Murky rules cloud health research, says York professor

Only half of Canada’s health research institutions require faculty and staff to disclose possible financial conflicts of interest related to salary, honoraria or consulting fees when they’re conducting research, wrote the Hamilton Spectator Sept. 4 in a story about a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine by a group of Toronto researchers that includes Dr. Joel Lexchin, professor in York’s School of Health Policy & Management, Faculty of Health.

The study showed significant gaps in the requirements for the disclosure and monitoring of financial conflicts of interest – even huge discrepancies in what actually constitutes a potential conflict.

The findings also echo many of the revelations contained in the Hamilton Spectator’s 2005 award-winning investigative series entitled Blind Faith, which looked at the issue of medical research, funding and scientific ethics.

“Based on what we’ve discovered, the academic health centres are leaving out large areas around conflict of interest,” said Lexchin, the study’s lead author. “The policies that they do have are scattered around so the investigators won’t know what is or is not required of them. From the public’s point of view, it casts a shadow over the research that’s being produced,” Lexchin added. “If the public doesn’t trust the research, then everyone’s in trouble.”

Lexchin said he also found it disconcerting that 60 per cent of the institutions don’t address the issue of publication rights to the research, which could strike at the independence of the scientist. “Can the people who do the research publish the research without interference from those who paid for it?” Lexchin asked. “Can the people who pay for it make changes in manuscripts?”

$55-billion transit plan would reopen old battles

A draft transportation plan from the provincial agency Metrolinx calls for 4,600 kilometres of new lanes of road, for the expansion of Highway 407 east to Clarington and unspecified expansions of the 410, 404 and 427, wrote The Globe and Mail Sept. 4.

Mark Winfield, a professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, said many of the expansions had been put aside after the provincial Liberals brought in their plan to curtail sprawl. “These are fights that we thought were over and had been dropped,” Winfield said. “Have the various regional politicians managed to slip these things back onto the agenda?”

Court affirms publication bans at bail hearings

Alberta’s highest court has ruled an accused person’s right to a fair trial trumps the public’s right to know what is said during a bail hearing, wrote the Edmonton Journal Sept. 4 in a story about a case that stretches back to October 2005. Some members of the public were outraged after a judge released accused wife-killer Michael White on bail and a mandatory publication ban barred journalists from telling the public why. The Journal and other media organizations challenged the constitutionality of the ban.

James Stribopoulos, professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said the Supreme Court will likely decide the case if media organizations bring it to the higher court. “There is no hierarchy of Charter rights,” he said. “This legislation errs entirely on the side of an accused’s fair trial rights and fails to take adequate account of the equally important right of the free press to disseminate information in our society. It is not nuanced. It is a blunt instrument that doesn’t take into account the specific circumstances of the case or the fact that there are less intrusive alternatives.”

Stribopoulos said releasing an accused murderer on bail without any public explanation can undermine faith in the justice system. “In that context, information is essential, knowledge is power – people need to know why it is that the judge has made this decision. To just say ‘trust us’ doesn’t instil public confidence. It fuels cynicism toward the operation of the justice system.”

Film finders are always on the hunt

Kathleen Mullen, freelance programmer, filmmaker and student, is working toward a master of fine arts degree in film production at York University, wrote the Toronto Star Sept. 4, in one of a series of profiles on people who pick the movies for the Toronto International Film Festival.

When/where do you look for films? Throughout the year, but particularly beginning in April.

How do you find movies? For Short Cuts Canada, most of our work comes in through a call for submissions. We also ask filmmakers we are familiar with and we approach distribution centres to see if they have anything new.

Fave TIFF pick: Baghdad Twist by Joe Balass, who explores the once-thriving Jewish community in Iraq where he lived before he and his mother were forced to flee to Canada in 1970. The animated film Passages by Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre that uniquely tells the story of a couple’s encounter with an incompetent medical system when they try to have a baby in Quebec. Green Door by Semi Chellas, which is a hilarious black comedy that stars Tracy Wright and Don McKellar.

On air

  • James McKellar, professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about the future of Toronto’s economy, on CBC Radio’s “Metro Morning” Sept. 2.
  • Alison Macpherson, professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health, spoke about a study on bicycle helmets and safety, on Ottawa’s CILV Radio, Sept. 2.
  • Nick Coutu, a rookie quarterback with the York Lions football team, spoke about his decision to play at York, on St. Catharines’ CKTB Radio Sept. 2.
  • The appointment of York alumnus Steve MacLean (BSc Hons ’77, PhD ’83) was reported on CBC News, Sept. 2.