It was hard to believe,” Mr. Zimbardo said.
Dozens of the convention’s panels were sponsored by drug companies, he said, leaving him with the impression that those corporations were trying to control who would appear as speakers. “I found that outrageous,” said Mr. Zimbardo.
He said that the work of the American Psychological Association panel, which he initiated, was urgent because such practices increasingly threaten the practice of psychology, too. One potential incentive for the pharmaceutical industry to appeal to psychologists is the association’s initial success in lobbying states to grant to psychologists the right to prescribe medications. It has pursued that goal over the loud objections of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association, arguing that in many states, patients in remote areas have no access to psychiatrists, nor enough money to afford their services.
As state legislatures begin to grant prescribing rights to psychologists, said Mr. Zimbardo, “the pharmaceutical companies will be onto us.” Also at play, he and his fellow panelists said, was that corporate funding, particularly from the “enormously wealthy and politically influential” pharmaceutical industry, will increase as a result of such trends as the expanding markets for drugs treating mental- health problems.
His motivation in pressing for the formation of the panel was, he said, to determine what venues, activities, and actions of the American Psychological Association and its members “could be vulnerable to corruption, not only by pharmaceutical companies, but by publishers, the Defense Department, and others.”
Requiring researchers to make a statement of conflict of interest is not enough because often “people on the take don’t see it as being corruption,” Mr. Zimbardo said. He called the new report “consciousness raising. It’s really an alert, a call to ethical arms.”
The committee members, including two former presidents of the APA, a former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and clinicians, made recommendations in several areas:
* Financial conflicts of interest should be disclosed for any psychology-sponsored publications, presentations, or electronic mailing lists, as well as any interaction with human research subjects and policy makers.
* Journals should carry disclaimers about the accuracy of claims in advertisements, while “perhaps 25 percent” of industry advertising revenue should be set aside to support professional and public discussion, at forums and in continuing-education courses, of research findings related to advertisements’ claims.”
* APA journals should publish findings only from trials that enroll in a public registry, ideally one set up by the APA, itself.
* The APA should find ways to inform its members of how industry “inducements” can bias continuing-education courses and other venues involving particular texts, psychological tests, or other commercial products.
One of two co-chairs of the APA group, Wendy S. Pachter, said that her fellow panelists varied in their opinion of how malevolent corporate forces were. Still, she said, psychologists undoubtedly do well when they inform themselves of how corporations may seek to influence them.
The report speaks of the need to “make certain that [psychologists] have adopted appropriate policies and procedures to help avoid the egregious mistakes of others.”
Ms. Pachter, a Washington, D.C., psychologist and lawyer with extensive experience in health-care research administration and policy formation, aid: “Our point is that similar tactics seem to be used across industries to make products look good and to discredit scientists who challenge that.” The report noted that not just pharmaceutical companies, but also others in the lead, plastics, and food industries had used such feints as front organizations to influence regulation and otherwise to advance their interests.
But “it’s not all dishonesty,” Ms. Pachter said. “These issues are tough for industry, too, if there’s no pushback?”if they just go in with money and no one is defending the store.”
Within psychology, and within the undertaking of science, more generally, the adoption of agreed-upon guidelines would be an ideal response to corporate pressures, she said. “It’d be preferable if the sciences pooled their resources and came up with some principles, because the inducements of short-term funding make it hard for one science to give up that funding”a?”or, for one institution to do so, she said.
Mr. Zimbardo agreed, and said it would now be up to the APA’s administration, board of directors, and constituent directorates and divisions to adopt the report and to develop policies based on it. Doing so would place the APA in a position of leadership in dealing with what virtually all fields of science now agree has become a serious problem, he said.
A few years ago, he said, he chaired the Council of Scientific Society Presidents, which represents 60 scientific federations and societies, at a time when it was considering what to do about the apparent crisis. But none of the organizations had developed a set of policies as comprehensive as those that the APA panel has now recommended.
“So,” said Mr. Zimbardo, “this really is a first.”
This effort is a laudable attempt to focus attention on the issues and come up with preventive approaches before the drug companies take over the profession. It is hard to believe that the relatively modest efforts under Recommended Action will have much effect once the millions of dollars of drug company money starts pouring in to psychology. But, at least attention has focussed upon the issue before the profession is totally taken over.
While the article states that problems associated with Defense Department funding was considered by the task force, the emphasis appears to have been upon the drug companies. After all, the military and intelligence agencies have exerted strong influence on the profession of psychology, and on the APA and the American Psychological Society (APS) for decades, as can be seen with the APA’s policies on US government torture and abusive interrogations. There is no evidence that the profession is ready to deal with the military/intell establishment’s corrupting influence at this point.