Low-level corruption: “disturbingly common in health and medicine”

30 Jan

“A golden triangle linking politicians, lawyers and doctors for mutual, undisclosed gain”

So writes Anjana Ahuja, citing the case of Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York State Assembly, who approved grants to a doctor at Columbia University, funding the doctor’s mesothelioma research programme:

“Prosecutors say the doctor, who has been widely named as Robert Taub, then directed his patients to Mr Silver, who in turn referred them to a law firm specialising in asbestos-related lawsuits (asbestos exposure is a leading cause of mesothelioma, a rare lung cancer)”. Mr Silver is said to have received referral fees exceeding $3m – “completing a golden triangle linking politicians, lawyers and doctors for mutual, undisclosed gain”.

silver leaves courtSheldon Silver walks out of the Federal Courthouse after his arraignment

Mr Silver now faces the corruption charges and is relinquishing his position as speaker. Dr Taub has since stepped down from the research centre.

Ms Ahuja refers to the “shadowy territory some scientists willingly step into in order to fund their research and further their reputations” and alleges that low-level corruption has become disturbingly common in science, especially health and medicine as pharmaceutical companies:

  • pay university academics to conduct clinical studies,
  • add consultancy fees or stock options in return for keynote speeches at important conferences,
  • pay university academics for appending their names to company written papers in prestigious journals.
  • endow professorial chairs, enhancing their own reputations

She observes that universities, relying on these investments, now accept a degree of external control over their research that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.

Hidden financial ties have proliferated in the past decade as governments cut funding and encouraged academics to form links with commerce. This led some journals to insist that scientists disclose potential conflicts of interest, including grants, consultancies, speaking fees and shareholdings.

alltrials logoAnother move to address the culture of secrecy outlined here is the AllTrials campaign, launched in January 2013, which calls for every clinical trial to be registered and the results disclosed.

It is an initiative of Bad ScienceBMJCentre for Evidence-based MedicineCochrane CollaborationJames Lind InitiativePLOS and Sense About Science and is being led in the US by Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine and the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice.

As Ms Ahuja ends: “Left unchecked, secrecy distorts science”.

Read her article (free registration) at FT: Golden triangle of mutual gain that blights the science industry

For a wider account of allegations against this senior American politician, go to http://www.wsj.com/articles/legal-murkiness-hovers-over-sheldon-silver-case-1422032675?tesla=y

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