Psychiatry Professors Behaving Badly

Technically they’ve been “cleared” of all charges, but I wouldn’t say these 2 psychiatry professors from the University of Pennsylvania don’t have blood on their hands. The story can be found in The Philadelphia Inquirer Business section under the heading, Penn finds no misconduct by professors in plagiarism case. I think some of us might better characterize the whitewash of these 2 psychiatry professors actions as misconduct on the university’s part.

An internal investigation by the University of Pennsylvania found no evidence of research misconduct or plagiarism by two psychiatry professors – one of whom is the chair of the department – who were accused by a colleague of putting their names on a ghostwritten paper in 2001.

One of these professors just happens to be the Chair of the University of Pennsylvania’s Psychiatry Department, Dwight L. Evans.

2 authors are taking the credit for a paper authored by 5 authors. It is unclear as to the hand that these 2 authors had in this document, if any, besides the providing of signatures. 3 of those authors were from the drug company that manufactures Paxil, GlaxoSmithKline. The paper is about Paxil.

Last summer, Jay D. Amsterdam, a Penn professor who also had been involved in the study of the effect of the antidepressant Paxil on depression in patients with bipolar disorder, filed a complaint with the federal Office of Research Integrity about the study. He alleged that “the published manuscript was biased in its conclusions, made unsubstantiated efficacy claims, and downplayed the adverse event profile of Paxil.”

Now tell me, this paper wasn’t intended to be a big send up for Paxil, was it!? The university decided that since the piece was written in 2001, before they had guidelines requiring the mention of drug company co-authors, that it’s legit. Okay, I’d say that doing so is stretching the definition of legit to the breaking point.

This is not the first time the University Pennsylvania has been involved in ghostwriting scandals, and it probably won’t be the last.

Last summer, the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog group, called for the removal of Penn president Amy Gutmann from her position as chair of the Presidential Commission for the study of Bioethical Issues because she had not been tough enough on ghostwriting. She was recently reappointed.

Isn’t it sad that sometimes people get appointed to serve on Commissions because of their conflicts of interest rather than because of their lack of them? In more independent and truly ethically minded climes, there is a word to describe this sort of practice. That word, if you‘re still stumped, is corrupt.