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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 19473

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: Electronic Source

Thacker P
American Psychiatric Association Spooked about Ghostwriting
Project On Government Insight 2011 Apr 5

Full text:

When the New York Times raised ethical concerns about the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) novel collaboration with a Big Pharma funded medical communications company to write a medical textbook, one would think the organization would go all out to rectify the situation. If you’re a creature of Washington, you know the drill:
First, deny culpability.
Second, apologize for what you didn’t do.
Third, announce new ethics rules, so that what didn’t happen will never happen again.
That’s typically how it works. But at APA and their publishing house, the APPI, brains seem to function differently from the rest of us.
Observing the APA try to bat away allegations of ghostwriting is like watching a silent slapstick where an actor trips on his own shoe laces and tries valiantly to maintain footing, before tumbling down a nearby flight of stairs, and dropping bottom first into an unfortunately positioned dirty mop bucket.
Comedy genius.
The most laughable moment was this absurd piece of journalism published in APA’s newsletter, Psychiatric News. About a third of the article is spent belaboring each and every point of the New York Times’ minor correction. You can read the story here.
It’s a Johnnie Cochran “[I]f it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” defensive ploy: magnify any tiny error in the vainglorious belief that it blots out all that awful, horrible, stinky evidence aimed in your direction.
The story also quotes Ron McMillen, chief executive officer of the APA’s publishing house APPI, who claims to have extensive files, proofs, and manuscript versions of the book that clearly demonstrate the active involvement of purported authors Drs. Alan Schatzberg and Charles Nemeroff.
“I’ve seen the files, and you can clearly see author involvement,” he said. “Schatzberg and Nemeroff have margin notes in all of the galleys with their initials throughout all of the various iterations.”
Three academics who have long criticized medicine’s cozy ties to industry sent a letter to Psychiatric News complaining about some…ahem…obvious holes in the story. After months of dithering, the editor of Psychiatric News sent them a terse email that they would not publish the letter.
As a general service to members of the American Psychiatric Association, POGO is publishing the letter here.
At POGO, we’re not certain if “margin notes” and initials on galleys constitute authorship. But we think the APA could easily put this matter to rest. All they need to do is post any records that explain the provenance of the textbook, including drafts, contracts with STI and/or GlaxoSmithKline, and any communications regarding editing.
If the APA has nothing to hide from its members, this shouldn’t be much of a problem. But we’re not holding our breath.


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Far too large a section of the treatment of disease is to-day controlled by the big manufacturing pharmacists, who have enslaved us in a plausible pseudo-science...
The blind faith which some men have in medicines illustrates too often the greatest of all human capacities - the capacity for self deception...
Some one will say, Is this all your science has to tell us? Is this the outcome of decades of good clinical work, of patient study of the disease, of anxious trial in such good faith of so many drugs? Give us back the childlike trust of the fathers in antimony and in the lancet rather than this cold nihilism. Not at all! Let us accept the truth, however unpleasant it may be, and with the death rate staring us in the face, let us not be deceived with vain fancies...
we need a stern, iconoclastic spirit which leads, not to nihilism, but to an active skepticism - not the passive skepticism, born of despair, but the active skepticism born of a knowledge that recognizes its limitations and knows full well that only in this attitude of mind can true progress be made.
- William Osler 1909