In my last post I raised the possibility that Steve Nissen, a highly influential cardiologist who has been an outspoken critic of industry influence in medicine, might have his own conflict of interest (COI) problem. In response, another cardiologist, James Stein, said that my post was unfair in its treatment of Nissen and failed to consider important distinctions and subtleties in the academic literature about conflict of interest.
Let me first of all confess that Stein– for whom I have the highest possible regard– makes some excellent points. And I further admit that my piece pretty much ignored some of these fine academic distinctions. But I also think it’s likely that we may have a forest and trees situation here and that by focusing on subtle COI distinctions it is possible to lose sight of the larger issue.
A Simple Test
Rather than focus on the subtle distinctions between different types of COI I’d like to propose a much simpler way to think about this problem as it exists in the real world. Here’s the test I would propose: can you imagine Nissen, or indeed anyone in a similar situation (running a large multimillion dollar trial of a drug) publicly saying something decidedly negative or critical about the drug?