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12:00 AM
 | 
Nov 02, 2009
 |  BioCentury  |  Politics, Policy & Law

Conscientious objection

"I believe that, in order to protect

our constitutional rights, everyone

should refuse to permit inquiry

into his political beliefs."

Published testimony of Linus Pauling

to California Senate Investigating

Committee on Education in 1950

In the 1950s, during the McCarthy communist witch hunts, the U.S. Public Health Service revoked grants it had awarded Linus Pauling, the intellectual father of molecular biology, because of his opposition to demands that scientists disclose their political associations.

Half a century later, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) has promulgated a new Uniform Disclosure Form for Potential Conflicts of Interest that should cause Pauling to turn over in his grave. In addition to requiring information about financial interests, Section 5 of the form asks authors of journal articles to "report any personal, professional, political, institutional, religious, or other associations that a reasonable reader would want to know about in relation to the submitted work."

Journals that have adopted the new disclosure policy include the New England Journal of Medicine, the Annals of Internal Medicine, The Lancet, theJournal of the American Medical Association, and theBritish Medical Journal.

Beyond the obvious and profound assault on privacy and liberty, the notion that personal beliefs, as signaled by political or religious affiliations, are relevant when assessing peer-reviewed research, is an assault on science itself.

The scientific enterprise is built on the idea that theories rise and fall on objective criteria. Experiments can be independently reproduced...

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