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Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics

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ESEP 9:33-40 (2009)  -  DOI:

Journalists and conflicts of interest in science: beliefs and practices

Daniel M. Cook1,*, Elizabeth A. Boyd2, Claudia Grossmann3, Lisa A. Bero4

1School of Community Health Sciences, Mailstop 274, University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada 89557, USA
2Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science, University of Arizona, PO Box 210066, Tucson, Arizona 85712, USA
3Biomedical Sciences, and 4Department of Clinical Pharmacy, University of California San Francisco, Box 0613, San Francisco, California 94118, USA

ABSTRACT: Amidst reports of science news omitting key information regarding financial ties in scientific research, the present study surveyed the practices of health and science journalists in the USA. We obtained opinions about financial ties and research funding in science and asked about any challenges to reporting this information. We conducted interviews with a targeted list of journalists who wrote newspaper stories on key topics during 2 recent years. The journalists were asked questions about the significance of financial ties in research, their methods for discovering financial ties, and any barriers to reporting financial ties. We found that 145 journalists wrote 1152 stories in 2 years, and we were able to interview 31 of them. Journalists understood the concerns of financial ties in science, but reporting them was not often a top priority. Journalists who reported on the top health and science stories of 2004 and 2005 had considerable awareness of the implications of potential conflicts of interest, but they applied divergent investigating and reporting practices attributable to various challenges. Constraints faced by journalists included time, space, difficulty finding objective sources, and editorial priorities. The generalizability of our conclusions is limited by the small number of journalists interviewed. Our experience reveals the challenges of surveying this small but important group.

KEY WORDS: Research ethics · Financial ties · Corporate funding · Print media · Science journalism

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Cite this article as: Cook DM, Boyd EA, Grossmann C, Bero LA (2009) Journalists and conflicts of interest in science: beliefs and practices. Ethics Sci Environ Polit 9:33-40.

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