Trevor Jackson: Is there an unbiased doctor in the house?

Trevor Jackson It was perhaps inevitable that a list of up to 100 experts untainted by drug industry money might get people talking. Questions such as why is so-and-so on it or so-and-so not on it, how do you get on it, and isn’t it all just a bit po-faced anyway, might well be asked.

But even before Jeanne Lenzer and Shannon Brownlee’s list of experts in various health related fields list received exclusive publication in the BMJ this week, it was attracting a lot of attention in the blogosphere.

“This whole thing started,” writes Howard Brody of the University of Texas Medical Branch, “when Jeanne Lenzer and Shannon Brownlee (full disclosure–as a result of sharing info on a number of stories and projects regarding the drug industry, I have become friends with both of them) asked all of us in their Rolodex whether we would be willing to have our names listed as ‘experts’ (in whatever field) who had certified that we had received no industry support or payments or other bribes in the past 5 years. They had gotten tired of the industry claim that all the really good docs in the US, who actually know what they are talking about, are paid Pharma consultants.”

What eventually happened with this list is described in an article the two journalists wrote for Slate: Brody says the media “went crazy over their list.”

But the pair have come in for some stick. Brody points to two blogs (point of law and drugwonks – while blogs that lined up in support of Lenzer and Brownlee were furious seasons and

And when Lenzer and Brownlee first told my colleague Deb Cohen about their list, we approached them to ask to publish it, continuing the BMJ’s tradition of following the interface between medicine and the media.

Jeanne Lenzer told me this week, after the BMJ’s publication of the list had gone live, “We held off a public posting initially because of the way The List was originally conceived: We only asked experts if we could pass along their names to fellow journalists.

Once we came under attack (as Howard Brody said, we were accused of harbouring a bunch of plaintiff’s whores and not genuine experts), we had to ask permission of the group to release their names publicly. We expected some hesitation given how vitriolic the attacks have been.

But, to our surprise, list members said, “Sure – release our names. We’re used to being attacked by industry. This is nothing new.”

Although intended to be international, the list is mostly US–oriented at present. It will be interesting to see how it develops now that it has been posted.

Trevor Jackson is magazine editor, BMJ.