Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What do we really know about Celltex?

Celltex is not just another stem cell company, Leigh Turner writes, and its association with the American Journal of Bioethics is not just a routine conflict-of-interest.  The company has an ethically questionable history.  Read about it here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Another pesticide pundit with financial ties to corporate ag

Jon Entine denies the health risks of atrazine.  But he doesn't make mention of his financial ties to corporate agriculture.  

Unfortunately, paid "third-parties" are nothing new in the atrazine debate.

Sweetheart deals and golden handshakes at the University of Minnesota

Another legacy of former University of Minnesota president Bob Bruininks: $2.8 million in payouts to departing administrators.  Read the alarming story by Tony Kennedy and Jenna Ross in the Strib.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The AJOB response doesn't add up

Another editorial board member has resigned from the American Journal of Bioethics, writes Christian Munthe, who doesn't buy the story being told by the new editors of the journal.  According to Munthe, the failure of the editors to deal forthrightly with the scandal has undermined trust in AJOB.  Read it here.

Will the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice be reformed?

In response to some excellent investigative reporting by the Star Tribune, legislators are putting pressure on the  Minnesota Board of Medical Practice to bring its disciplinary practices in line with the rest of the country.  Legislative commission chairwoman Mary Kiffmeyer says, "We want to protect the good practitioners but we also want to see that unqualified practitioners are sent packing."  Read the story here.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Some tough questions for the American Journal of Bioethics, but not many answers

What are the financial arrangements behind the American Journal of Bioethics?  How does it make money, and how much money does it make?  Who is on the conflict-of-interest committee?  How does its peer-review process work?  According to Bill Heisel, these questions are surprisingly hard to answer.  Read his latest report at Reporting on Health.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

What is it about Texas?

"What is it about Texas? It’s where the former British doctor and medical researcher Andrew Wakefield made his home after his now-notorious paper claiming an association between the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism was discredited and declared fraudulent."

"And now Texas is the new home of another figure at the center of an explosive medical ethics controversy: bioethicist Glenn McGee."

"This latest controversy, like the Wakefield one, has plenty of peculiar twists and turns. I suspect, however, that most of the details are probably too “in house” to be of interest to anybody other than other bioethicists. But the McGee controversy should concern us all. For it underscores a serious problem that continues to plague many areas of medicine: an unwillingness to deal effectively with financial conflicts of interest."

Susan Perry reviews the ongoing AJOB scandal in MinnPost.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Are critics of AJOB sexist?

That's the claim of Summer Johnson McGee in Nature.  But two bioethicists beg to differ: Christian Munthe at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and Mike King at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

Questioning the authority of the American Journal of Bioethics

As controversy swirls around ethical infractions at the American Journal of Bioethics, Bill Heisel asks: "What do health writers really know about the authority behind these journals?"  Read his excellent review of the controversy, from the perspective of a health journalist, at Reporting on Health.

Is bioethics "the handmaiden of the medico-industrial complex"?

The startling decision by Glenn McGee to take an executive position with a stem cell tourism clinic in Texas raises troubling questions about the purpose of bioethics, according to a new article by David Cyranoski in Nature.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dutch halt mass-murder of helpless elderly long enough to ridcule Republican candidate

Rick Santorum's outlandish claims about euthanasia practices in the Netherlands have drawn the ire of the Dutch press.

Stand Strong, GlaxoSmithKline!

"The pharmaceutical industry gets a bad rap.  To listen to the critics you’d think pharmaceutical companies are in the same sleazy category as oil, finance and tobacco companies.  But pharmaceutical companies invent life-saving medications, not to mention countless other psychoactive products that many of us enjoy on a recreational basis.  Pharmaceutical companies get blamed for fraud, kickbacks, and research deaths, but they never get the credit for oxycontin."  Read the rest on the Chronicle of Higher Education Brainstorm blog.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Dr. Jucre's Million Stem Cell Magic, from RNL Bio

You knew about those adorable cloned puppies and you knew about the stem cell tourism clinics.  You even knew about Celltex, their new stem cell clinic in Texas.  But did you know about Dr. Jucre's Million Stem Cell Magic Concentrate, available now for the low low price of $1,220?  Available through home shopping channels, and introduced at a 2008 event attended by middle-aged celebrities, this new RNL product has been proven to have "anti-aging, rejuvenation and whitening functions."

Wait.  Did he say "whitening"?  As in, "skin whitening"?  Umm, right, but the point is: this stuff really makes your skin look good.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

New AJOB editors clarify the scandal. Sort of. Not really.

The new editors of the American Journal of Bioethics, David Magnus and Summer Johnson McGee, have issued a new statement titled "For the Record: A Response from the Editors of AJOB," about the late unpleasantness regarding the journal.  According to their statement, Taylor and Francis, the publisher of the journal, wanted Glenn McGee to stay on an editor even though he was working full-time for a stem cell clinic, so "it took some time to persuade Taylor and Francis to release Glenn from his editorial contract." As for the conflict of interest: well, there was none, because Glenn has been working "only in an advisory capacity" since November, when he took his job with Celltex.  

In other words: move along, folks, nothing to see here.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

BioethicsGate (or The Celltex Affair) in Slate

"The most troubling question about this entire affair turns on the relationship between McGee, Celltex, and RNL. Did McGee help whitewash two deaths from stem cell treatments and parlay that whitewash into a corporate position?"  It's all there in Slate: "The Celltex Affair: An Ethics Scandal Strikes the World of Bioethics."

Friday, February 17, 2012

American bioethics shaken by AJOB scandal, says BioEdge

The latest round-up.  Read it here.

AJOB issues press release naming David Magnus and Summer Johnson McGee new co-editors

According to the press release, which is dated today, February 17, 2012, and issued from Houston, David Magnus and Summer Johnson McGee will become co-editors on March 1, and until then, Glenn McGee will be serving in an "advisory capacity."

A new round-up of the AJOB scandal and Texas politics

Read it here, at Biopolitical Times.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Are bioethicists kidding themselves?

"These reputable scholars are lending their prestige to what is increasingly looking like an unsavory outfit." Eric Schliesser writes about the AJOB scandal at the New APPS blog.

McGee will diminish trust in bioethics, says Brody

More on the AJOB scandal from Howard Brody, Director of the Institute for Medical Humanities at UTMB, and President of the Society for Health and Human Values (now part of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities).  Brody writes, "My personal opinion is that it is highly unseemly and embarrassing for the field of bioethics to have one of our own working for this sort of firm, and giving ethical 'cover' to their activities.:  You can read his entire post on the Hooked blog, along with a number of signed comments.

John Lantos resigns from American Journal of Bioethics editorial board

John Lantos, a leading bioethicist and the former President of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, has announced his resignation from the AJOB editorial board.  He says he will not publish in the journal, will not cite articles in the journal, and will discourage colleagues from publishing in the journal.  An excerpt from his letter:

"To me, the key issues are not the ones of procedure that have gotten so much attention. Instead, they are issues of substance. They raise questions about the judgment of the editors and, more importantly, about the goals of the publisher. If, as we’ve been told, Taylor and Francis really asked Glenn McGee to stay on as Editor once he’d taken a job at Celltex, and if they really believed that the resulting conflicts-of-interest were manageable, one must wonder about both their judgment and their mission. Imagine that the Editor of the New England Journal took a job as Vice President at Merck, and the Mass Medical Society asked him to stay on as Editor, opining that the conflicts of interest would be manageable. One might rightly wonder, 'What are these people smoking?"

The letter  has been posted on Christian Munthe's Philosophical Comment blog. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What is the American Journal of Bioethics hiding?

When critics started questioning the propriety of editing a bioethics journal out of a stem cell clinic in Texas, the editors of the American Journal of Bioethics apparently rushed around the Internet, furiously editing web pages to obscure any evidence of a conflict of interest.  Leigh Turner has documented the web scrubbing in a remarkably detailed blog post titled, "Glenn McGee and the Internet Adjustment Bureau."

(For background on the American Journal of Bioethics scandal, see this previous posting.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Otago Bioethics Centre weighs in on the AJOB scandal

"Can the American Journal of Bioethics get any more dodgy at this point?" asks Mike King at the University of Otago Bioethics Centre.  And Eric Schliesser of the New APPS blog asks why the editorial board of the journal has not yet resigned.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A reporter's guide to the American Journal of Bioethics scandal

So you've read the Twitter feeds and the blogs, but you are still not sure exactly what is going on with the story. All you know is that it has something to do with dubious stem cell treatments, a bioethics journal editor, the FDA, Rick Perry, a puppy-cloning stem cell outfit in Korea, and a couple of unexpected deaths. You want to investigate further, but you need a guide. That's what I hope to give you here.


RNL Bio: a South Korea-based based company at the center of the “stem cell tourism” controversy. RNL Bio prepares stem cells and distributes them to clinics all over the world, which then market stem cell therapy to patients for cosmetic purposes and anti-aging therapy, as well as serious illnesses such as Parkinson's disease and kidney failure. These stem cell therapies are illegal in South Korea, so RNL Bio has set up operations in other countries, including the U.S., China and Japan. The FDA has not approved these treatments and many reputable researchers believe they are risky and ineffective. In November 2010, the Korean media reported that two patients had died after receiving RNL Bio stem cell injections.


CellTex Therapeutics: a brand-new Texas stem cell clinic with a $30 million licensing agreement from RNL Bio. CellTex was founded by Stanley Jones, the Texas surgeon who made headlines for injecting Rick Perry with stem cells for back pain last year, and David G. Eller, the former chairman of the board of Texas A&M University. (Apparently, the company was initially called BioLife Stem Cell Corporation, and the name was later changed.) CellTex has also hired Glenn McGee, the editor of the American Journal of Bioethics, as President of Ethics and Strategic Initiatives. On Friday, the Texas Medical Board cleared the way for companies such as CellTex to start offering stem cell infusions.


International Cellular Medicine Society: a non-profit association of approximately 1100 physicians and patients involved in stem cell treatments. Based in Salem, Oregon, ICMS was co-founded by Christopher Centeno, the chief medical officer of a stem cell company called Regenerative Sciences. 


Glenn McGee: a bioethicist and current President of Ethics and Strategic Initiatives at CellTex. McGee is the founder of and The American Journal of Bioethics (also known as AJOB), as well as its family of journals, which include AJOB Neuroethics and AJOB Primary Research. McGee has a controversial history. After being denied tenure at the University of Pennsylvania, he was offered an endowed chair at Albany Medical Center and a position as director of the Alden March Bioethics Institute. In 2008, McGee was dismissed from the Institute amid a cloud of allegations that included forging the signatures of three co-authors on a paper submission, engaging in an extramarital affair with a junior colleague (who is now his wife, Summer Johnson McGee), exaggerating his credentials, and misleading prospective employees about job prospects at the Institute. Soon after departing the Institute, McGee launched a for-profit bioethics business called BENE. In 2009, when he moved to a new endowed chair at the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City, he brought his various bioethics enterprises with him. At some point in late 2011 – the exact timing is disputed – he took a new position with CellTex Therapeutics, the stem cell clinic in Houston.



In November 2010, the Korean press reported that two patients had died after receiving stem cells for anti-aging therapies from RNL Bio. One died of a pulmonary embolism in Japan. The other failed to wake after being given an anesthetic in China. The ICMS investigated the deaths; Glenn McGee, who was then on the ICMS Board of Directors, conducted a bioethics inquiry as part of that investigation. His brief report found little if any fault with RNL Bio; he recommended better informed consent procedures and more ethics training. (Later, in August 2011, ICMS expelled RNL Bio from its membership, after it failed to comply with even the minimal remediation requested by ICMS.)

In February 2010, McGee launched AJOB Primary Research and appointed Robert (“Skip”) Nelson as editor of the journal. Nelson is a pediatrician and bioethicist, but more importantly, he works for the FDA. The FDA is responsible for regulating stem cells; the decision by the Texas Medical Board to allow therapies such as those that CellTex offers can be viewed as a challenge to the FDA’s authority to regulate stem cells.

In mid-December, McGee began representing CellTex in press accounts of its opening in Sugar Land, Texas, near Houston. At that point, he was identified as “President of Strategic Initiatives” for the company. But he was also still working as the editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Bioethics. Last week, as questions were raised, he quickly turned over the job of editor to his wife, Summer McGee, who is now named as co-editor of AJOB, along with David Magnus of Stanford University. However, statements by McGee have suggested that he plans to remain associated in some fashion with the journal.



Was the McGee “bio-ethical investigation” of RNL Bio a legitimate investigation, or was it a whitewash? If it was a legitimate investigation, why is the only publicly accessible account of it so brief, obscure and limited in scope?

Was it proper for a bioethics journal editor (McGee) to take a job with the financial partner (CellTex) of the company (RNL Bio) he had recently cleared of ethical wrongdoing?

Is it a conflict of interest for McGee to edit a bioethics journal while working for a stem cell company? And if so, is the conflict managed by transferring the job to his wife?

Is it ethically proper for Nelson, the FDA employee who edits AJOB Primary Research, to be professionally associated with McGee, given McGee's current employment by a company marketing a controversial treatment unapproved by the FDA?

Further reading:

For more background, you might want to look at the Twitter feed of Leigh Turner, a Biopolitical Times post by Pete Shanks, this blog entry by Alice Dreger, and a post by Doug Sipp at Stem Cell Treatment Monitor titled ICMS “investigates” RNL.

-- Carl Elliott

Is AJOB "the most unprofessional operation in academia"?

Brian Leiter asks, "Is this for real?"  Read it at Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Thursday, February 9, 2012

"Atrazine isn't killing the frogs," Hayes explains. "But if they're reproductively impaired, that's killing the population."

This month's issue of Mother Jones has a terrific article by Dashka Slater about atrazine and the Berkeley biologist Tyrone B. Hayes.  The teaser: "When biologist Tyrone Hayes discovered that a top-selling herbicide messes with sex hormones, its manufacturer went into battle mode. Thus began one of the weirdest feuds in the history of science."  Read it here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Astonish and mystify your friends

You read the columns.  You listen to the speeches.  But do you know who is really behind the words?  This question and more, in "Faking it for the Dean."

Your handy guide to questionable academic journals

Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado Denver, has compiled a useful list of questionable open-access journals.  The journals generally collect fees from contributors, but have very low standards and publish few articles with any academic value.  His blog, Scholarly Open Access, is here.

Monday, February 6, 2012

What else is the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice hiding?

Not only does the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice fail to discipline doctors who have been disciplined in other states, it fails to inform the public of malpractice awards against them.  And criminal convictions in other states?  Forget about it.  The Star Tribune's series of investigative reports on the shameful history of the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice continues today.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Attention, incompetent or criminal doctors: Minnesota wants you

For years we have known that the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice ranks dead last in the number of doctors it disciplines, compared to other states. We have also known that the Board declined to take any action against the University of Minnesota psychiatrists responsible for the suicide of Dan Markingson in an industry-funded clinical trial.  But today, the Minneapolis Star Tribune has published a remarkable investigation that shows just how lax the Board really is.  Some highlights: a dermatologist who tried to perform a tummy-tuck on an employee while reading instructions from a medical book (his defense: "this employee was aware I would be performing the procedure for the first time"), and a Red River Valley physician who was sued so often he lost his malpractice insurance, usually for botched gastric bypass procedures, but who was allowed by the Board to continue practicing for years.

Since 2000, according to Glenn Howatt and Richard Meryhew of the Star Tribune, "at least 46 Minnesota doctors escaped board discipline after authorities in other states took action against their licenses for such missteps as committing crimes, patient care errors or having sexual or inappropriate relationships with patients, records show. In addition, more than half of the 74 doctors who lost their privileges to work in Minnesota hospitals and clinics over the past decade were never disciplined by the Minnesota board."

The Star Tribune report also includes a searchable database of doctors the Board has disciplined -- plus the 46 it failed to discipline, even after actions were taken against them in other states.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tenure, plus Zoloft

Here's Frank Bascombe, the existentialist realtor of Richard Ford's Independence Day, reflecting on what it would be like to be buried behind his house: "It would be worse than having tenure at Princeton."  Kathryn Blanchard might agree.

Scientists strike back at predatory for-profit journals

The boycott against Elsevier is gathering steam.  Over 3,000 academics, including several Fields prize winners, have vowed not to referee for or publish in Elsevier journals, in protest against their outrageous business practices.  The petition is here. 

Exterminating the pests at the FDA

How does the FDA treat whistleblowers?  Senator Grassley is asking questions, according to Pharmalot.

The Flagship Office of Trustus Pharmaceuticals

Hat tip to Health Care Renewal, for alerting us to these new productions by Zombie Symmetry.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The academic clinical trial mill

Punching your time card on the pharmaceutical assembly line.  Read about it here.

Attention muckrakers: ghosted articles here

The editors of PLoS Medicine write: "(T)he story told in these documents amounts to one of the most compelling expositions ever seen of the systematic manipulation and abuse of scholarly publishing by the pharmaceutical industry and its commercial partners in their attempt to influence the health care decisions of physicians and the general public."  What's the subject of their anger?  The ghostwritten journal articles commissioned by Wyeth to sell Prempro, its hormone replacement therapy.  And for muckrakers-in-training, it gets even better: the PLoS editors posted the incriminating documents online.  You can see them right here.