(NaturalNews) The American Medical Association (AMA) has launched an investigation into allegations that the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) used threats in an attempt to silence a professor who drew attention to a journal author's failure to disclose a conflict of interest.
"As owner and publisher of JAMA, we take these concerns very seriously," said Joseph Heyman, chairman of the board of the AMA.
Although JAMA is the official journal of the AMA, it operates independently of the association.
The controversy concerns an article initially published in JAMA in May 2008, reporting on a study into whether the antidepressant Lexapro was effective in patients who had suffered from strokes. Lincoln Memorial University professor Jonathan Leo contacted JAMA's editors in October to inform them that study author Robert Robinson had served on a speaker's bureau for Lexapro maker Forest Laboratories. Leo also sent a copy of the letter to a reporter at the New York Times.
Although JAMA has a policy of disclosing conflicts of interest, this industry connection had not been mentioned in the article.
JAMA's editors responded that they would investigate the situation. According to a Wall Street Journal report, however, the editors then attempted to intimidate Leo out of speaking further with reporters. The editors allegedly threatened Leo that if he did not stop talking to the press, they would ban him from the journal and ruin the reputation of his medical school.
On March 5, still waiting for a response from JAMA, Leo published his allegations in the British Medical Journal. On March 11, JAMA published a correction disclosing Robinson's ties to Forest. On March 20, it issued new guidelines for dealing with third-party conflict-of-interest disclosure.
"The person bringing the allegation will be specifically informed that he/she should not reveal this information to third parties or the media while the investigation is under way," the policy reads.
In an editorial, the Washington Post challenged JAMA's assertion that the policy is intended to prevent the reputations of researchers and companies involved.
"Muzzling whistleblowers might help JAMA control its image," the paper's editors wrote, "but it's a disservice to the public."