Saturday, November 7, 2009

U. Miami: Send Us Your Professionally Challenged

When the poster child for everything this blog inveighs against, Dr. Charles Nemeroff, was finally stripped of his chairmanship of psychiatry at Emory after many years of blatant conflicts of interest, I had finally hoped I could continue these discussions without again having to mention his name. But I had reservations. The uncharacteristic meekness with which Dr. Nemeroff appeared to accept his chastisement and demotions somehow seemed to hint that there were more episodes of this soap opera yet to come.

We now read that Dr. Nemeroff has been hired by the University of Miami as its new chair of psychiatry:

At first blush this would appear to indicate that Miami has put up a neon sign, "Want to Get Rid of Your Problem Faculty Who Appear to be Ethically and Professionally Challenged? Send Them Here! Group Rates Negotiable."

Miami's response? "Pascal Goldschmidt, dean of UM medical school, called Nemeroff ``an exceptional psychiatrist and an exceptional scientist who has one issue in which he recognizes he made a mistake,'' in not telling Emory how much he was getting from drug makers."

To anyone who has followed Dr. Nemeroff's career, this is sort of like saying that Jack the Ripper was a dedicated feminist, only he had one issue. The specific question of whether he honestly reported to Emory how much outside income he had made is just the tip of the iceberg. To reduce the question of his professionalism to that single matter indicates either denial or willful ignorance of the record.

"In Miami, Goldschmidt said Nemeroff was multidimensional -- strong in basic research, treatment of patients and building programs such as suicide prevention.
His biography lists stints as president of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology and the American College of Psychiatrists. He has published more than 750 research reports and reviews.
``I know I'm going to take a little smack in the face for this hire,'' Goldschmidt said. ``But you don't do anything important without taking some risks. It's very important that the people of Miami have access to a phenomenal psychiatrist like this.''

How does a person of Nemeroff's age and rank get to have written 750 publications--especially with how busy he obviously was with administration, fundraising, and schmoozing with corporate bigwigs? (Academics 10 years older than Nemeroff would ordinarily be considered superstars if they had 200 articles to their credit.) Given that Nemeroff admitted on at least one occasion that he put his name to a ghostwritten paper, and given what we know about the frequency of ghostwriting in psychopharmacology specifically, one has to question just what percentage of his actual output is honestly attributable to him.

And what exactly does the Dean mean by calling Nemeroff "exceptional...phenomenal"? This is a person who has probably done more than any single individual to reduce academic psychiatry to a crassly commercial enterprise. In the process, he has always kept a stream of corporate cash flowing into whatever institution currently harbors him. That appeared to many skeptics to be the reason why Emory took as long as they did to seriously get on his case. That would appear also to be the main attraction for Miami.

I will once again protest, despite apparently mounting evidence, that I have no personal vendetta against Dr. Nemeroff. I have never met the man. He may be, for all I know, a charming fellow, though one would imagine that whatever behavior earned him the nickname among his fellow academic psychiatrists of "boss of bosses" would argue against too benign a portrayal. I am beating this dead horse, that refuses to stay dead and keeps rearing up, for one simple reason. Grossly unprofessional behavior that is nevertheless highly profitable for both individuals and their institutions will never stop unless engaging in it brings down consequences upon one's head. If the reward for being Charles Nemeroff is to be offered a chair at one medical school when one has been kicked out of one's chair in disgrace at another, then the consequences appear to be pointed in exactly the wrong direction.


Anonymous said...

He has been called other things besides boss of bosses -- the Tom DeLay of psychiatry, for instance. It looks to me like U Miami did not do due diligence.

Anonymous said...

It's known as a system of perverse incentives.

Cetamua said...

Wall Street got a bailout; now Bling Bling got his own?

I've never heard of a theory that posit a modification of bad behavior by REWARDING it.

Did I miss something?

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Anonymous said...


Thanks for sharing the link - but unfortunately it seems to be down? Does anybody here at have a mirror or another source?


Howard Brody said...

William: Very sorry, that's a danger of putting up a link to a media article--if they take it down after however many months, we have no alternative for you. I do this blog on my lonesome and have no professiopnal staff to handle such matters! Thanks for your interest, Howard