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Textbooks: at risk of being biased and outdated?

Textbooks undisclosured conflicts of interestA number of reporting guidelines exist to ensure the quality and transparency of journal medical publications. Moreover, the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) recommends that articles should be published with statements or supporting documents declaring authors’ conflicts of interest. This recommendation is widely supported by journals, who see transparent disclosures as a way to maintain public trust. However, as recently discussed in an article by former editor of The BMJ Richard Smith, similar guidance does not exist for textbooks.

Dr Smith begins by highlighting recent research, which found that authors of a number of textbooks had undeclared financial conflicts of interest. While this finding may not be surprising, given that most authors of articles in journals have financial conflicts, he warns that these conflicts are likely to lead to biased information in textbooks.

He goes on to question the relevance of textbooks in an age where the most up-to-date medical information is published online. Textbooks quickly become outdated and, as Dr Smith points out, often lack evidence-based content. Despite this, he notes that textbooks can raise big profits, potentially leading to vested interest in their continuation. Do textbooks still have value in the digital age? In Dr Smith’s opinion, readers should “stay away…you could be misled”.


Summary by Louise Niven DPhil from Aspire Scientific

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