Do Conflict of Interests Disclosures Work? Evidence from Citations in Medical Journals

When: 03 Feb 2020, 14:15-15:30
Where: HoF 3.45/Sydney
Speaker: Christian Leuz

Financial ties between drug companies and medical researchers are thought to bias results published in medical journals. To enable readers to account for such bias, most medical journals require authors to disclose potential conflicts of interest. For such policies to be effective, conflict disclosure must modify readers’ beliefs. We therefore examine whether disclosure of financial ties with industry reduces article citations, indicating a discount. A challenge to estimating this effect is selection as drug companies may seek out higher quality authors as consultants or fund their studies, generating a positive correlation between disclosed conflicts and citations. Our analysis confirms this positive association. Including observable controls for article and author quality attenuates but does not eliminate this relation. To tease out whether other researchers discount articles with conflicts, we perform three tests. First, we show that the positive association is weaker for review articles, which are more susceptible to bias. Second, we examine article recommendations to family physicians by medical experts, who choose from articles that are more homogenous in quality. Here, we find a significantly negative association between disclosure and expert recommendations, consistent with discounting. Third, we conduct an analysis within author and article, exploiting journal policy changes that result in conflict disclosure by an author. We examine the effect of this disclosure on citations to a previously published article by the same author. This analysis also reveals a negative citation effect. Overall, we find evidence that disclosures negatively affect citations, consistent with the notion that other researchers discount articles with disclosed conflicts.