Monday, September 24, 2012

Just say no to academic press barons

Academic journals have been taken over by for-profit publishing giants such as Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, and Wiley-Blackwell, writes Hugh Gusterson.  Their profits are enormous. In 2010, Elsevier reported $3.2 billion in revenues; its CEO earned $4.6 million.  Gusterson wants to know why  academics donate their time to prop up these corporations.  He writes:

"So why not try this: If academic work is to be commodified and turned into a source of profit for shareholders and for the 1 percent of the publishing world, then we should give up our archaic notions of unpaid craft labor and insist on professional compensation for our expertise, just as doctors, lawyers, and accountants do."

"This does not mean we would never referee articles free. Just as the lawyer who is my neighbor bills corporate clients a hefty fee but represents prisoners in Guantánamo pro bono, so academics could referee without charge for nonprofit presses but insist on professional rates of compensation from for-profit publishers that expect us to donate our labor while paying mansion salaries to their chief executives and top managers."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

How timidity over liability allows villains to flourish

On BMJ Group blogs, Richard Smith, the former editor of the BMJ, reflects on the decision of the BMJ not to publish a recent blog post for fear that the journal will be sued.  Some excerpts:

"But I want to reflect on the question of whether the journal is too sensitive about the threat of a libel action. The question arises because the journal wants to change a blog I’ve written for fear of libel, and I think that the editors are being overcautious."

"There is no doubt that the consequences of a libel action can be disastrous for a journal. An action against a journal can absorb huge amounts of time of the editors and their lawyers. With a libel case the onus is on the defendants to prove that what they have published is true, which may not be easy even when it is true. The lawyers are of course paid for their time, and it isn’t difficult to run up legal fees in the tens of thousands. If an action against a journal is successful, then the damages might be in millions. Even if the case is won the journal may not be able to get its costs back. In short, a successful libel action could destroy a journal."

"Editors thus need to be very careful to avoid publishing something that could lead to a libel action. Caution is appropriate. Just as surgeons who have experienced a death during an operation may be very careful, perhaps even too careful, when doing that operation again so editors can be scarred by the experience of a libel case."

 "I think that the BMJ is being too cautious. I can’t pretend that the world will be a more wicked or even a different place if my blog is not published, but perhaps in the longer term and cumulatively the BMJ will allow villains to flourish in medicine by being too cautious."

Read the entire blog post here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Punishing health care fraud

In the NEJM, full text available for free.

"So you can play while we make your papers go away"

The latest paper-writing scam: unemployed professors who will write custom-designed term papers, lab reports, even dissertations in exchange for cash.  From the website FAQ: 


Absolutely not - we offer custom research tailored to your needs. We might be mercenaries but sure as hell are not going to pop a cap in anybody's ass. We're just transferring copyright over research that we've done, in exchange for our fee, to you. Feel free to do whatever you want with the essay - you own it. Karl Marx would flip around in his grave but that's the beauty of capitalism baby!

Here's the site, and an article in Canada's National Post.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It killed the pig. Let's try it on humans now.

Here's the teaser for the story by Mina Kimes in Fortune: "When medical device company Synthes decided to illegally test a bone cement on people, the results were disastrous. A disturbing tale of corporate crime and punishment."  But here is the best quote, about orthopedic surgeons by an unnamed medical device rep: ""It's not uncommon to have a surgeon with a drill in his hand, about to drill a hole, looking over his shoulder at you saying, 'Is this right?'"

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A rogue's gallery of pharma scandals

Having trouble remembering exactly what pharmaceutical company has paid the largest fines and criminal penalties? Maia Szalavitz at Time has put together a helpful guide to the Top Ten Drug Company Settlements.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fairview violated federal laws

"Strong-armed billing practices at the University of Minnesota Medical Center violated federal patient-protection laws, regulators have concluded after reviewing a range of incidents involving emergency room patients and others in fragile medical condition." Tony Kennedy at the Strib has the story.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Investigative Reporters and Editors watchdog workshop coming to Minneapolis

From Investigative Reporters and Editors:

IRE will bring its acclaimed journalism watchdog workshop series to Minneapolis, MN on September 29. This is an affordable opportunity to sharpen your skills and stay one step ahead in the changing news industry.

Hosted by the University of Minnesota, this training will offer several of our core sessions that will improve your ability to find information on the Web quickly, and point you to key documents and data that will help you add depth to your daily work and produce quick-hit enterprise stories. In addition, this workshop will give you tips on bulletproofing stories, digging deeper on the Web with social media, search engines and much more.

These sessions are designed for reporters, editors and producers from small, midsize and large publications, TV, radio stations, Web-only news sites and news blogs. Freelancers, students and journalism educators are also encouraged to attend. Join IRE’s experienced trainers and a group of veteran reporters for our Watchdog Workshop.

Register to attend the optional computer-assisted reporting hands-on training Sunday, September 30. These skills are crucial in a time when more and more data is available. You'll learn how analyzing information with spreadsheets can better inform your reporting. The skills you'll acquire can be put to work right away to helping you be a better watchdog.

 Please visit our website for additional information including the schedule, pricing and registration details.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Device maker tries to muzzle researcher at the University of Saskatchewan

When Dr. Daryl Fourney found that research subjects getting a device for back pain were doing poorly, he tried to report the results.  But the device manufacturer, Vertos Medical, has filed a complaint with his university to keep him quiet.  Read about it in the NY Times.