Journal Editor Cites Poling for Lack of Disclosure
Roger Brumback, editor in chief of the Journal of Child Neurology, is not happy. Neurologist Jon Poling, the lead author of the 2006 case report in JCN, “Developmental regression and mitochondrial dysfunction in a child with autism,” did not inform Brumback’s editorial board that he is the father of the girl described in the report, and moreover, that he petitioned the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) in 2003, claiming his daughter’s alleged injury (ie, autism) was due to vaccination.
In a letter published in last month’s issue of the JCN (BIG HT to Kathleen Seidel at Neurodiversity), Brumback describes the authors’ lack of full disclosure “an appallingly troubling issue.” The JCN editors were evidently troubled enough to determine if the case report was used to support the favorable and heavily publicized VICP ruling for the Polings earlier this year (it was not), but Brumback proposes that “media linkage of the published article to the legal outcome implies scientific support from JCN for this legal opinion.” He now advises:
Beginning in January 2009, statements from all authors concerning potential conflicts of interest will be published as a part of each article. However, no written statement can substitute for honesty, good faith, and integrity on the part of the authors.
In their defense, the report’s coauthors Richard Frye, Andrew Zimmerman, and John Shoffner claim in a separate letter that they did not know of Poling’s pending VICP claim at the time of the report’s submission to JCN. (However, it is unclear, as Seidel points out, whether the coauthors became aware of Poling’s claim sometime later.) The coauthors did know that the report’s subject is Poling’s daughter.
Poling himself acknowledges, in yet another separate letter to the JCN, that he should have declared his daughter’s identity to the JCN editors, but that he withheld her name “to protect a 6-year-old child.” Poling confirms that the JCN report was not used to support the VICP claim and characterizes his involvement in the case as minimal—consisting of signing a “short original petition and submitting a required sworn parental affidavit.” Poling also reveals that Zimmerman submitted an expert opinion to the VICP court in December 2007 at Poling’s request.
Poling further claims, “There are certainly other physicians who have chosen not to publish promising leads or discoveries involving family members, out of respect for privacy or fear of the kind of criticism our article has generated,” and suggests that “the JCN explore ways to encourage these helpful contributions, even when the patient is a family member.”
An alternative suggestion is to require that any physician-author recuse himself from submitting a case report of a relative to medical journals. Let more objective physicians assess and submit this information for peer review—in an effort to eliminate conflicts of interest and, most important, to ensure the privacy and appropriate care of the patient.
* Poling also presented preliminary findings in his daughter’s case in June 2001 at the Johns Hopkins Neurology Grand Rounds.