Wednesday, December 02, 2009

(Podcast) Milk, conflicts of interest, and med-school profs.

Readers of my blog may remember a few weeks ago when I posted regarding a University of British Columbia professor who in a milk advertisement dramatically overinflated dairy’s role in treating high blood pressure even ignoring her own research's negative results in the process. I wondered whether or not it was her strong ties to the milk industry that influenced her decisions therein. There was a very interesting comment left that day by an anonymous medical student at the University of British Columbia. He or she reported,

"Dr. Barr gave us a lecture recently in medical school. She did NOT declare ANY affiliation with the dairy industry. At one point she told us that lactose intolerance is exaggerated and everyone should drink a cup of milk. The lactose intolerant people in our class were not impressed..."
That made me wonder, should University professors disclose their potential conflicts of interest before lecturing students? I certainly don't remember any professors disclosing their ties to anyone during my medical school days at the University of Toronto yet it's an obligatory practice for those same professors to do so at conferences and in journal articles.

To me this seems like a dangerous double standard as one might argue that students are far more vulnerable than full fledged physicians and researchers in critically appraising data. Given the incredible power differential between professor and student and the intrinsic trust one places in the purveyors of their education I wondered about the ethics of such a lack of disclosure and so I contacted Dr. Chris MacDonald to chat about this further. Chris teaches Philosophy, including business ethics, at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Canada, and is a non-resident Senior Fellow at Duke University's Kenan Institute for Ethics. He is a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Business Ethics and in 2008 he was named one of the "100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics" by Ethisphere Magazine. Chris is also the author of the Business Ethics Blog.

Click below to download the file, or you can listen on the embedded player (won't work with email subscribers) and hear Chris discuss his take on lecture based conflict of interest disclosure.

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