A Shift Towards Transparency to Avoid Conflicts of Interest

23 Jun

When you don’t like what the experts have to say, the best thing to do is discredit their results. But that can be difficult–especially if you’re not an expert yourself. In that case, the most effective plan of attack is to discredit the experts themselves, by leveling accusations that their work is biased by conflicts of interest. That’s one of the primary reasons, I believe, that some brilliant people like Jonathan Gruber and Uwe Reinhardt have been called out for not disclosing certain financial relationships that at least present the appearance of a conflict. I’ve written about Gruber and Reinhardt before if you want the details.

As I’ve also said before, I don’t necessarily think that the work of either of these individuals has been unduly influenced by these undisclosed relationships, but that’s not really the point. The goal should be to disarm your opponents by volunteering the information yourself. It’s when you don’t that it leaves the door open for them to say “Well, so-and-so might have said ‘X’, but did you know that they were paid some money by a corporation who also thinks ‘X’ at some point in time?”

So, much to my delight, as I was reading the latest entry from Uwe Reinhardt on the New York Times’ Economix blog, I saw this disclaimer at the bottom of the post:

“Professor Reinhardt serves on the board of Amerigroup Inc., a Medicaid managed-care company that does not operate in the small-group market, but in a market regulated by the states, with premiums negotiated with the state governments that pay those premiums.”

Now, this disclosure certainly doesn’t represent every board Reinhardt sits on or every venture he’s involved with. Rather, it focuses on a specific potential conflict. The blog post was about insurance and small businesses, and this gets right to the point by saying, “Yes, I serve on the board of a health insurance company,” but “No, that company does not have anything to do with the small-group market about which I am writing this post.” This is the type of transparency that the health policy and health services research community–and indeed all those in any scientific community–should strive for. It is relevant, succinct, and enhances Reinhardt’s credibility rather than leaving him vulnerable to accusations of bias from those who disagree with his views. And for that, I applaud him.

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Posted by on June 23, 2010 in Uncategorized


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