Accusations of ethical lapses involving prominent medical researchers

David L Meyers dm0015 at COMCAST.NET
Tue Sep 18 20:11:25 UTC 2018

In the past 5 days, headline-making events occurred involving 3 prominent physicians whose ethical behavior has been questioned. Though not directly concerning diagnostic error, 2 of the 3 men have connections to our work via their involvement in Cochrane Collaboration and the Dartmouth Institute. Their stories will undoubtedly generate continuing controversy about the allegations and the responses of these physicians and the institutions who took the actions. 

The first was the revelation late last week that, as reported in the NY Times ( <>), Dr. José Baselga, the chief medical officer of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and a leading cancer researcher whose work was supported by numerous health care and pharmaceutical companies, resigned last Thursday amid reports that he had failed to disclose millions of dollars in payments from companies which funded his work.

Then, over the weekend, Dr H Gilbert Welch, a prominent researcher at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and a leader in research efforts around medical screening and reducing “over-diagnosis”, resigned over allegations of plagiarism related to a graph published in an article he wrote for the New England Journal of Medicine in 2016. Welch vigorously disputed the charges and resigned stating in a letter shared with the local newspaper, the Valley News ( <>), “I feel that I can no longer participate in the research misconduct process against me — as I fear my participation only serves to validate it.” 

The third significant event was the expulsion of Dr Peter Gøtzsche from membership on the Governing Board of the Cochrane Collaboration, announced Monday, several weeks after he and colleagues criticized a Cochrane review of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. In response to his removal, four other members of the Cochrane Governing Board resigned, as reported over this past weekend, claiming that the action went beyond the “Cochrane ethos." ( <>). 

All of these individuals have been very prominent and widely respected in their areas of research as are the institutions which took the actions against them. There will undoubtedly be further ramifications as more details emerge in these cases, and those involved refine their positions. Although the actions are being contested, the public’s concerns about the validity and trustworthiness of some medical research will likely be further aggravated and raise questions about more widespread dishonesty, lack of transparency and low ethical standards in medicine and health care. 

The NY Times posted an editorial several days ago calling for reform ( <>). The ripples are only beginning.

David L Meyers, MD FACEP
Listserv Moderator/Board member
Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine | 
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Moderator: David Meyers, Board Member, Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine

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