At STAT, we are supremely proud of our journalism and our staff. We also value the trust of our readers.
So we have been distressed to learn in recent days that some outside contributors to our opinion section failed to disclose conflicts of interest or misled us about the true authorship and origins of their op-eds.
We have retracted one piece, as explained in this editor’s note. This experience prompted us to tighten our standards for opinion pieces and our practices for vetting writers. We are also reviewing past op-eds and will add previously undisclosed conflicts of interest where appropriate.
We have always asked contributors to disclose any conflicts of interest, and believe the vast majority of the opinion pieces we have published — reflecting a wide range of viewpoints across a wide range of subjects — included relevant disclosures.
But in hindsight, we realize that we should have been more explicit in defining exactly what constitutes a conflict — so we will now require writers to answer a series of direct questions about those issues. We are also requiring contributors to disclose any assistance they received in writing their piece. You can view our revised author agreement here.
Beyond those steps, here’s what we want you to know about our opinion section:
- We believe it’s important to air a wide range of perspectives. That means sometimes hearing from writers who may have ties to industry or consumer advocacy groups or to individual companies. It’s absolutely crucial to us that such ties be disclosed fully and transparently to readers. But such ties do not necessarily disqualify writers from contributing to First Opinion.
- We do not accept opinion pieces written by advocacy groups, public relations firms, or companies when they hide their role behind the byline of a figurehead author. We have amended our author agreement to be more aggressive about ferreting out such deception. When PR firms, advocacy groups, or companies ask individuals to submit an opinion piece to STAT, we expect that relationship to be disclosed and we will evaluate the merits of the piece with that in mind. That can be a tough call; these issues are not black and white.
- We understand that many of the physicians, patients, scientists, executives, and politicians who contribute to First Opinion are not professional writers and may rely on friends, colleagues, or communications experts to help them shape their thoughts. Seeking such assistance does not disqualify writers from contributing to STAT. But we ask writers to disclose any help they received as we evaluate the merits of their submission. And we absolutely insist that any first-person piece reflect the authentic experiences and views of the author, and the author alone.
- We are rigorous in our selection of opinion pieces. We commission many of them ourselves and accept about a quarter of the unsolicited submissions we receive. Always, our overriding goal is to share insights and views from across the spectrum – and to be transparent about any conflicts the authors may have.
STAT is nearly two years old now. We have published hard-hitting investigations of companies and institutions including (among many others) Google’s Verily, IBM Watson, Roche, NantHealth, and the Food and Drug Administration. We have gone to court to try to force Purdue Pharma to disclose documents about its marketing of OxyContin. We have published hundreds of First Opinions that have by turns enlightened, infuriated, awakened, and deeply moved our readers.
We have never allowed, and will never allow, business considerations to influence our journalism.
Every day, in stories large and small, we have sought to uphold our mission statement:
STAT delivers fast, deep, and tough-minded journalism. We take you inside science labs and hospitals, biotech boardrooms, and political backrooms. We dissect crucial discoveries. We examine controversies and puncture hype. We hold individuals and institutions accountable. We introduce you to the power brokers and personalities who are driving a revolution in human health. These are the stories that matter to us all.
We welcome scrutiny that can help us improve. Please continue to reach out to us when you have questions or concerns about any article or opinion piece. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And thank you for reading STAT.
Rick Berke is the executive editor of STAT.