Conflicts of interest always present problems (to some degree)

As our friend Howard Wolinsky continues his journalistic exploits into the world of prostate cancer, he has (almost inevitably) come across an issue of “conflicts of interest”, in which differing researchers have to recuse themselves from comment on certain issues because their opinions could be seen as biased (by financial or other interests).

To see what we are talking about, have a look at Howard’s most recent article, entitled, “‘Missing data’ on prostate test: good science or marketing war?” Your sitemaster would note that one of the individuals Howard refers to in his article is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for The “New” Prostate Cancer InfoLink.

Your sitemaster has been having to manage his own conflicts of interest with care for years, for all sorts of reasons that can become very complicated (although never for purely financial reasons; he owns no stock in any individual drug company, and he does not provide any form of consulting services to any drug or diagnostic company that is specific to prostate cancer).

On the other hand, there have been ongoing scientific and marketing “differences of opinion” about the relative merits of the 4KScore test and the Prostate Health Index or phi test ever since the earliest information about these two tests started to surface in the scientific literature. Whether these rise to the level of warfare is open to discussion. And the precise point at which an individual may have to recuse his- or herself from further discussion in a particular topic is in the realm of ethicists and lawyers rather than scientists and communicators.

The people who “invented” and developed the phi test and the 4KScore test all have strong personal opinions about the values of these tests. This should come as no great surprise. On the other hand, it would certainly be inappropriate for anyone on either side of thsi discussion to be claiming that “their” test is “better” than the other. To determine this we would require an independently developed, managed, and implemented, randomized clinical trial … and your sitemaster does not expect such a trial to occur in the near future.

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