Thoughts on economics and liberty

Examples of unethical medical doctors/researchers

Came across an excellent book Confessions of a medical heretic by Robert S. Mendelsohn


Doctors can’t be counted on to be entirely ethical, either. The dean of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Robert H. Ebert, and the dean of the Yale Medical School, Dr. Lewis Thomas, acted as paid consultants to the Squibb Corporation at the same time they were trying to persuade the Food and Drug Administration to lift the ban on Mysteclin, one of Squibb’s biggest moneymakers. Dr. Ebert said that he “gave the best advice I could. These were honest opinions.” But he also declined to specify the amount of the “modest retainer” Squibb Vice-President Norman R. Ritter admitted paying both him and Dr. Thomas. Dr. Ebert later became a paid director of the drug company and admitted to owning stock valued at $15,000.

In 1972, Dr. Sariruel S. Epstein, then of Case-Western Reserve University, one of the world’s authorities on chemical causes of cancer and birth defects, told the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs that “the National Academy of Sciences is riddled with confict of interest.” He reported that panels that decide on crucial issues such as safety of food additives frequently are dominated by friends or direct associates of the interests that are supposed to be regulated. “In this country you [204] can buy the data you require to support your case,’ he said.

Fraud in scientific research is commonplace enough to keep it off the front pages. The Food and Drug Administration has uncovered such niceties as overdosing and underdosing of patients, fabrication of records, and drug dumping when they investigate experimental drug trials. Of course, in these instances, doctors working for drug companies have as their goal producing results that will convince the FDA to approve the drug. Sometimes, with competition for grant money getting more and more fierce, doctors simply want to produce results that will keep the funding lines open. Since all the “good ol’ boy” researchers are in the same boat, there seems to be a great tolerance for sloppy experiments, unconfirmable results, and carelessness in interpreting results.

Dr. Ernest Borek, a University of Colorado microbiologist, said that “increasing amounts of faked data or, less flagrantly, data with body English put on them, make their way into scientific journals.” Nobel Prize winner Salvadore E. Luria, a biologist at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, said “I know of at least two cases in which highly respected scientists had to retract findings reported from their laboratories, because they discovered that these findings had been manufactured by one of their collaborators.”

Another now classic example of fraud occurred in the Sloane-Kettering Insitute where investigator Dr. William Summerlin admitted [205] painting mice to make them look as though successful skin grafts had been done. A predecessor to Dr. Summerlin was Paul Kammerer, the Austrian geneticist, who early in the twentieth century was accused of injecting india ink into the foot of a toad in order to prove the Lamarchian theory of transmission of acquired traits. Kammerer shot himself, but the whole story implicating others appears in Authur Koestler’s book, The Case of the Midwife Toad.

Dr. Richard W. Roberts, director of the National Bureau of Standards, said that “half or more of the numerical data published by scientists in their journal articles is unusable because there is no evidence that the researcher accurately measured what he thought he was measuring or no evidence that possible sources of error were eliminated or accounted for.” Since it is almost impossible for the average reader of scientific journals to determine which half of the article is usable and which is not, you have to wonder whether the medical journals serve as avenues of communication or confusion.

One method of judging the validity of a scientific article is to examine the footnote for the source of funding. Drug companies’ records regarding integrity of research are not sparkling enough to warrant much trust. Doctors have been shown not to be above fudging and even fabricating. research results when the stakes were high enough. Dr. Leroy Wolins, a psychologist at Iowa State University, had a student write to thirty-seven authors of scientific [206] reports asking for the raw data on which they based their conclusions. Of the thirty-two who replied, twenty-one said their data either had been lost or accidentally destroyed. Dr. Wolins analyzed seven sets of data that did come in and found errors in three significant enough to invalidate what had been passed off as scientific fact.

Of course, research fraud is nothing new. Cyril Burt, the late British psychologist who became famous for his claims that most human intelligence is determined by heredity, was exposed as a fraud by Leon Kamin, a Princeton psychologist. It seems that the “coworkers” responsible for Burt’s research findings could not be found to have actually existed! There is even evidence that Gregor Mendel, father of the gene theory of heredity, may have doctored the results of his pea-breeding experiments to make them conform more perfectly to his theory. Mendel’s conclusions were correct but a statistical analysis of his published data shows that the odds were 10,000 to one against their having been obtained through experiments such as Mendel performed.

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Sanjeev Sabhlok

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