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PLoS Medicine journal bans tobacco-sponsored research

Editors say it would be 'irresponsible to act as part of the machinery' of an industry that makes harmful products. Not everyone agrees with the decision.

February 26, 2010|By Thomas H. Maugh II

The online open-access journal PLoS Medicine said this week that it would no longer accept for publication reports of research sponsored by tobacco companies. The journal joins two of its sister publications, PLoS Biology and PLoS One, in formally adopting this position, but the announcement might be viewed as self-serving in that the journal has never published such a paper. In fact, PLoS One has published only two.

The decision highlights a dispute among journal editors. The leading tobacco-control journal, Tobacco Control, does not ban industry-sponsored research, in part because it does not wish to appear biased.

The BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal, argues that such a decision is an unacceptable form of censorship.

The editors of PLoS Medicine cited two reasons for their decision. "First, tobacco is indisputably bad for health. Half of all smokers will die of tobacco use. . . . Tobacco interests in research cannot have a health aim -- if they did, tobacco companies would be better off shutting down business -- and therefore health research sponsored by tobacco companies is essentially advertising."

Because publication in journals like PLoS Medicine is funded by research sponsors, "we believe it would be irresponsible to act as part of the machinery that enhances the reputation of an industry producing health-harming products."

Second, "we remain concerned about the industry's long-standing attempts to distort the science of and deflect attention away from the harmful effects of smoking. . . . We do not wish to provide a forum for companies' attempts to manipulate the science of tobacco's harms."

Not everyone agrees with the editors. Jeff Stier of the American Council on Science and Health said, "By deciding to no longer allow for research funded in any part by the tobacco industry, they're acknowledging that they're no longer able to evaluate science."

thomas.maugh@ latimes.com

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