Gambling across borders

A blog about the productive life of risk

Disclosures of interest. Or not.

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When Sally Gainsbury announced International Gambling Studies’ new policy on disclosures of interest on November 13 last year she described the aim as ‘full transparency’. In addition, in their editorial announcement, Alex Blaszczynski & Sally Gainsbury state that they are attempting to adhere to the guidelines set by the International Society of Addiction Journal Editors (ISAJE).

What would disclosure look like under such a regime? The ISAJE is extremely demanding. They require that ‘all authors disclose to the corresponding author any actual or potential conflict of interest including any financial, personal or other relationships with other people or organizations within three (3) years of beginning the work submitted (e.g., research project, review paper, etc.) that could inappropriately influence, or be perceived to influence, their work.’ And the ISAJE provides a series of detailed questions that they suggest journal editors ask of their authors to determine if real or apparent competing interest may exist:

  1. List all funding sources for the work. If the present work was supported directly or indirectly by the alcohol, gambling, tobacco or pharmaceutical industries, or by third-party organizations funded by these industries, please give both the name of the organization (e.g., the International Center for Alcohol Policies) and describe its connection with the industry if that connection would not be apparent to the reader of your article. Please see list of organizations at http://www.isaje.net for examples.  Also declare whether some or all of the financial support came from governmental or other public sources even if the work has been performed as part of your salaried responsibilities.  If none declare “None”; if yes, please describe organization and type of financial award.
  2. Please declare any contractual constraints on publishing that existed with regard to the research being reported; for example if the contract gave the funder a right of veto regarding the content of the work or requested a delay of the report. If the work was not supported by contract were there any other governmental or institutional constraints that affected the authors’ freedom to publish the work? If none declare “None”; if yes, please describe the constraints.
  3. Have you in the three years prior to the beginning of the work accepted financial awards from an organization (see list of organizations at http://www.isaje.net for examples) that represents an interest which may in any way gain or lose financially from the kinds of research described in your original study or the topic of your review, editorial, or letter? Please declare any direct or indirect connections with the alcohol, gambling, tobacco or pharmaceutical industries, or by third-party organizations funded by these industries, regardless of whether the funds are connected with the present work, Awards that should be declared include: reimbursement for attending a symposium; a fee for speaking; a fee for organizing education; funds for research (other than those declared above); travel funds to attend a meeting; or fees for consulting.  If none declare “None”; if yes, please describe organization and type of financial award.
  4. Have you in the three years prior to the beginning of the work been employed by an organization that may in any way gain or lose financially from the kinds of research described in your study or the topic of your review, editorial, or letter? Do you hold any stocks or shares in an organization that may in any way gain or lose financially from the kinds of research described in your study or the topic of your review, editorial, or letter? Have you been paid to serve as an expert witness on the subject of your study, review, editorial, or letter?  Have you served as an unpaid expert witness for governmental committees?  Do you have any other competing financial interests?  If none declare “None”; if yes, please describe organization and type of employment, stocks, or paid activity. 
  5. Do you have any significant or obvious non-financial competing interests (real or apparent) that the editor and/or the reader should know about in order to judge the objectivity of a particular article or other work? If none declare “None”; if yes, please describe.

The ISAJE provide the following example of what a conforming declaration of competing interests may look like:

RS has been reimbursed by the International Centre for Responsible Drinking for attending several conferences; TD has been paid by Monte Carlo Resorts Casino for running educational programmes and has her research registrar paid for by the company; JS has shares in the Kingfisher Brewing company.

Note that this statement is specific and detailed enough to enable the reader to make up their own mind regarding the nature and extent of the competing interests.

How close is IGS to achieving this aim? I had a look at the articles published in response to my editorial with this question in mind. [My editorial is now open access, and available to read without subscription]

Young and Markham include individual statements listing current and previous research funders and funders of employers and membership of scholarly and professional organisations. They also provide a joint declaration of constraints on publishing and individual notes on contributors.

Clark includes a declaration of interest broken down into three subheadings: funding sources, conflicts of interest ad constraints on publishing. The funding sources declaration includes details of specific funding sources.

Ford makes a declaration of interest in his letter to the editor, noting his employment by a state government.

Blaszczynski and Gainsbury make no disclosures after their ‘Editor’s Notes’.

Reilly and Smith provide ‘Notes on Contributors’ and ‘Acknowledgements’. These notes disclose support to write their editorial from the National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG) and their employment by NCRG. They direct readers to the NCRG website for more details regarding the funding for NCRG, although the Funding page only lists a handful of historical funders. More specific information is provided on the Current Donors page.

Wohl and Wood provide ‘Notes on Contributors’ only, without disclosing funding sources, constraints on publishing or conflicts of interests. The ISAJE, the organisation referred to in IGS’s policy on disclosure, is quite clear about this:

every manuscript should have headings labeled “Funding Sources” and “Competing Interests” even if the answers to the questions on the Transparency form were “None.”

IGS’s policy is also clear:

If there were no funding sources, constraints and/or no competing interests, this will also be declared.

Michael Wohl’s biographical notes give no indication of real or apparent competing interests. However, his university CV lists a number of financial interests that require disclosure under the ISAJE guidelines, including research funding from a variety of organisations including the NCRG and consultancies and contract research from Atlantic Lottery Corporation, British Colombia Lottery Corporation, Interprovincial Lottery Corporation, Playscan, and Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation.

In his biographical note, Richard Wood describes himself as president of GamRes Limited, though he does not offer any further details. According to their website, GamRES is ‘an international research and consultancy company that examines gambling behaviour’: ‘Our mantra is “putting research into practice” and if you want to develop an RG solution, or have us develop one for you, then please contact us to discuss your idea.’ GamRes provides a number of services including online training for gaming staff:

We can tailor a training package to meet your specific requirements, and offer a service that allows maximum flexibility for participation, together with an effective system for managing and recording who has completed each training module within your organization.

GamRes’ website boasts over twenty international gambling operators among their clients. Does this matter? Does it change the way we read Wohl and Wood’s research, or their opinions on the issue of competing interests?

In their article, Griffiths and Auer provide individual notes on contributors as well as a joint disclosure of conflicts of interest covering funding sources, competing interests and constraints on publishing.

The declaration of interests states that Mark Griffiths “has received funding for a number of research projects… from the Responsibility in Gambling Trust, a charitable body which funds its research programme based on donations from the gambling industry.” Griffiths’ 2013 CV also lists numerous grants and consultancies from gambling operators on four continents, in addition to funding from non-gambling sources. Mark Griffiths is a non-executive director of Richard Wood’s company, GamRES.

The declaration of interests does not note any real or apparent interests of for Michael Auer. In his biographical note, Auer describes himself as a ‘director at neccton ltd’ without providing any further detail. According to recent conference publicity, Auer’s full job title is Business Unit Manager, Responsible Gaming. He described neccton’s services in Casino International in April 2013:

we support companies when it comes to managing their data, to retrieving insights about customers from their data. One aspect of our business is gaming, so we support gaming companies when it comes to improving their customer experience.

His role at neccton is not identified as a competing interest. His joint declaration with Mark Griffiths refers only to ‘consultancy for various gaming companies in the area of responsibility in gambling.’ Is this declaration intended to include his role at neccton? To be clear, the guidelines of the ISAJE regarding ‘competing interests: financial’, include the question:

Have you in the three years prior to the beginning of the work been employed by an organization that may in any way gain or lose financially from the kinds of research described in your study or the topic of your review, editorial, or letter?

Wood and Auer, like Dave Excel of Featurespace, do not think that direct commercial relationships with gambling operators constitute a source of competing interests. The ISAJE guidelines suggest that people reading their research should be given the opportunity to make up their own minds.

In a series of articles which focus on gambling research funding and publishing one would expect the editors of IGS to follow their own policy to the letter.

Why was Wohl and Wood’s article published without disclosures of interest? Will IGS publish articles without any declaration of competing interests in future?

In part, this situation arises from IGS’s position (contrary to that of the ISAJE) that commercial relationships with the gambling industry do not necessarily constitute a competing interest. On the IGS website Alex Blaszczynski combines a negative declaration of interest:

I do not hold any ongoing position, receive ongoing or significant funding, and am not engaged in any business or organisation that creates a conflict of interest (real, perceived, actual or potential) in the work I would conduct as Editor of International Gambling Studies.

With the additional information that ‘I have had financial professional dealings with the gambling industry and various State and Federal governments over the last three years including’:

Received research grants from gambling industry corporations, governments, and research bodies within Australia, USA, and Canada.

Expertise and reports provided to governments and gambling industry corporations within Australia, USA and Canada and, with compensation and reimbursement for expenses provided for some of this work.

Such disclosures are deficient when compared to the ISAJE standards for authors.

Furthermore, the ISAJE holds journal editors to a higher standard, given their crucial role as gate keepers. The ISAJE’s foundational Farmingham Consensus notes that journals must:

maintain openness in regard to connections which a journal or its editorial staff may have established which could reasonably be construed as conflict of interest.

In an influential article Goozner et al. (2009) go further in their standard for disclosure, asserting that “If a journal editor or senior editorial manager has a conflict of interest, it must be disclosed in each edition of the journal near the masthead and be found easily in the online edition. Such notice should also be included on the author guidelines or information page for electronic sub-missions. The same rules that govern author disclosures should govern editor disclosures.”

These five disclosure statements are abstracted in the table below. In short, only two of the five responses contained adequate disclosures of interest. This is disappointing given that they occurred in the context of a debate regarding the belated introduction of compulsory declarations of interests in IGS.

IGS2

Disclosures of interest are not a panacea. They are a step towards a more accountable and transparent field. But we can do better.

Some people might be sceptical about negative disclosures and be tempted to ask, ‘how helpful is it to know what people have NOT done?’ For an example of how important this information can be, see the negative disclosures provided by Luke Clark. Having described the funding for his current role, consultancy undertaken for a named company, and funding from the UK Medical Council (including a grant reference number so that we are able to find out more about his other work), he adds:

I have not received any other direct or indirect payments from the gambling industry or any other groups substantially funded by gambling to conduct research or to speak at conferences or events.

This is a helpful precedent.

What a difference it would make to gambling studies if all published manuscripts included negative declarations and, on the other hand, if commercial interests were adequately declared without fail.

Rebecca Cassidy

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Written by samkelly2014

July 21, 2015 at 11:30 am

Posted in News

One Response

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  1. Well said. It’s definitely needed. Gambling addiction is a health problem, so disclosure should be the same as JAMA, Nature, BMJ, etc for all gambling research, not just that which addresses addiction.

    gondorff147

    July 31, 2015 at 2:16 pm


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