Recall that AZ is one of the recent drug companies--Merck is another--alleged to have participated in "ghost authoring," a practice the ethics of which many have questioned both in this blog and elsewhere. Hence, before returning to Sir Tom and the Inquirer, I suppose I'd like to ask the remedial question: should there be a "bright line" between scientific authorship, interpreted in plain old old-school fashion as "something I worked up, researched it myself, and then wrote it up," on the one hand, and some investigator lightly buffing a Medical Education Company's prose and proclaiming him/herself "first author"?
(The MEC in the AZ case advertises itself here. They were founded on "a vision of excellence.")
If there's a bright line, how is crossing it to be prevented? What sanctions can or should be imposed? (The Journal of General Internal Medicine may have recently come up with one, at least one that will give pause to this particular putative author.) And what can the old-school "gentlemen's clubs" journals, many of them run by collegiate societies, do to make that bright line as, well, bright as it clearly needs to be?
In the case of AstraZeneca, I doubt its approach was any different than many other pharmas. (Not sure which is more chilling: this is anomalous, or this is business-as-usual.) And I doubt, though cannot truly know yea or nay, whether Sir Tom knew about the "attempted plant" in JGIM, on which Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman recently blew the whistle.
Yet some of the Inquirer reporter's notes and observations, in an article that sports the headline "Aggressive Stance," bear repeating here, since the last time I checked with Jack Welch, CEOs of large companies set the tone for the organizational behavior under them.
Here are some of the "dragons" that this gentleman, in a recent interview, sought to "lance."
- "Drug safety advocates are sputtering 'nonsense.'"
- "Regulators are creating 'imbalance' in risk-vs.-benefit decisions."
- "Americans are catching 'the European disease' of excess caution...."
But a couple big questions linger.
One, where do authors, in academia or the private sector either one, get the idea that it's de rigueur to slap their name on a MEC-authored paper? Put another way, do they have no idea what might happen to them if someone like Dr. Fugh-Berman blows the whistle?
And two, what are we to make of the last quotable quote from the Inquirer piece on Sir Tom?
- A favorite book is Konrad Lorenz's classic tome, On Aggression....
Worth pondering and discussing a lot more, methinks. Here is a gentleman who actually appears to want out from Big Pharma, but not until he's shored up his one company's pipeline and its market fortunes. He's right to be fascinated by the work of other students of aggression.