Good news for public health; bad news for the International Life Sciences Institute: PubMed will now flag all new papers declaring conflicts of interest.
As part of the National Library of Medicine, the world’s largest library of health science, PubMed houses over 27 million scientific citations. This change means visitors to the internet’s premier scientific search engine will now know what science PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, ILSI and others have funded.
For years we have broadcast the fact that soda funding dramatically influences scientific results. It is not always easy to act on that information, however. Soda companies have not always made it easy to identify the health-related endeavors they’ve funded. And even when researchers declared their soda conflicts, they buried this information deep in the PDF versions of the articles, out of reach for the general public. No more.
Now conflict-of-interest declarations will appear prominently on each abstract page.
Take this 2016 study by Peter Katzmarzyk, a soda-funded researcher who enjoys regular Russells’ Blog coverage: Relationship between Soft Drink Consumption and Obesity in 9-11 Years Old Children in a Multi-National Study. This study somehow did not find a correlation between soft drink consumption and obesity or body-fat percentage. That finding might throw off a students or journalists attempting to study the impact of soda on health. That is, until they notice this “Conflict of Interest statement”:
You can also now search for new industry-funded “science”on PubMed. This is really easy. Just put the company whose research you’re searching for plus “cois” in brackets: [cois].
Put in “coca-cola[cois]” for Coca-Cola-conflicted research. Here’s the result.
To a certain extent, this new tool still relies on personal integrity. Soda-funded researchers can get around this new PubMed feature if they neglect to mention their conflicts of interest. Take the Katzmarzyk study mentioned above. Sure, it disclosed Coca-Cola’s funding of the study as well as two other conflicts at the individual researcher level. Yet Dr. Katzmarzyk did not disclose his own personal conflict.
Coca-Cola includes Dr. Katzmarzyk on its “list of health professionals and scientific experts with whom we regularly collaborate and consult.” Clearly, this Coca-Cola relationship represents a direct, personal conflict of interest for Dr. Katzmarzyk. Yet the PubMed abstract does not mention it. Katzmarzyk’s Coca-Cola conflict does not appear in the PubMed abstracts for his other recent research either.
Nonetheless, we see this as progress. PubMed has made it easier for us to identify when researchers conceal their conflicts, too. As you may suspect, CrossFit played a role behind the scenes in facilitating this PubMed change, in conjunction with our colleagues and partners in public health. On the advocacy side, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 62 scientists and five other organizations urged the same.
And on the political side, Senator Richard Blumenthal sent a letter to NLM urging them to increase conflict disclosure, co-signed by four other senators. We thank Senator Blumenthal for his sustained commitment to scientific integrity, exemplified in this case as well as in his stance against Coca-Cola’s Global Energy Balance Network.
With this major change to the way the world views scientific studies, we are now one step closer to the goal CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman set in 2014: “… to drive Big Soda out of fitness and by extension, the health sciences.” Another step will be passing California’s soda warning label bill, SB 300.
P.S. Did you know that Coca-Cola can cause rhabdomyolysis?