October 16, 2006

Authorship, ghost-science, access to data and control of the pharmaceutical scientific literature: Who stands behind the word?

By Dr. Aubrey Blumsohn, MSc, MB BCh, PhD, MRCPath

Aubrey Blumsohn is a pathologist and osteoporosis specialist, and previously Senior Lecturer in Metabolic Bone Medicine at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. He was suspended from his academic post in September 2005 after discussing concerns about research integrity outside of his institution. He can be contacted at: ablumsohn-3@yahoo.co.uk

'...The past two years has seen widespread commentary about the integrity of pharmaceutical medicine (2-13). The suggested remedy is that pharmaceutical companies must be divorced from direct involvement in researching clinical aspects of their own drugs (3, 7). We are heading, like the Titanic, towards an iceberg of enormous size.

Pharmaceutical companies sell products under the banner of science and medicine. However, their raison d’ĂȘtre is to make money. If industry gets involved in science, it has to balance genuine hypothesis testing and transparency against commercial interests, bureaucracy of drug regulation, and the financial consequences of dishonesty. This is not in itself a criticism – it is a simple fact.

Universities exist for a different reason – to add to human knowledge and to disseminate
that knowledge through publication and teaching. Subtle compromises (2) have allowed the pharmaceutical industry to develop an extraordinary stranglehold over the scientific process, academic discourse, regulatory safeguards and common sense (8-11,14). It is hard to see
how safeguards for dispassionate scientific discourse can be sustained when medicine flagrantly disregards them...

The problem of academics who don’t acquiesce

There have been many cases where academics have refused to acquiesce. A dispute arose between James Kahn of UC San Francisco and Immune Response Corp. over effectiveness of an AIDS vaccine in a multi-center trial. The company objected to publication of the analysis of data (which was incomplete since the company refused to supply the rest to the researchers). When UCSF researchers refused to interpret the data more favourably, the company threatened legal action. The study was published with incomplete data (23). The company
maintained that because it paid for the trial, it somehow owned the data and therefore the mode of presentation...

Most importantly, as academics we need to reassert the importance of data and the
meaning of authorship. We also need to assert “old fashioned” ideas of academic freedom, our right to speak the truth as we see it, and to allow that truth to be subjected to open debate. In the words of George Orwell (1984), “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows."

Read the complete paper by Dr. Aubrey Blumsohn at: Professional Ethics Report and check his blog on Scientific Misconduct at: http://scientific-misconduct.blogspot.com/

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