In quotes because this was the title of a post by Derek Lowe over at In The Pipeline. His post, written on April 18, 2008, was about unethical behavior (ghost writing) on the part of Big Pharma. His view, which I think is absolutely correct, was that the practice was further tarnishing the reputation of the industry where he works, making it increasingly difficult to do good business especially during times of increasing economic uncertainty.
In early October, NYTimes ran a story about the improper money grabbing behavior being practiced by Charles Nemeroff, a psychiatrist at Emory University. DM had some comments on this case, as did many others in the blogosphere. The story disgusted me then, and it disgusts me now. And it only gets worse!
Apparently Charles Grassley (Rep, Iowa) has expanded his probe of illegal (or at least unethical) Pharma payments to University based researchers. This time, he is demanding financial disclosures from a group of cardiologists at Columbia University but I can only guess that there will be more. The piece in Nature closes with this little gem:
Then there is the simple fact that psychiatrists earn considerably less than medics in many other specialist fields. In 2007, the median income for psychiatrists was $199,000, according to the Medical Group Management Association. Anaestheiologists, by contrast, made $400,000, and dermatologists $366,000. “I don’t think that’s irrelevant,” says Wolpe. “I think low-paid specialities, especially in today’s economic and medical climate, look for ways to increase their income.”
Dr. Wolpe is an ethicist and, from the entirety of the article, it is clear that he is not making an argument defending these practices of taking possibly unethical payments, he is simply stating the facts. Facts which form a total bullshit argument in my view. Look, every one of those median salaries is above executive 1 salary as mandated by the Federal Government. You need more money, go get another job that can pay you more. Stop eroding public trust in the research infrastructure of this country!
The point I would like to make is that this practice has to stop and Universities have to be the ones to stop it. We have to reinvigorate the research integrity of our academic institutions in order to have a reasonable expectation that taxpayers will be willing to continue to accept funding of academic research in this country. We don’t have a right to growth in federally funded research programs and if we want to see them get on the right track again, we’ve got to make sure that people can trust that we are acting in an ethical manner. Every single story like the ones cited above damages the public reputation of all of our activities, even the vast majority of them that are completely transparent and faithful to the public trust. The longer this continues, the longer we can expect to see flat or declining funding lines and we can absolutely expect crickets from the public in terms of clamoring for more funding of academic research. 95% of taxpayers in this country make less than all of those median salaries (even the so-called low ranked psychiatrists). I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that you’re not gonna get a lick of sympathy from the general public on this one (or from me). “Cut it out, cut it out NOW!”