Thursday, August 9, 2012

Ghostwriting: Still No Consequences for Academic Physicians

As Paul Basken writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

--some academic medical centers might be uncomfortable with the new spotlight thrown by the recent GlaxoSmithKline record $3B fraud settlement (see: Or then again, they might not.

A centerpiece of the GSK fraud case was Paxil Study 329:
A number of the schools where faculty are appointed, who were listed as authors of this study, had previously launched some sort of investigation of charges that these faculty allowed their names to be attached to a ghostwritten article that falsely pumped up the benefits and downplayed the risks of this antidepressant in children.  In none of those cases was any action taken against the faculty member.

Now that the Federal settlement is public, and the full record of fraud is out there, are any of these universities revisiting the matter and considering further action? Not according to anything Basken was able to learn. (Full discloure: One of these faculty now works at my own institution, and rules regarding personnel matters do not allow me to comment on that case.)

One of the features of the case that has no doubt undercut any decisive action is that the lead author, Martin Keller of Brown University, recently retired. I suspect Brown thinks it has now washed its hands of the case and need not take any further action.

Basken has toted up all the Federal research grants awarded to listed authors of this study since it appeared, and they run into the tens of millions. So you can see both the downside of failure to take action against these academics, as well as the main reason why no action is taken. These folks are the geese that lay golden eggs, insofar as the department chair and dean are concerned, so why mess with financial success. In an era where it is nearly impossible to discern any difference between how one runs an academic medical center vs. a for-profit business, you can see what values reign.

A while ago I mentioned a good article that recommended just what should happen to faculty who are found to have allowed their names to be appended to a ghostwritten paper--see: Leo J, Lacasse JR, Cimino AN. Why does academic medicine allow ghostwriting? A prescription for reform. Society (epub July 21, 2011). More later on their recommendations.


Womens Health Medicine said...

Great article. I wish I could get couple of more of this so that I can understand better Online Pharmacy.

mary said...

It is crucial that any institution police it's self. A good example of letting faculty do as they please is Penn State. The NCAA came down hard on PS but ALL other Colleges and Universities will think many times before allowing their staff the status of a demagogue. It's the 'Nip-it-in-the-Bud' practice. Works for kids, dogs and institutions!

InformaticsMD said...

The paper seems to be freely available at this link:

InformaticsMD said...

In the paper on ghostwriting:

Defenses of ghostwritten
papers are endlessly creative: The paper was peer reviewed.
The named authors signed off on the content. The person
who wrote most of the paper was acknowledged as an
editorial assistant. All of the listed authors did a significant
amount of work. The listed authors were involved in every
step of the paper’s development. The paper was published
in a top-tier journal. The average reader cannot detect any
commercial bias in the paper. The data were reported
accurately. The college professors listed as authors were not
paid. The listed author is a great scientist. The paper’s
conclusions are in-line with current thinking on the topic.

This sounds like lawyering, not science.