Even as disclosure has emerged as the all-purpose solution for financial conflicts of interest in medicine, recent research suggests that the practice may exacerbate the problem. That's the conclusion of a paper published last year in The Journal of Legal Studies called "The Dirt on Coming Clean: Perverse Effects of Disclosing Conflicts of Interest."
Using volunteers, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University created a scenario in which some experts in a position to give advice disclosed conflicts of interest, while others concealed them. The task at issue was highly abstract: estimating the number of coins in large bottles. The advisers who disclosed their conflicts exaggerated the advice they gave, possibly because they felt the disclosures gave them moral license to lie, the researchers concluded. Those who received the advice didn't seem to place much importance on the disclosures.
"Disclosure is a lousy solution," says Don A. Moore, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business. "Mostly it's just foisting information on people who are insufficiently prepared to make use of it."
By Arlene Weintraub