Dr Bernard Carroll passed away on September 10, 2018. Dr Carroll had a distinguished career, so it was a surprise and delight that he also chose to be a stalwart Health Care Renewal blogger. He was with us since 2005, contributing insightful, pithy, provocative and important posts. He also authored some of our most widely read posts. Most viewed was: JAMA Jumps the Shark. His most recent post was Corruption of Clinical Trials Report: A Proposal. All his posts can be found here.
His obituary just appeared in the British Medical Journal. It began
A pioneer in biological psychiatry, more recently Bernard Carroll (‘‘Barney’’) became a withering critic of its compromised ethics and corruption by industry.
He was a scientific skeptic
A rigorous scientific sceptic, even about his own work, he refrained from claiming that the DST explained the aetiology of melancholia. He was critical of ill informed challenges to its clinical uses but opposed exaggerated claims for its role as a screening test.
He was a renowned teacher, mentor, and academic leader
Barney was a great clinical teacher and mentor, who never hesitated to say: 'I don’t know the answer to that—let’s look into it.' No one had a better command of the scientific literature or was better able to translate it to the complex exigencies of clinical practice. By his quiet example, Barney influenced hundreds of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and nurses, as well as basic neuroscientists, to become better clinicians, researchers, and educators. He was rigorous and demanding, but in the most nurturing and affable way.
In 1983 Barney accepted the chair of psychiatry at Duke University. He turned a respected department of psychiatry into a great one—recruiting new faculty members, increasing external grant support 10-fold (raising it to sixth in the US), improving clinical services, and forging research and residency training partnerships with the public sector. I followed Barney as chair and found it to be one of the easiest jobs in the world. All I had to do was coast on his coat tails.
He was a campaigner for accountability, integrity, transparency, honesty and ethics
During the past 20 years, Barney became a critic of weak science, of ethical lapses, and of industry’s corruption of the research enterprise. He coined the term 'experimercial' to describe clinical trials that were really disguised exercises in marketing. He relentlessly exposed undisclosed conflicts of interest, hidden commercial promotions, inadequate research designs, biased analyses, misleading conclusions, exaggerated claims, and ghost writing.
Barney became the conscience of psychiatry. With the frequent collaboration of Robert Rubin, he outed many high profile academic opinion leaders who had been co-opted by commercial interests.
Barney never flinched in his David and Goliath battle to restore truth and integrity to the psychiatric research enterprise. His exposés comprised ethics critiques as well as aesthetic disapproval of degraded standards and tawdry behaviour.
Barney’s 'right' prevailed against institutional and commercial 'might.' He helped to force the current upgrades of editorial oversight and full disclosure now demanded by Nature Publishing Group, by AMA journals, and most journals. The publicity surrounding Barney’s exposés triggered the conflict of interest inquiries conducted by Charles Grassley, chair of the US Senate Finance Committee, which had a profound impact on recalibrating ethics standards in all medical specialties. As he left us, Barney was encouraged by current trends towards improving transparency and increased integrity.
Looking to the future, on the scientific side Barney cautioned against the loss of independent investigators and the diversion of research resources by 'big science' consortiums. On the ethics side, Barney’s main unfinished work is an ongoing petition to Congress to update US Food and Drug Administration oversight of analyses and reporting of clinical trials.
Barney is remembered as a fair and generous colleague, an honest broker in review committees, a generative and avuncular mentor, a constant source of good ideas, a meticulous academic craftsman, and a tireless servant to the field. He did endless pro bono advocacy, editorial and committee work, and served as president of three professional societies. Barney was a great raconteur, a jolly companion, a dedicated writer of limericks, a courtly gentleman, a devoted husband and father, a wonderful friend, and a man for all seasons. He died as he lived—with grace, courage, and fortitude. Barney leaves his wife, Sylvia; a daughter; and a son.
Bernard J Carroll (b 1940; q 1964; MD, PhD), died from cancer on 10 September 2018
Investigative journalist Paul Thacker provided these memories:
Since Barney retired as Chair of Psychiatry at Duke, he became a very important resource to a small number of reporters and experts trying to understand corruption in medicine. I was just watching the documentary 'Bleeding Edge' about the medical device industry, and one of the devices profiled was the Vagal Nerve Stimulator (VNS). I was watching the documentary thinking, 'God, that VNS crap made it on the market. Barney blew it up in the Wall Street Journal back in 2006.' Barney was critical to a lot of movement in trying to fix things behind the scenes.
A couple years back, I was talking with Barney and asking him why he thought so many people in medicine behaved the way they did, doing things when it was obvious patients were either going to harmed or given some treatment that was likely pointless but expensive. Barney always had a colorful way of explaining these things.
"When you get old, much of what you'll have are memories of what you did, and what you added during your time here. These people won't have s* but f* money. They didn't add a f*ing thing!'
I think Barney added a lot. He was a great guy, who added a whole lot to our understanding of medicine while retired.
We will all miss him.