Monday, October 6, 2008

Could New Revelations Bring Down Nemeroff?

A good while back I posted about Charles Nemeroff, chair of psychiatry at Emory:

I have never met this person and for all I know he is a delightful human being. I bear him no personal ill will. The problem was that wherever I turned in my research on HOOKED, and the topic of conflicts of interest among academic physicians came up, Dr. Nemeroff seemed to be off the charts. He seemed to be the poster child for all that is wrong with the current cozy arrangements between Pharma and acadmic medicine. (Details in the post above.)

I wondered how it could be the case that Nemeroff seemed to be the Teflon Chair of Psychiatry just as Reagan had famously been the Teflon President--no charges ever stuck to him no matter how egregious the behavior--and was able to pursue his career as a leader of academic psychiatry despite all the embarrassing revelations (which apparently did not bother Emory University one whit).

Well, the stuff may now finally have hit the fan. Danny Carlat in his psychiatry blog:, reporting on an article in the New York Times ( as well as another in the Wall Street Journal, was soon followed by Integrity in Science Watch. The gist of the new exposes is that Nemeroff reported some tens of thousands of dollars in income from drug companies while in actuality he raked in millions. Specifically, according to Gardiner Harris in the Times, he made $2.8M from 2000-2007 and failed to report at least $1.2M, in the process violating Federal rules as principal investigator on studies for which he had a financial interest in the drug being tested. The new revelations come as a result of Congressional investigations, as part of Sens. Grassley and Kohl's proposal for sunshine legislation. Reportedly, as a result of these articles, Emory has belatedly decided that it needs to investigate Nemeroff.

What happens now will be a good test case for the future of the ethics of academic medicine. The basic issue is this. In today's world, a medical school like Emory looks at all the pluses and minuses of having a guy like Nemeroff as a powerful chair, and decides that the pluses outweigh the minuses. His publication record is stellar (mostly ghostwritten of course), he brings in huge research grants, and people in his specialty all over the world want to kiss the hem of his garments. What has to change, in the regulation and the culture of the academic medical center, so that it becomes a no-brainer that having a guy like this on your faculty is a net loser?


Anonymous said...

This is very interesting information - and important as it pertains to research, teaching etc.

Is this only an issue in psychiatry, or is it also a problem in other areas of medicine? I seem to recall cardiology also being a problem area. Are all of them being looked at?

JPB said...

This is very probably the tip of the iceberg. I wouldn't be surprised at all if there is a lot more to be disclosed about payoffs!