Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dr. Death faces ethics inquiry in South Africa

From the LA Times:

"In South Africa, they call him "Dr. Death."  Wouter Basson, who ran the apartheid government's secret germ and chemical warfare program, Project Coast, once was accused of trying to create poisons that were lethal only to blacks. He was acquitted by a judge in 2002 of charges that included murder and drug possession."  Read about the testimony of Steve Miles against Basson here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

International Association of Bioethics call for papers

From the International Association of Bioethics call for papers:

"From June 26th till June 29th 2012 Erasmus MC Rotterdam will host the 11th conference of the International Association of Bioethics: THINKING AHEAD, Bioethics and the Future, and the Future of Bioethics. This conference will discuss key issues relevant for the future, including future technologies in health care, ethics and research in developing countries, synthetic biology, enhancement, life-prolonging strategies, environmental issues, the moral responsibility for future generations, food and ethics, and public health."

"Thinking ahead of course requires looking back, what have we learned in the past, which lessons have we not learned, what can contemporary bioethics show us for tomorrow. The IAB conferences are an interdisciplinary forum for the exchange of moral views, practices, and insights in methodologies, where established and young bio-ethicists meet. 20 years after the IAB founding conference in Amsterdam, the IAB World Conference of Bioethics returns to the Netherlands."

Read more here.

The Adderall Wars

Larry Diller on stimulants, in the Huffington Post.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Yudof Fellowship in Science Policy and Ethics

University of Minnesota
Instructions to Applicants for Awards in 2012-13
Deadline: 12 noon, December 1, 2011


This award is open to graduate students (master’s or Ph.D.) pursuing interdisciplinary work whose content is focused in the areas of science policy and ethics. Students are not eligible if their research is largely scientific, with limited, implied, or peripheral ethical and science policy content. Students must be registered for credit in the University of Minnesota Graduate School at the time of application. (Students are ineligible for a second award.) NOTE: Typically, students who apply during their first semester have not yet compiled a competitive academic record. Therefore, preference will be given to those who have completed at least one year of graduate studies at the time of application.


$22,500 for the academic year, plus tuition and subsidized health insurance for the academic year. Summer 2013 health insurance will be provided if the Fellow remains eligible. One award.

More information here.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

There is no such thing as an unpublishable paper: part 2

From WebmedCentral (whatever that is):

"Guaranteed Biomedical Publication within 48 hours at no cost to authors."  How do they do it?  "Post-publication peer-review," with peer reviewers chosen by the authors.

The Twitter feed is here, and the website is here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A guide to academic failure.

It's that time of year again.  Fall is here, classes have begun, and the scent of desperation is in the air. Inhale deeply and try not to think about the future. (But if you must, pour three fingers of Wild Turkey and read "How to be an academic failure: a guide for beginners.")

Dominique Tobbell wins Stanley Jackson prize

From Oxford University Press:

The editor of the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences is pleased to announce the winner of the eighth annual Stanley Jackson award for the best paper in the journal appearing in the preceding four years. The prize committee chose: "Who's Winning the Human Race?  Cold War as Pharmaceutical Political Strategy," by Dominique Tobbell of the University of Minnesota.  The article can be found here.

Canadian surgeons practice conjoined twin separation on Cabbage Patch dolls

Seriously.  Read it here.

A principle worth dying for

You can't say Ron Paul doesn't live by his principles.  That's why his 2008 presidential campaign manager, Kent Snyder, died uninsured, owing over $400,000 in hospital bills.  Mark Karlin at tells the story.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

This machine kills fascists

From a review of Michael Moore's new memoir, Here Comes Trouble, in the New York Times:

"Mr. Moore’s coming of age as a working-class malcontent is, however, something to behold. It’s the story of a big lunk who learns to yoke his big mouth to a sense of purpose. It persuades you to take Mr. Moore seriously, and it belongs on a shelf with memoirs by, and books about, nonconformists like Mother Jones, Abbie Hoffman, Phil Ochs, Rachel Carson, Harvey Pekar and even Thomas Paine. Mr. Moore — disheveled, cranky, attention seeking, too eager to pick a fight — is easy to satirize. But he could nearly get away with branding his camera with the words once scrawled on Woody Guthrie’s guitar: This machine kills fascists."

Read it here.

Michele Bachmann, pharmascold?

Read the story on Pharmalot.

What is the most important article ever written about college sports?

That just might be "The Shame of College Sports," Taylor Branch's recent article in The Atlantic, says Frank Deford.

Do American doctors make too much money?

Maybe, writes Aaron Carroll at The Incidental Economist.  But the answer is more complicated than you might think.

Republicans debate whether to care for the uninsured

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Selling Your Soul: Special College Sports Edition

My favorite part of Taylor Branch's terrific piece on college sports in The Atlantic comes when the big-time shoe company hustler Sonny Vaccaro is asked by the Penn State president emeritus why universities should be advertising instruments for shoe companies.  Vaccaro replies:

“They shouldn’t, sir.  You sold your souls, and you’re going to continue selling them. You can be very moral and righteous in asking me that question, sir, but there’s not one of you in this room that’s going to turn down any of our money. You’re going to take it. I can only offer it.”

 Read it here.

The continuing saga of Charles Nemeroff

Here's the question that many people have asked themselves over the years.  Given the reputation for corruption that he has developed, how is it that Dr. Charles Nemeroff is still practicing psychiatry, much less running a department?  The answer: money.  Drawing on previously undisclosed documents, Paul Thacker tells the story of how Nemeroff wound up at the University of Miami.  His article is in Forbes.
(And see this local story as well, in response to the Forbes article.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

The unjust execution of David Protess

David Protess was one of the most admired professors in America.  Not only did he exonerate twelve unjustly imprisoned men, five of them awaiting execution, he also taught his students how to do it.  Yet over the past two years, Northwestern University, his academic home for nearly thirty years, has smeared him in the press, removed him from his teaching duties, and last spring, the university accepted his resignation.

The fall of David Protess is told at length in this excellent article by Bryan Smith in Chicago magazine.  Yet Iit is hard to imagine that the full story has been revealed. “What I still don’t get is why they would allow the Babe Ruth of their school to be destroyed,” Charles Lewis told Smith.  Lewis is a journalism professor at American University, a MacArthur Fellow and the founder of the Center for Public Integrity.  “Or if not destroyed then impugned to such an extent that he was taken out inside their own school by the suits. It just doesn’t smell good.”

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Evil university attorneys: a call for nominations

Here's a recent story from Duke Fact Check, a blog about Duke University, edited slightly for clarity:

Duke operated on several thousand patients even though surgeons observed their instruments felt "slippery" and "greasy." Yes, several thousand. The surgical instruments had been mistakenly washed in used hydraulic fluid from elevators, not sterilizing detergent. The results were devastating in some cases. 

 Duke kept the lid on the story by settling with many patients; it wore others out by immorally using its firepower to procrastinate lawsuits. One of the worst legal moves in FC's opinion involves a man who was not hurt: for five years Duke wouldn't tell him if he was exposed to the filthy hydraulic fluid, so he sued. It turned out he was not affected, and now Duke is suing the man to recover its defense lawyer costs. Some days I just seethe at Duke's general counsel Pam Bernard for such tactics.

Although some issues are disputed, articles on WDTV and in the Durham News confirm the basic facts. Rather than apologize to the victims of a massive medical screw-up, Duke sued them.  This is not an isolated case, of course.  Many university lawyers seem to behave pretty badly these days.  So we're looking for examples.

If you've been the victim of hardball legal tactics by a university lawyer, or if you are a professor embarrassed by the way your institution's attorneys have behaved, send us your stories at evilattorneys at  We look forward to your responses.

Selling Your Soul 101: A Guide for Health Journalists

Most people know that aspiring evil geniuses can do no better than Duke University, which offers an undergraduate major in the topic.  And most people also know that for journalists, the most lurid temptations generally come from the dark world of public relations, where unlike actual journalism, a reliable paycheck can usually be guaranteed.  But if you insist on hard evidence, you can hardly do better than this recent story, courtesy of the always-entertaining Retraction Watch.

Here's the background. Dr. Anil Potti was a Duke cancer researcher who claimed to have developed a test that could predict which lung cancer patients would benefit from chemotherapy.  Outside researchers were skeptical, but Duke researchers launched a series of clinical trials based on Potti's work anyway.  Those trials were stopped temporarily in 2009 when other researchers could not replicate Potti’s results, but after an internal investigation, the trials resumed.  Over the next year or so, however, it became clear that Potti was a fraud.  Journals such as the NEJM and Nature Medicine started retracting his articles, and it was discovered that Potti had falsely claimed he was a Rhodes Scholar on his CV.  The clinical trials were stopped again.  Potti resigned.  And yesterday, a group of cancer patients and their families filed a lawsuit against Duke.

Many of the best, toughest stories on the Potti scandal came from Sarah Avery, a reporter for the Raleigh News and Observer.  In fact, Avery was making Duke miserable.  So how did Duke respond?  They hired her, of course, and made her a media relations officer.  She is now their spokesperson on the Potti case. 

Which Continuing Medical Education companies are the worst?

From Dr. Daniel Carlat:

"Have you run across an accredited CME course that is so blatantly promotional that you find yourself getting queasy? Please tell us about it. We’ll investigate it, and if it meets our criteria for promotional CME, we may very well post it on our official CME Rogue’s Gallery page—and we will acknowledge you if you would like."  The nomination form is here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

We're not transhumanists. We're just drunk.

The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies says it is not a transhumanist organization, but nearly 70% of its readers believe that they'll live for hundreds of years, or that they'll be resurrected after being frozen, or that their minds will be uploaded to a computer.  Marcy Danovsky comments here.

Research Ethics Conference at Wake Forest

Research Ethics: Reexamining Key Concerns

Thursday and Friday, Nov. 10-11, 2011 Benson University Center, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the original publication of “Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment”, the Wake Forest University Center for Bioethics, Health, & Society presents a major conference to promote reflection and discussion about critical issues of ongoing importance in research ethics.  Read more here.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dollars for Docs update

From Pro Publica:

 "Tonight, ProPublica will be posting a significant update to its Dollars for Docs database, adding new payment reports from 12 drug companies that comprise more than 40 percent of U.S. drug sales. Hundreds of thousands of doctors will be added to the database."  Read more here. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Why there is no such thing as an unpublishable paper

"Any paper, however bad, can now get published in a journal that claims to be peer-reviewed."  David Colquhoun explains why in The Guardian.

Faculty Seminar: "Pharmaceutical Geographies"

As part of the University Symposium on Abundance & Scarcity, the IAS is offering the Spring 2012 faculty seminar “Pharmaceutical Geographies, Pharmaceutical Economies.” Designed and led by Susan Craddock (Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies and the Institute for Global Studies) and Dominique A. Tobbell (Program in the History of Medicine), this seminar explores the pharmaceutical industry as a locus of scientific and marketing practices, global policies, and biotechnological products that together exemplify the themes of scarcity and abundance. 

The seminar will meet on Tuesdays 2:30-5 p.m. every other week starting on January 24, 2012, in the Nolte Center. The seminar is open to faculty, graduate students and professional staff. Faculty who participate will receive a modest research stipend. If you are interested in participating in “Pharmaceutical Geographies,” please send an email with a brief statement of interest and a paragraph about the research or reading that you have done which is relevant to the topic to Susan Craddock ( and Dominique Tobbell ( by September 9. Please note that seats are limited. Selection of participants will be made early in Fall semester.

Jack Hitt on Cheney's memoir and the 9/11 commemorations

Detroit mother who resisted forced drugging of her child is cleared by court

Maryanne Godboldo has been cleared.  Last March, Detroit police had come to take Godboldo's 13 year-old daughter away after Godboldo refused to give the child an antipsychotic drug.  When Godboldo resisted, police accused her of  firing a gun at them.  But last week, the charges against Godboldo were dismissed at her preliminary examination in 36th District Court in Detroit.  Read about it here.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Why you can't afford to send your kids to college

Professors once ran university affairs largely by themselves. Now they are at the mercy of overpaid professional deanlets, who have driven up costs to pay for their own bloated administrative offices. So argues Johns Hopkins University political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg in his lacerating new book, The Fall of the Faculty.  Read the review here.

Retraction Watch with Ivan Oransky

On the Media has a terrific interview this week with Ivan Oransky, a physician, a journalist, and a co-founder of Retraction Watch, a blog that investigates why scientific articles are retracted.  Listen to the segment here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Vioxx thriller

From a review of All the Justice Money Can Buy, by Snigdha Prakash, the outstanding former reporter for NPR:

"One can read Snigdha Prakash’s disturbing book on two levels: either as in–depth reporting of a major corporate scandal, or as a legal thriller, the denouement of which is left hanging until the final pages. On any score, she offers a first–rate read, rich both with personality sketches and comprehensible explanations of complex medical issues."  Read the rest of the review here.

(Hat tip to Soulful Sepulcher.)

Deadly FDA-approved medical devices

Emily Smith Beitiks, on life-saving devices that may endanger your life.  Read the article here.