Jett Aislabie: Is all sponsorship equal?

Advertising and sponsorship are generally seen as necessary evils by us here at The BMJ. While we are positively fizzing with ideas for new content, we know that bringing it to you, and as wide an audience as possible, is much more likely with the support of sponsors.

Having said that we would like to know what your thoughts are. Is all sponsorship equal? Would you feel comfortable with, say, an non-governmental organisation sponsoring a roundtable discussion? How about a government department sending an expert for a webinar, or a private healthcare provider? Would you be happy with “big pharma” suggesting the topic for an article? How about choosing its author?

We need to know where you would like us to draw the line and, if possible, why you want it drawn there.

Our diabetes specialty portal is currently sponsored by MSD. I like this example for the bluntness of its assertion that the company has had no influence on the editorial. “This portal is supported by an unrestricted grant from MSD, who have had no influence on the editorial content displayed,” it says, unambiguously, in big bold type.

Over at Nature there are a few examples of what future sponsorship could look like for us at The BMJ. Their asthma focus is—like our diabetes portal—sponsored by a pharmaceutical company. The company’s logo shows on the table of contents page (in a side bar rather than the middle) where there is also a link to the sponsorship page. I can’t see, however, any declaration of independence. We’d like to know if this is important too—is it crucial to declare the level of influence sponsorship has bought the company? Our current thinking is that we would always publish a full disclosure about not only who the sponsor is, but also the role they have played in generating the information we then provide.

What about co-productions or co-branding? There is a rather wonderful example, again from Nature, of a poster produced with Merck Serono about lipid signalling. MS have a corner of the poster to promote themselves and their products—but they have been wonderfully chivalrous in omitting their own drugs from the compounds list while very fairly mentioning their competitors. Does this make you suspicious? Should sponsorship be taken at face value?

If we published an article by a pharmaceutical company on a clinical topic in a specialty area relevant to one of its products would you read it? Providing there was a clear disclosure I can imagine it would be of significant interest to many readers—pharmaceutical companies are usually the engines of new development and research.  Or is it, perhaps, the thin edge of the wedge?

Click here to give us your views.