Why publication guidelines were made

Ah, times have changed. An article in JAMA Internal Medicine reveals the practices that led to the 1967 publication of a 2-part literature review on “Dietary Fats, Carbohydrates and Atherosclerotic Disease.”

In short, the review articles were written with heavy involvement from the Sugar Research Foundation, which has since become the Sugar Association with a mission to “promote the consumption of sugar through sound scientific principles while maintaining an understanding of the benefits that sugar contributes to the quality of wholesome foods and beverages.”

From a the perspective of a medical writer acquainted with publication guidelines, the current article lays out a troubling path to publication for the 2-part review.

What went wrong (from today’s perspective):

  • No disclosure of the participation and funding of the review paper by the Sugar Research Foundation.
  • No evidence of a publication plan or publication steering committee.
  • No separation between the commercial interests of the Sugar Research Foundation and the publication process.
  • Authors were given a payment from the Sugar Research Foundation that appears to be directly linked to writing and publishing the paper.
  • SRF’s vice president and director of research provided the authors with articles that were relevant to the review.

With today’s data reporting and publication guidelines (such as GPP3, ICMJE, PhRMA Principles, and EQUATOR), I would hope that most of these practices are long gone.

GPP3 is the leading publication guideline used in the medical writing industry for company-sponsored medical research. If the authors had consulted GPP3 (which wasn’t available at the time, but let’s put that aside for the moment), here’s what they would have found.

What does GPP3 say:

  • “Even if not required by the journal or congress, all publications and presentations should include…sponsorship and funding sources, such as sponsorship of the study; provision of funding for an independent study; any payments to the authors; and funding of professional medical writing support, statistical analyses, or other professional services.”
  • “Publication plans help research sponsors ensure that findings are published and presented in a responsible, ethical, complete, and timely manner.”
  • “Commercial functions should neither direct publication planning or development nor be involved in publication review or approval.”
  • “Payment should never be made (or offered) simply to attract someone to be an author or influence an author’s opinion.”
  • “Review articles should be comprehensive, and the methods used for searching, selecting, and summarizing information should be clearly stated.”

I hope that scientists, industry sponsors, and medical writers read the JAMA Internal Medicine article and reflect on how they can help ensure that these practices remain in the past.