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October 29, 2008

Time to Walk the Talk?

So the general consensus seems to be that we should not try a big increase in tuition in these troubled times. That certainly seems to be the message from the State Legislature.

And yet we have these odd rumblings about how a new Bell Museum would be a wonderful opportunity and a refurb of Northrop is on the horizon. The Bell money is supposed to come (mostly) from the State Legislature, but apparently the U is confident that it can find the seventy million dollars to do the job at Northrop. Why that, plus the fifty million spent on EFS, would just about cover the requested one hundred and forty million. As Mr. Spock used to say: "Interesting."

Today the Daily reports a Minnesota Student Association effort to get the message across to the University Administration that affordable education for the citizens of the state of MInnesota should be THE first priority. Is anyone listening in Morrill Hall?

The resolution passed in Tuesday’s MSA forum is in favor of instituting a cap of a 5.5 percent total increase that would expire in two years.

Currently, tuition at the University is set to increase by 4.5 percent next year. A request for a $141 million increase in funding from the state Legislature is still pending.

The resolution states that “due to the recent economic collapse, tuition and the cost of education has become more threatening to students than ever before,? and because of rising tuition costs, action was needed.

MSA President Mark Nagel said he thought it was a great resolution.

“I think it’s one of the more substantive resolutions that MSA has passed the entire time I’ve been here. It really goes to the heart of the most major student concern, which is tuition,? Nagel said.

October 27, 2008

EFS - A fifty million dollar system that doesn't work?

From MPR:

After five years of planning the University of Minnesota recently updated its finance and accounting system at a cost of $50 million dollars. But not everyone is happy with the change. Some of the 5,000 users of the new system say it's too complicated and doesn't work properly. U of M officials say they are working to fix the problems.

You wouldn't expect a guy like Joe Konstan to have problems with a new computer system, no matter how complex.

"There have been a number of bumps along the road," Konstan said. "Including certain types of data that weren't correct, where we told don't trust the balances in the system until everything gets cleaned up."

Here's why those concerns matter. The EFS handles all of the University's business. Whether it's a payment to an employee, or a payment to a vendor, everything passes through the Enterprise Financial System.

You can practically hear the gnashing of teeth in the minutes from a September faculty meeting where a group of employees worried aloud that the new system might crash, and cause big problems at the U.

Tom Klein, in the department of applied economics on the University's St. Paul campus, uses the accounting system to gather financial reports.

"I do believe there are some things that aren't working," Klein said. "There are some things that just don't work."

The pretty obvious questions are:

For fifty million dollars, why doesn't this work?

Why was the system not tested out on a sacrificial lamb, rather than using the whole university as a guinea pig?

October 24, 2008

President Bruininks: The U was initially chartered as a research university...

From the Daily:

What's distinctive about the University of Minnesota, compared to many other universities in our society, is that we were chartered initially as a research [sic] and land grant university, if you look at the early history of the University.

You would have to go a very long distance to find a university anywhere in the world that cares as much about its education and its public mission as the University of Minnesota.

It recognizes what's distinctive about the University of Minnesota, and it puts on us the extraordinary obligation to integrate all parts of our mission.

And I would argue, in my own particular case, that the other parts of our mission that deal with education and the public responsibilities, the public mission, would be very, very high personal priorities for me.

And they are very much baked [sic] into the cultural values of the University of Minnesota.

And so, the increased the recognition of the quality of the University of Minnesota and quality of education people received is a direct reflection of that increase interested. As people become more interested they are becoming smarter consumers and they wanna know 'what do I get for my investment if I come to the University of Minnesota?'

The other thing I would say is that we have used tuition dollars and state support. We have taken those dollars and invested those to improve the quality of education for students

In the last, basically, 160 years this University has evolved into, you know, one of the most recognized and productive research universities in the country. That's part of its signature. That we discover knowledge, we create knowledge, we find new ways to apply what we learn to improve society.

There may be some technical difficulties with this Daily piece. It was supposed to be a series of questions that Bob answered. What is posted now may be truncated. If further information appears, there will be another post.

For now - at the very least - I think that President Bruininks has misconstrued the original land grant mission of the university and would invite him to step outside Morrill Hall and have a look at what is on the facade at Northrup:

The University of Minnesota

Founded in the faith that people are ennobled by understanding

Dedicated to the advancement of learning and the search for truth

Devoted to the instruction of youth and the welfare of the state

October 23, 2008

Whining Dinosaur Dissed - Should Stick to Children's Stories?

From the Daily:

University laboratory medicine and pathology professor Bill Gleason has a blog titled “The Periodic Table, ? where he regularly posts blogs criticizing University strategies and President Bob Bruininks.

Gleason has been involved with the University since the ’70s and has been a professor since 1992. While he said he loves the University, he regularly writes about how the administration has mixed up its priorities by pushing top-three research facility goals.

“And where exactly would ‘ambitious aspirations to be one of the top three public research universities in the world’ fit into that, Bob? This goal is inappropriate for a land grant university under severe financial pressure,? Gleason wrote in his blog.

Strong stuff? Not according to the Daily:

But Gleason’s “Periodic Table? is about as controversial as a children’s story compared to the “Pharyngula ? — a blog belonging to Paul Myers, who is a biology professor at the University’s Morris campus.

Gulp! PZ is a hard act to follow!

(My idol, Margaret Soltan of University Diaries, also notes the Daily piece. )

October 21, 2008

Hook, Line, and Sinker - Medical School Conflict of Interest

Or, It's Not Just About Post-It Notes

(With a tip of the hat to a reader for part of the title..)

From the StarTribune:

The University of Minnesota Medical School is considering a new conflict-of-interest policy so strict that doctors wouldn't even be able to accept Post-it Notes bearing a drug company's logo.

Not exactly...

They might not be allowed to accept Post-Its but (hundreds of) thousands of dollars will still be OK...

From MPR - September 25, 2008

Most of the 25 people on the conflict of interest task force were University of Minnesota medical insiders - doctors, researchers and medical students. But at least one person came in with a different perspective.

"I was probably the most outside outsider, maybe the only real outsider on this committee," said Gary Schwitzer.

Schwitzer isn't a medical doctor, he's a professor in the U of M's school of journalism.

In general, Schwitzer said most consumers have no idea what happens between doctors and pharmaceutical companies, whether it's in Minnesota or elsewhere in the country.

"If we went out on the street and told people some of what went on, they would be shocked," he said.

Shocked at what Schwitzer considers the cozy deals between pharmaceutical companies and doctors. What are consumers to think, he asks, when a doctor receives thousands of dollars in fees to act as a consultant for a pharmaceutical company, and then prescribes drugs made by that same company?

Those are some of the potential conflicts of interest task force members considered in their recommendations to the university, Schwitzer said. "This is a beginning...(it) may have raised more questions that it answered."

The plan would also order the the medical school to create a website to show the public how the University manages issues of conflict of interest.

"That would be useful, but it wouldn't be as useful as saying, 'The payments are not allowed'. That would be much more useful," said Dr. Carl Elliot, a professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Bioethics.

Elliott wasn't on the task force. But he's seen the recommendations and doesn't think they go to the root of the problem.

"If the problem is that you think getting all this money from a pharmaceutical company is a conflict of interest, than the solution is to eliminate the money," Elliot said. "The solution is not to say, 'Alright you can still take the money, but you have to report it to someone'. I can't see how that's going to fix anything."

Fourth-year University of Minnesota medical student Josh Lackner, who served on the University of Minnestota task force, welcomes restrictions on the medical industry's involvement at the university. But Lackner doesn't want the effort to stop with the draft recommendations.

"I think there needs to be an ongoing evaluation of what's going on. And I think one committee's policy recommendations while good are not the final answer, it needs to be the beginning and not the final word," Lackner said.

October 20, 2008

Driven to Dissemble, Part the Second

A post on the Periodic Table has presented a perceptive Daily article by Robert Katz - Driven to Dissemble, Part the First.

An editiorial in today's Daily further illustrates OurAdministration's disingenuous use of their top three goal:

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bruininks backing out of top three goal?

If the goal — and main premise — of the strategic positioning plan is to become one of the top three public research universities in the world, then why is the University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks, who authored the plan with Provost Tom Sullivan, saying that rankings don’t matter?

The Board of Regents approved Bruininks’ plan in June 2005 to become a top three public research university within ten years. In Thursday’s Daily, Bruininks was asked the following about the goal: “In 2005, the University stated its goal of becoming one of the top public research universities within a decade. With just over half of that left, are you still optimistic about that goal?? Bruininks significantly said: “To me, it’s about stature. It’s not about status. It’s not about ranking.? He went on to refer to the goal as a “very high aspirational goal.? Is Bruininks finally realizing that the goal was lofty and unrealistic?

As recently as last year, in the Daily, when Bruininks was asked whether the goal was attainable, he responded by saying, “Why wouldn't it be?? and then “What separates the top three from the rest … including the University of Minnesota, is relatively little.?
At this point, Bruininks seemed confident, but now clearly seems to be downplaying the idea of “top three.?

Though we believe the goal of becoming a top three public research institution — although admirably striving — is unattainable and unrealistic of reaching within ten years, it is much worse to push the goal for three years and then slyly back-peddle [sic] out of it. If President Bruininks is serious about revising the strategic positioning plan, he should define any changes explicitly. Otherwise, he needs to stick to his guns and, at least, continue to pretend the goal is achievable.

October 18, 2008

Time to Face the Music, Or Continue to Be Oblivious to Economic Reality?

It is about time for the university administration to start facing reality.

We are a land grand institution and our mission is to educate the youth of the state. That education does, indeed, include research which is a wellspring of economic development in the state.

But currently we are suffering from inappropriate priorities. Which is more important: to be one of the top three public research universities in the world or to provide an outstanding educational opportunity that is affordable for the citizens of this state?

The answer is a no brainer.

Tom, Bob, your thoughts?

This morning the Star-Tribune had a front page, above the fold, article entitled: "Knowing it's a tough sell, U to ask for more money." A commentary and selections from the article are given on the Periodic Table: University of Minnesota Administrators Oblivious to Economic Reality.

Some comments from the public on the Strib article follow:

"Education is key to remaining competitive in the world. The more we shortchange ourselves today, the harder it will be to dig ourselves out 10 and 20 years from now. And it's not just the cost of tuition. As the U of MN seeks to become an elite university, it drives many Twin City students away to outstate colleges and universities where they must pay both tuition and dorm costs. Affordable tuition and access are both required. And where is the leadership that will drive this result?"

"I'm presently touring with my high school senior, in search of a school for next year. We really want to stay in Minnesota, but the truth is Wisconsin is 25% cheaper."

"Sorry but you are drunk if you think the U is getting $141 million in the upcoming legislative session. Unemployment is higher than it has been in twenty years. That translates into lower revenues for the state from income and sales taxes. Perhaps the University President missed the global economic meltdown. Time to live in the real world."

"This is absolutely outrageous
that anyone has the chutzpa and gall to come asking the citizens of this state AND the students to fork over more of their money, especially in this climate."

"The objective of the sum of the parts of the U is to preserve and expand its administration. Control of ancillary items such as facilities, parking, human resources, printing, food service, housing and intercollegiate athletics are the focus of administration, not the education of students. And, as long as more money is available, the cost to attend the U and budget requests to the legislature will increase."

"It is a complete outrage with the economic situation we find ourselves in as a country and it is already really tough for us to help our child attend the U - this madness has to stop. Is it not part of the U's mission to educate?

"I saw Life Coaches (life coaches?) paid for the Dean and staff. I watched one research scientist after another defunded or leave. However I did see a stadium built so people would have a chance to get drunk and train future pro athletes so we could pay them millions instead of paying teachers for our children. Nice priorities. Sure...enjoy the money. You know how to spend it."

"My advice to my legislators is going to be to say "No".
The U needs to cut costs and play in the current economic situation with the rest of the state. And, if tuition is still raised...the U should be penalized by the legislature within the U's existing state budget allocations."

October 17, 2008

Voodo Economics

Regents unanimously approve Bruinink's budget request

As OurLeader's favorite philosopher once said: "It's deja vu, all over again..." We are positioning ourselves for another smackdown shortly at the State Legislature. Instead of dealing with increasing tuition in a straightforward way, we have the usual takeaway with one hand (tuition) and give back with the other (financial aid) that is the hallmark of this administration. The hand that giveth is that of Mickey Mouse and the one that taketh away belongs to Andre the Giant. Obviously the university is raising tuition to extract more money from students and claiming that more scholarships will balance out the damage is simply voodoo economics.

One simple question, Bob and Tom: Why do U of M undergraduates bear the highest debt load of any students in the Big Ten? More than Michigan, five grand more than Iowa and Wisconsin, and ten grand more than Illinois.

When are you going to stop evading this question? Do you think that the data of Kiplinger are wrong?

Average Debt at Graduation

Big Ten Public Universities

Illinois $15,413

Ohio State $18,130

Indiana $19,756

Iowa $20,234

Purdue $20,102

Wisconsin $20,282

Michigan State $22,147

Penn State $23,500

Michigan $23,353

Minnesota $24,995

There is an economic crisis right now and OurLeader and the Board of Regent seem oblivious to it. People's savings, retirement funds, and college funds have gone down like Palin's poll numbers. This is not the time to repeat last year's junk yard dog in the manger act. It would be prudent to think about how the U is going to handle a zero-base increase for next year. And it would also be a very good idea to figure out how to do this without increasing tuition significantly or there will blood. A word to the CFO, do not try jawboning the legislature about what the U is legally allowed to do as far as tuition increases go.

From the Daily:

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents voted unanimously this morning to approve University President Bob Bruininks’s proposed biennial budget request to the State Legislature.

The proposed budget asks for a total budget increase of $141.2 million over two years, the second-lowest increase requested in the last decade. The proposed budget will increase tuition by 4.5 percent per year, or around $400 per student, Bruininks said.

The plan will ask the state for money to fund three main areas: $95.2 million for retaining faculty and staff, $16 million for middle-income scholarship support and $30 million for research infrastructure.
The scholarship program for middle-income students, combined with existing programs for low-income students and additional fundraising will combat the tuition increase for 9,000 University students, Bruininks said.

Members of the board praised the plan for its balance between economic realities and working toward the University’s goals.

The budget’s harshest criticism came from Regent Steven Hunter, who said that he was not entirely happy with the request because he would prefer to send a budget proposal to the state with a 0 percent tuition increase. He did, however, vote for the proposal anyway.

It is good to know that at least one of the Regents was "not entirely happy" with the budget request. Let's hope that a few more Regents like this can be acquired in the off-season.

October 15, 2008

Top Three? Where are our priorities?

From the Daily:

Rankings shouldn’t be top priority

A newly released set of world university rankings shows the University of Minnesota moving up 55 spots from last year’s ranking to 87th. This is a better ranking than the Forbes ranking, released over the summer, in which the University placed 524th, but it’s also not as good as the Center for University Performance rankings, which lists it as 14th in the nation.

In short, the ranking system for colleges and universities is bunk.
There are no perfect rankings; there is no end-all be-all answer. And yet, in spite of rankings for the University ranging from 14th in the nation to 524th in the world, the number one priority of University president Bob Bruininks and Provost Thomas Sullivan is to become one of the top three research universities in the world.

Because the criteria for college rankings can include gauges ranging from the number of faculty research citations to the quality of ratemyprofessor.com reviews, college advisors across the country are coming out strongly against them. “Don’t get hung up on rankings,? advised Valerie Broughton, a Minneapolis-based educational consultant, in a Star Tribune article last summer.

In the face of financial worries across the University, whether they be related to salary for AFSCME workers or tuition and debt for students, we urge the University to see the light and realize that rankings aren’t as important as they seem. Shift the focus from seeming like a great university and actually make this a great place to learn and a great place to work. You’ll be top three in the eyes of your students, faculty and staff.

"It's one thing if you're bringing in a criminal to speak. But if someone's under investigation, that's fair game," he [Parente] said.

Parente said his approach to McGuire was along the lines of: "We don't really care about the stock options. You know stuff. Tell us what you think."

"Obviously, the situation that happened to Francois Sainfort and Julie Jacko has not been a positive one for us," Finnegan said. (Strib, 30 August '08)

"I think people will think what they want to think," Cerra said, in response to possible criticisms of appointing someone who is under investigation. [Daily: 30 July 2008]

A majority of students at the University think the school is trying to be a top-three institution at the expense of its students. [Daily, July 2, 2008]

The architects have been given their orders and cannot change the design, Professor Balas said; if the building [Science Teaching and Student Services Buiding] is constructed as designed, it will be a disaster.

Faculty Consultative Committee - June 19, 2008

"I think we need to put ourselves in the position of acting according to the highest ethical principles. I believe our people do that now and I believe our people will be doing that in the future as well." President Bruininks (Daily: 6-18-08)

"Bruininks said he didn't know of a university in the United States that was doing something [MoreU Park aka Muscoplat's Folly] as 'courageous and innovative.'"

"Regent David Metzen said he thought the future of the project is the most important decision to face the University in the last 15 years." (Daily - 6/13/08)

Bob, Tom,

The Daily is right about your inappropriate priorities - for just a few examples, see above. Why don't you spend some time fixing our very serious problems in the here and now rather than pointing to an illusory goal that is not attainable? This attitude is what got you into serious trouble with the light rail situation.

The University of Minnesota already is a great university. Let's make it one that we can all be proud of.

To paraphrase: Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.

Bill Gleason

October 13, 2008

Anatomy of the Minnesota Stem Cell Controversy

The New Scientist is generally credited with calling attention to problems with publications from Minnesota in the area of stem cell research.

A summary article has appeared in the New Scientist:

Briefing: Anatomy of a stem cell controversy

* 14:56 13 October 2008
* NewScientist.com news service
* Peter Aldhous

A former member of one of the most prominent stem-cell research teams has been found guilty of falsifying data. New Scientist explains why the group's work is important, looks at where the findings stand now, and asks: what are the implications for the rest of stem cell biology?

Why is this research team so well known?

The team, led by Catherine Verfaillie of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, claimed to have isolated a rare type of cell from bone marrow that could develop into most, if not all, of the body's tissues. Previously, only embryonic stem cells (ESCs) had been shown to be this versatile.

Did this mean that ESCs were redundant?

Politicians and activists who oppose embryo research argued that the discovery of multipotent adult progenitor cells (MAPCs) made continued work on ESCs unnecessary.

"It shows, once again, that we can find cures for the many diseases that plague humanity without destroying human embryos," said Republican US senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, after New Scientist first reported on the work in January 2002.

Verfaillie and other stem cell biologists, however, have always argued that continued research on ESCs is needed.

How did scientists react to the results?

Initially, with great interest. In July 2002, the Minnesota team published a paper in the journal Nature (vol 418, p 41), after other experts in the field had reviewed the findings. It described a series of experiments suggesting that MAPCs could develop into a wide range of other cell types.

However, crucial experiments showing that mice born from an embryo injected with a single MAPC were "chimeric" – that is, cells derived from the MAPC appeared throughout their bodies – have never been repeated. This is a key test previously passed only by ESCs.

Still, several teams around the world have continued to study MAPCs from bone marrow and they do seem to have some interesting properties.

For instance, Irving Weissman, a stem cell biologist at Stanford University has collaborated with Verfaillie, now the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, to show that MAPCs can give rise to all the cells found in blood.

Why did the group's work come under official scrutiny?

Given the problems repeating the work, New Scientist started looking closely at the Minnesota team's results in December 2005.

We found that six plots in the Nature paper, describing characteristic "marker" molecules carried by the cells, also appeared in a second paper in Experimental Hematology (vol 30, 896), where they were supposed to refer to cells isolated from different mice.

Were these results found to be falsified?

No. An inquiry held by the University of Minnesota, after New Scientist queried the results, ruled in October 2006 that the duplications were merely errors.

However, the inquiry also decided that the marker molecule results were in any case unreliable because of flaws in the way the experiments had been run. In February 2007, Verfaillie informed Nature of the problem, and the paper has since been corrected.

So where was the falsification?

In an earlier paper, published in Blood (vol 98, p 2615) in 2001. In March 2007, New Scientist noticed that images from this paper, documenting the presence of proteins as the stem cells developed into other types of cell, including those found in bone and cartilage, appeared in a patent granted in 2006, where they were supposed to represent different proteins.

One image, flipped through 180° and slightly altered, was also used twice in the Blood paper to describe the results of different experiments.

The University of Minnesota launched a second probe, which has now ruled that this and other images in the Blood paper were "altered in such a way that the manipulation misrepresented experimental data". The investigating panel pinned the blame on Morayma Reyes, then a PhD student at Minnesota, who was the first to isolate MAPCs. She is now at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Was Reyes also responsible for the errors in the Nature paper?

No, those plots were compiled by another junior member of the team. Reyes was also not involved with the most exciting results in the Nature paper, including the chimera experiments.

Where does stem cell research stand now?

It seems clear that MAPCs are not as versatile as ESCs. In any case, biologists can now make a variety of adult cells behave like ESCs, using a genetic "reprogramming" technique pioneered by Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan (read our interview with Yamanaka).

If MAPCs aren't equivalent to ESCs, what are they?

Most probably, they are a type of mesenchymal stem cell, which normally develop into tissues including bone, cartilage and fat.

Indeed, researchers with the biotech company Genzyme of Framingham, Massachusetts, have argued that MAPCs isolated using the Minnesota team's methods are indistinguishable from other mesenchymal stem cells, based on studies of marker molecules and their ability to form other types of cell.

Are mesenchymal stem cells useful?

Yes, but their main value in medicine probably will not come from the other cells that they can grow into. Instead, they could help treat a variety of diseases because they release biochemicals that help damaged tissues heal, prevent scar tissue from forming, and damp down immune responses.

What lessons are to be learned from the affair?

Biologists who spent months – in some cases years – trying to repeat the Minnesota team's results feel frustrated and let down.

This is not the only time that exciting results in stem cell biology have proved hard to repeat. Stem cell experiments are technically demanding and can give ambiguous results, creating plenty of room for scientists to over-interpret their findings – or worse.

The most notorious example, of course, is the fraudulent claim to have created cloned human ESCs by South Korea's Woo Suk Hwang.

Stem cell biology is also an intensely competitive field that has generated huge public and political interest. Under these circumstances, as the Minnesota team has found, rushing into print with exciting findings can get scientists into serious trouble.

October 11, 2008

The Latest Craziness in the Medical School - Or, Sunlight Is The Best Disinfectant


[To be continued as time permits and circumstances require]

We had a rather interesting faculty meeting this last Wednesday with Dr. Roberta Sonnino, our new Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs who comes to us from Creighton University. I don't know much about the place except that it never seemed to be a research hot-bed. It is unranked both for research and for clinical training in the latest version of USNews rankings of best medical schools (2008).

So I wonder if her experience at Creighton has qualified her for doing the job at a much larger and research-intensive medical school with a good ranking (7th) for clinical pracice?

I subsequently asked Dr.Sonino to provide an electronic copy of this draft that she provided. It may be downloaded at this link.

The document contains the spaghetti-like flow chart above. It is guaranteed to pull the University of Minnesota medical school deeper into the swamp that is administrative paperwork and waste yet more valuable faculty time. It will also assure that the Associate Dean's position, previously half-time, can be expanded to occupy Dr. Sonnino's full-time attention.

This bomb was dropped on us with no prior warning. It was not provided to us in advance and was only distributed at the meeting as thirteen pages of hardcopy. Dr. Sonino then smilingly asked for input. As if we were supposed to speed-read this rather complex document and give here instant feedback. The meeting concluded with no indication that we would be meeting with her again to have an opportunity to go over it in detail.

We were also informed that it didn't necessarily have to be approved by faculty...

Nice, huh!

From my short visit with her on Friday, I can only conclude that she is not really interested in faculty input and that business as usual continues in the office of the Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs. I have had experience with this office over the years and could not get its present or previous occupant to see that the rules that are CURRENTLY on the books in the medical school are followed. More on that later.

So I will give some input in this venue. Hopefully others can join in the discussion. My first questions are:

Who wrote this document and is responsible for it?

Exactly what faculty input did it have?

Dr. Sonino?

October 10, 2008

Greed is Good (Part II) or Diagnosis: Greed

I have earlier posted on this subject in the Periodic Table: Greed is Good?

Judith Warner fleshes this argument out in the NYT: A post on UD's blog made me aware of the NYT article.

From the NYT

October 9, 2008, 9:00 pm
Diagnosis: Greed

For a break from the news of the financial meltdown, The Times on Saturday offered a page one story about Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff, a prominent psychiatrist at Emory University, who violated federal research rules regarding conflicts of interest and made millions of dollars consulting for the pharmaceutical industry.

Yet the story of Nemeroff, who earned $2.8 million in fees from 2000 to 2007, and had at one point consulted for 21 drug and device companies simultaneously, wasn’t really a departure from the news of the week – or of this whole benighted era – at all.

It was, rather, yet another iteration of the ever-unfolding saga of greed and how the deregulation of absolutely everything has brought our country to this painful season of reckoning. Because Nemeroff’s story – which is hardly unique – belongs uniquely to this time in our nation’s history.

It is a product of legislative and cultural changes that have altered the practice of medicine, the work of research universities and the relationship between those universities and industry. And it is marked, like so much of what’s gone off the rails in our era, by the failure of our government to step in to protect citizens.

Nemeroff didn’t bring down any banks, didn’t freeze the American credit markets, hasn’t plunged the world economy into recession. But his extensive, excessive and untransparent ties to the pharmaceutical industry are all too common, unfortunately, among his cohort of “thought leaders? in psychiatry and other medical specialties. And these relationships have led to a dangerous crisis of confidence in the basic integrity and validity of America’s medical research.

Nemeroff’s case, which has many twists and turns involving allegations of conflicts of interest and nondisclosure of payments going back over the years, is only the latest to issue from the office of Senator Charles E. Grassley.

Grassley, Republican of Iowa, patron saint of whistleblowers, would-be regulator of hedge funds and now-seemingly prescient critic of the Securities and Exchange Commission, has, since this past spring, been investigating drug makers’ payments to prominent psychiatrists whose research bears the imprimatur of prestigious universities that frequently receive federal grant money. In June, his office reported that Dr. Joseph Biederman and Dr. Timothy Wilens, psychiatrists at Harvard Medical School, under-reported earnings of more than $1.6 million each from drug makers, possibly in violation of federal and university rules. More recently, Grassley raised conflict-of-interest allegations concerning Dr. Alan Schatzberg, the chairman of the psychiatry department at Stanford and the incoming president of the American Psychiatric Association, who is said to have controlled more than $6 million worth of stock in a company while serving as lead investigator on a study involving one of that company’s products.

And these cases are, of course, only the tip of the iceberg. Conflicts of interest between the pharmaceutical industry and prominent research physicians now “permeate the clinical research enterprise,? writes Dr. Marcia Angell, author of the 2004 book, “The Truth About the Drug Companies,? in the Sept. 3 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

In one review that Angell cites, about two-thirds of academic medical centers had financial stakes in companies that sponsored research within their facilities. In another study, two-thirds of medical school department chairs were found to receive departmental income, and three-fifths received personal income, from drug companies.

Scientists in government agencies aren’t above suspicion, either: Angell cites a study of 200 government panels that issued practice guidelines, which found that more than a third of the authors had some financial interest in drugs they recommended. And “perhaps most importantly,? she writes, many members of 16 standing committees that advise the Food and Drug Administration on drug approvals also have financial ties to drug companies. “Although these individuals are supposed to recuse themselves from participating in decisions about drugs made by specific companies with which they have a financial relationship, that requirement is frequently waived by F.D.A. authorities,? Angell writes.

Universities have all kinds of conflict-of-interest rules too, of course, as do the National Institutes of Health, which hand out grant money to researchers. But the federal government counts on universities and researchers to police themselves, and I think we know all too well from recent events on Wall Street where self-regulation leads.

The upshot: No one can be trusted. “Not only do the researchers have the complete conflicts of interests, but the medical schools and the universities do too,? Angell told me this week in a telephone interview. “The Biedermans, the Schatzbergs, they’re rainmakers for the institutions. It’s a broken system.?

How did all this happen?

It’s a familiar story: About three decades ago, it became possible to make serious money as a university researcher. Not that the money was so bad before, of course. It was respectable. But it wasn’t Wall Street-type money.

That changed in the early 1980s with the passage of legislation that allowed universities to patent their publicly funded research results and then grant exclusive licenses to pharmaceutical companies. The public-private wall came down. The universities received royalties on the drugs, and the royalties were split between the researchers and the departments. Start-up companies were spun off and sold. University researchers became, essentially, partners to industry.

The change wasn’t just structural, however. There was a cultural shift, a kind of boundary melt.

“Greed became respectable,?
Angell, a professor of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School and the former editor in chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, recalled. “There used to be a sort of tension between doing well and doing good for medical researchers. If they wanted to make a lot of money in a high-risk sort of job they could work for industry. If they wanted to do important, exciting research they stayed in academia and they had a comfortable life but not great wealth.

“Before 1980, they were aware of this tension,? she said. “Before 1980, those who went into industry were held in some disdain. With Reagan, all this changed. There was a strong feeling that the world divided into winners and losers. In medical research this just has had enormous implications.?

It’s had enormous implications for our world generally. On Wall Street, change had to come via catastrophe. Let’s hope it won’t take a disaster to bring sense back to medicine.

October 9, 2008

City Pages Reports U's Response to Reyes

Today City Pages posted some remarks by the University in response to an article in the Star-Tribune in which Reyes criticized the findings of the committee investigating the faulty stem cell data:

Bad Scientist: U of M busted for false data in research project

After being accused of intentionally falsifying data to produce evidence for a stem cell research project, former University of Minnesota employee Dr. Morayma Reyes is shouting innocence.

Reyes, who now works at the the University of Washington, says any misconduct during her work as a student in Dr. Catherine's Verfaillie's laboratory was entirely accidental. She blames the University's investigative committee's findings of impropriety on a lack of expertise--a strange statement for someone who themselves is being accused of using a "poor scientific method and inadequate training."

In a letter to the editor published in the Star Tribune Wednesday, Reyes wrote:

These were honest errors in part due to inexperience, poor training and lack of clear standards and guidelines about digital image handling and proper presentation. That said I completely disagree with the statement that “the manipulation misrepresented experimental data and sufficiently altered the original research record to constitute falsification?. This incorrect statement stemmed from a difference of opinion about the interpretation of the results which clearly reflects lack of expertise by the UMN panel in the research area in question, stem cell biology.

Something that University of Minnesota Vice President of Research Tim Mulcahy says is entirely untrue. The University is planning on releasing a rebuttal statement later in the week, but Mulcahy took the time to talk to City Pages Wednesday night.

"I can assure you we stand by the process. We believe it was a fair and impartial review," says Mulcahy. “[Reyes] was afforded every opportunity along the way to provide input and at the end of the day [the committee] believed that the balance of the evidence still left them with the conclusion that the data was knowingly falsified. ...We had an obligation to fulfill and I think we have fulfilled it as well."

The committee that evaluated the work of Reyes and Verfaillie, published in the academic journal Blood in 2001, was composed of three distinguished professors: one from the University of Minnesota, another from University of California Las Angeles, and a third from the University of Michigan. After more than a year's worth of effort, the panel concluded that four figures "were knowingly falsified prior to submission to the publication,? says Mulcahy.

"The panel weighed evidence against each individual independently and concluded that Catherine Verfaillie was exonerated, and it wasn’t due to a process or elimination. It wasn’t well because it wasn’t Catherine, it had to be someone else, what they concluded deliberately was someone else actually did this," Mulcahy says, adding that that someone else was Reyes.

"Presumably when cases like this happen…data is typically falsified to make your case better to make your position more strong.?

According to the Associated Press, Reyes and Verfaillie's research has received international attention "because of political and ethical controversies over research involving embryonic stem cells."

The study was one of a series that Verfaillie published, suggesting that adult stem cells could be used as an alternative to embryonic stem cells in medical research.

The University asked Blood to retract the article. Other decrepancies were found in data published by the pair in the Journal of Clinical Investigation by the committee to be in "honest error." There was not enough evidence for the committee to substantiate that data was intentionally modified, says Mulcahy. The University has notified the editorial board of JCI.

Mulcahy says questionable work at University of Minnesota is rare.

"This make no statement at all about the integrity of our research in general," he says.

Breaches in ethics in science reporting do occur occasionally and unfortunately that did occur here, he adds. But, the fact that the errors were caught and dealt with it appropriately shows the University's strong commitment to ethical scholarship.

"Ideally this would never happen. In reality, it does sometimes and I think we managed it appropriately in this case.’

Dr. Verfaillie Comments on Stem Cell Situation

From the Star Tribune:

By MAURA LERNER October 8, 2008

Stem-cell pioneer Dr. Catherine Verfaillie apologized Wednesday for a 2001 scientific paper that the University of Minnesota now says contained falsified data.

Verfaillie said she "did not notice the problems," which came to light in a university probe disclosed Tuesday.

"I am extremely sorry about this," said Verfaillie, who headed the university's stem-cell institute from 1999 to 2006.

She responded to questions by e-mail from Belgium, where she now lives.

The U said Tuesday that the 2001 paper, an early study on adult stem cells, contained altered images and "misrepresented experimental data." The investigation blamed a former graduate student for manipulating the images.

Verfaillie declined to describe them as falsified data, saying only that there were errors and problems.

She also rejected the university's criticism that she failed to properly oversee the research.

"I rely on the honesty and integrity of those working in the lab," wrote Verfaillie. "Nevertheless, I want to make it clear that I take the ultimate responsibility for the work performed in my lab."

The university began investigating Verfaillie's research after the magazine New Scientist raised questions about the accuracy of several published studies. The findings disclosed Tuesday were the result of an 18-month investigation by a panel of three experts, including two from outside the U.

Verfaillie said she stands by the conclusions of the 2001 study, which showed the potential of adult stem cells to grow into different types of cells. She said that "all of its key findings" have been replicated by other scientists. But in light of the investigation, she and the university have both asked for a retraction, which she called "the proper course in this situation." The paper originally appeared in the scientific journal Blood, which is published by the American Society of Hematology.

Dr. Morayma Reyes, a former graduate student who worked with Verfaillie, has acknowledged that some images were manipulated. But she denied falsifying data, and said the changes were minor, such as adjusting brightness and contrast. Now an assistant professor at the University of Washington, she blamed the actions on "ignorance [and] inadequate supervision and training."

Verfaillie said that she has added "additional oversight measures" to ensure the integrity of her research. "These include a requirement that any and all manuscripts to be submitted for publication are reexamined by me," as well as other senior investigators. "I am confident that these measures will avoid the recurrence of a similar problem in the future."

October 8, 2008

Stem Cells - Reyes Side of the Story

From the Star-Tribune:

U researcher tells her side

By Dr. Morayma Reyes

October 8, 2008

I freely admit that errors were made that merit a correction in the Journal. These were honest errors in part due to inexperience, poor training and lack of clear standards and guidelines about digital image handling and proper presentation.

That said I completely disagree with the statement that “the manipulation misrepresented experimental data and sufficiently altered the original research record to constitute falsification?.

This incorrect statement stemmed from a difference of opinion about the interpretation of the results which clearly reflects lack of expertise by the UMN panel in the research area in question, stem cell biology.

Indeed I requested UMN to give proper consideration to difference of opinion and to be given a chance to be heard by a second panel with expertise in stem cell biology. The University denied both requests.

UMN was very unfair and failed to follow the appropriate procedures. The panel composition did not include a student, violating University’s policy http://www.policy.umn.edu/groups/ppd/documents/procedure/AcademicMisconduct_proc2.cfm.

Immediately after I received the decision from UMN I requested a meeting with Dr. Mulcahy, the deciding officer, to discuss disciplinary actions and to have the opportunity to request a hearing to challenge the decision of falsification, as per University’s policy http://www.policy.umn.edu/groups/ppd/documents/procedure/AcademicMisconduct_proc3.cfm.

The UMN denied my request for a hearing because I am not a University employee. I think it is very unfair for graduate students or former graduate students to be denied the rights for a hearing and subsequent appeals because of ambiguities of the University’s policy.

One accusation was about a duplicated western blot that appears twice in the paper. The use of a duplicated western blot in reverse orientation was an inadvertent error.

We found the original western blots that should have been used in place and the interpretation of the results would have been the same had we shown the correct western blot.

The other three allegations were related to image manipulation. I acknowledged that the figures in question were manipulated by global changes (e.g. adjustment of brightness and contrast). These practices were well accepted in the scientific community at the time (1999-2002).

Based on the current standards the alleged manipulations could be considered inappropriate (violate the guidelines but do not change the interpretation of the results) but not fraudulent manipulations in which the image is intentionally altered to cause others to believe as true that which is not true.

The UMN panel did not accept the distinction between inappropriate vs. fraudulent manipulation.

The report asserts that images were edited with a photoeditor. Dr. Mulcahy described the findings as "photoshopping things out or adding things in" (www.startribune.com).

If that is true, I not only had nothing to do with such manipulations I did not even have access to photoediting software.

The panel knows this and makes the accusation despite its own conclusion of no evidence that any computer I used at the time could have had photoediting software. I could not have possibly “altered orientation of bands, introduced lanes and covered objects or image density in certain lanes? and then merge the figure in Power Point 97 as the UMN panel claimed I did.

They also ignored the findings of two outside consultants, one, Mr. Reis, a major national figure in forensic image analysis, showed that the assertion can not be proven from the available data.

The UMN panel did not have preponderance evidence to prove their allegations and did not give proper consideration to the evidence I brought in my defense that these errors were unintentional and were common and accepted practices at the time.

I am left with concern that the University's findings may have been intended to narrow the issue rather than addressing the standards used at that time by UMN and by other investigators in the field of stem cell biology.

I want to emphasize that this problem continues today and is not just specific to me or to the Verfaillie lab.

I have learned a hard lesson. Image manipulation is a big problem nowadays with the availability of photo editing software such as photoshop and even tools built into many instruments, e.g. confocal microscopes, that offer ample opportunities for improper adjustment of an image without warning.

I personally believe that, just like in my case, in the majority of cases image manipulation results from lack of education, ignorance, inadequate supervision and training of students by mentors who may themselves be unaware of the problems such manipulation can cause. I regret very much these errors and never had the intention to deceive. These errors did not alter the conclusions of the paper and these experiments and research have been reproduced by other independent groups.

As for my future plans I hope that the scientific community will come to the conclusion that these were honest unintentional errors that did not affect the conclusions of the research. I have learned a great deal about proper ways to handle digital images and I have adopted and implemented these new guidelines.

October 7, 2008

Certain Data in Stem Cell Paper Were Falsified

I have posted on this subject on March 23, 2007. For some background, please see:

Photoshop Manipulation of Scientific Illustrations
Stem Cells at BigU, the Continuing Saga

Statement from the University of Minnesota

University Misconduct Panel Concludes That Certain Data in Stem Cell Paper Were Falsified

University of Minnesota Vice President for Research Tim Mulcahy has accepted the conclusions of an academic misconduct committee impaneled by the University which found that certain data published in the journal Blood in 2001 in connection with federally sponsored stem cell research at the University were falsified. The University has asked the journal to retract the article. Vice President Mulcahy also accepted the findings of discrepancies, but not falsification, in certain data published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Two current or former University employees were the subject of a complaint. Dr. Catherine Verfaillie was previously a full-time tenured faculty member at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Verfaillie is currently the Director of the Stem Cell Institute at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium, and retains a 10 percent faculty appointment at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Morayma Reyes was a University of Minnesota student in the combined M.D./Ph.D. program who worked in Dr. Verfaillie’s laboratory. Dr. Reyes is currently an Assistant Professor of Pathology at the University of Washington. None of the co-authors of the papers or other laboratory personnel were subjects of any complaints or findings.

The complaint was investigated by an investigation committee, chaired by Dr. David Bernlohr, Professor of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics at the University of Minnesota, and included Dr. Karen Reue, Professor of Human Genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine – UCLA, and Dr. William Smith, Professor of Biological Chemistry at the University of Michigan. The panel was charged with investigating complaints against the respondents pursuant to federal regulation 42 C.F.R. § 93.310 and the University’s Academic Misconduct Policy after an earlier inquiry conducted by Senior Administrator Charles Muscoplat concluded that there had been sufficient questions raised about the research to warrant a full investigation.

The investigation panel submitted its final report to the Senior Administrator on September 5, 2008. The panel concluded that parts of four figures in the Blood paper were falsified. Allegations against Dr. Verfaillie were unsubstantiated. The findings with respect to Dr. Reyes are private student data and cannot be released under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

The Senior Administrator accepted the panel’s report on September 12, 2008, and forwarded it to the Vice President for Research, Tim Mulcahy, who is the senior University official responsible for oversight of academic misconduct proceedings. Vice President Mulcahy reviewed the report, accepted the panel’s conclusions and issued the University’s final decision on September 24, 2008. On September 25, 2008, Vice President Mulcahy transmitted the investigation panel’s report and other required materials to the federal Office for Research Integrity for its review and action as required under federal rules governing research supported by the Public Health Service (PHS).

In four of seven figures in the Blood paper, the panel concluded that aspects of the figures were altered in such a way that the manipulation misrepresented experimental data and sufficiently altered the original research record to constitute falsification under federal regulations and University policy. Manipulations identified by the panel included: elimination of bands on blots, altered orientation of bands, introduction of lanes not included in the original figure, and covering objects or image density in certain lanes.

In one case all exposures of the source data for the published image were missing. While the panel could not conclude misconduct in this case, it concluded that the figure should be withdrawn as it cannot be substantiated by the existing experimental record. The panel found no academic misconduct in the remaining two figures in the Blood paper.

The panel also considered three duplications of Fluorescent Activated Cells Sorting (FACS) data and incorrect labeling included in the article published in Blood, as well as two duplications of FACS data and incorrect labeling in a 2002 article published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI). These latter discrepancies were self-reported to the University and JCI by Dr. Verfaillie prior to the initiation of the University’s investigation. In all cases, the panel concluded that no academic misconduct was associated with these FACS discrepancies. With respect to the FACS discrepancies in the Blood paper, the panel noted poor scientific method and inadequate training and oversight for this research. The panel made frequent reference to insufficient oversight throughout the report.

Based on the panel’s findings, the University has requested that the article entitled “Purification and Ex Vivo Expansion of Postnatal Human Marrow and Mesodermal Progenitor Cells? published in the November 2001 edition of Blood be retracted. Similarly, the University has notified the editorial office of the Journal of Clinical Investigation of the panel’s findings in relation to the FACS discrepancies identified in the article entitled “Origin of Endothelial Progenitors in Human Post-Natal Bone Marrow? published in 2002. As the panel did not find evidence of academic misconduct related to these figures, the University has not requested that the JCI paper be retracted.

The investigation panel also considered six discrepancies in two figures (Figures 6 and 10) included in an international patent application filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in August 2000 and again in a corresponding national stage filing dated August 2002. While concluding that the figures were seriously flawed and not accurate data, there was insufficient evidence to conclude that misconduct occurred in connection with the patent applications. Nevertheless, the panel recommended that the University notify the company holding the patent interests of these findings and cooperate with the company in making any appropriate disclosures to the USPTO.

The published version of Dr. Reyes’ thesis contained all seven western blot discrepancies and three sets of FACS duplications included in the Blood paper. The University’s Student Conduct Code prohibits scholastic dishonesty and falsification in academic work. Student disciplinary proceedings are private, and information about student discipline can be released only in accordance with the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and FERPA

First Reports of U of M Stem Cell Resolution

From the Scientist:

Guilty: stem cell researcher

Posted by Andrea Gawrylewski
[Entry posted at 7th October 2008 05:17 PM GMT]

A former member of a high profile stem cell biology research team at the University of Minnesota has been found guilty of falsifying data, a university investigatory panel has ruled.

Morayma Reyes, a former PhD student in the lab of prominent stem cell biologist Catherine Verfaillie, was under investigation by the university for fabricating data in a 2002 Nature paper which identified a certain type of bone marrow stem cell capable of giving rise to every type of cell in the body. It was the first time that adult stem cells had been shown to be pluripotent -- only embryonic stem cells had displayed that capability before.

After the results were published, other researchers had trouble replicating the findings. Early in 2007, a New Scientist reporter noticed that some data resembled data in a patent claim, data in another paper in the journal Experimental Hematology from 2001, and data in an article in the journal Blood. The magazine raised the issue with Nature and the university. An investigation last year conducted by the university found that the duplication in Experimental Hematology was not a result of misconduct.

In June of last year, Nature retracted the figures in question from the paper, stating that they did not affect the overall findings of the paper.

The current report issued by the University of Minnesota panel states that Reyes is guilty of falsifying the data in Blood, and calls for the article's retraction. It also found the same data in a fourth article in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, although did not rule that a case of misconduct.

The panel cleared Verfaillie and the other authors on the papers of fraud. "I have initiated a number of additional oversight measures designed to further enhance the integrity of research and scientific publications coming from my lab," Verfaillie, now at Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium told New Scientist. "I am confident that these measures will avoid the recurrence of a similar problem in the future."

No action has been set against Reyes, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Washington, Seattle.

A Tuition Campaign to Match the Stadium Campaign?


From the Daily:

A state-wide campaign to raise funds for TCF Bank Stadium is currently underway.

Admirable though this may be, in the face of never-ending tuition increases, the University should put a similar effort forth to raise funds for tuition.

If everyone in Minnesota gives a buck for the stadium and a buck toward tuition, the University would still be $2.9 million short for the stadium, but could pay 510 students’ in-state tuition this year. If everyone in the state coughed up a shiny green Abe Lincoln, that number goes up to 2,550, or half the freshman class, or the equivalent of putting $730 back into the pocket of every undergrad on campus.

University President Bob Bruininks told The Minnesota Daily in a summer issue that he’s “somewhat disappointed that we didn’t have the ability to drive down tuition more for students.?

The audacity of the above comment has previously been the subject of a post on the Periodic Table:

There He Goes Again...
Rappin' Robert

Wherein it is noted that OurLeader had no intention of a lower tuition figure, even BEFORE his requested budget was cut...

Bruininks should advocate that private fundraisers like the University of Minnesota Alumni Association undertake similar public efforts to lower tuition as they are for stadium fundraising.

The Alumni Association lists “High quality public education is essential,? as its first belief. If that’s really the case it should be peppering the state with tuition, instead of stadium, billboards.

The University was created as a land grant institution, a place for the students of Minnesota to receive a college education. We urge the University to appeal to the people of Minnesota in similarly creative and energetic attempts to keep tuition increases to a minimum next year.

October 5, 2008

Why We Need Action Now On Med School Conflict of Interest

And not sometime next year...

From Seth's Blog (via UD)

Academic Horror Story (Emory University)

From Claudia Adkinson, Emory University dean, to Charles Nemeroff, Emory University professor of psychiatry, in a 2006 memo:

I have been grateful that the reporter was not sophisticated enough to ask all the right questions.

Grateful. She was grateful. Ugh. Double ugh. Professor Nemeroff, you’ll recall, took vast sums of money to advocate the prescription of dangerous drugs to millions of people and hid this fact, even after several warnings. Dean Adkinson was grateful, let me repeat, that a reporter didn’t ask “all the right questions? to expose this.

This is why New York Times reporter John Schwartz’s lack of understanding matters.

Fairview: U Hospital isn't running as efficiently as other teaching hospitals

From the Pioneer Planet

Fairview Health Services is cutting 150 to 200 filled positions, not including positions it will leave open, spokesman Ryan Davenport said. The health system also will delay some capital projects — though not the ongoing construction of a pediatric hospital — and improve the efficiency of its staffing, supply chain and billing.

An Oct. 2 memo from Fairview executives noted that their flagship hospital — the University of Minnesota Medical Center — isn't running as efficiently as other teaching hospitals.

"We have benchmarked both clinical and non-clinical areas against the nation's academic health care organizations (600+ beds, 200 transplants) and found we use more resources to do our work than other organizations," the memo said.

October 4, 2008

UD Goes Ballistic Over Doctors on the Dole

Margaret Soltan is an English professor at George Washington University who writes an outstanding blog about matters academic.

Her latest post concerns the continuing firestorm over doctors on the dole. Perhaps our administration could learn something about the need to stop doing business as usual? Perhaps we could speed up action here at the U about conflict of interest?

From MPR: "The recommendations have been emailed to members of the university's medical school community along with a request for input. University of Minnesota medical school leaders say they don't have a timeline to act on the recommendations, but would like to see some action taken in the next year."

From UD:

Emory University, his employer, has known for years he’s a greedy son of a bitch who doesn’t think rules apply to him, and it’s done nothing. It shares Nemeroff’s cynicism, enjoying as much as he does the corrupting pharma money the psychiatric researcher brings the school.

No conflict of interest here, in other words: It’s in Nemeroff’s interest to get rich, and it’s in Emory’s interest to get rich.

The field of academic psychiatry is filthy all the way through right now, with Nemeroff and his crony, Alan Schatzberg, heading it, setting an example, showing everyone the way.

Supine universities, a nation of pill poppers… the world is their oyster.

The journalists should certainly interview as many professors as they can in the department Nemeroff chaired, psychiatry and behavioral sciences. They need to ask these people why none of them ever expressed any reservations about a chair whose behavior was a well-established scandal. Perhaps their silence means that they, taking their cue from their leader, also make conflict of interest the basis of their professional lives. If the behavior’s endemic in the department, the journalists need to ask the administration why the university’s conflict of interest procedures are total shit.

From the New York Times article that gives some background:

Published: October 3, 200

One of the nation’s most influential psychiatrists earned more than $2.8 million in consulting arrangements with drug makers from 2000 to 2007, failed to report at least $1.2 million of that income to his university and violated federal research rules, according to documents provided to Congressional investigators.

The psychiatrist, Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff of Emory University, is the most prominent figure to date in a series of disclosures that is shaking the world of academic medicine and seems likely to force broad changes in the relationships between doctors and drug makers.

The findings suggest that universities are all but incapable of policing their faculty’s conflicts of interest. Almost every major medical school and medical society is now reassessing its relationships with drug and device makers.

As revelations from Mr. Grassley’s investigation have dribbled out, trade organizations for the pharmaceutical industry and medical colleges have agreed to support the bill. Eli Lilly and Merck have announced that they would list doctor payments next year even without legislation.

Universities once looked askance at professors who consulted for more than one or two drug companies, but that changed after a 1980 law gave the universities ownership of patents discovered with federal money.

The law helped give birth to the biotechnology industry and led to the discovery of dozens of life-saving medicines. Consulting arrangements soon proliferated at medical schools, and Dr. Nemeroff — who at one point consulted for 21 drug and device companies simultaneously — became a national model.

He may now become a model for a broad reassessment of industry relationships. Many medical schools, societies and groups are considering barring doctors from giving lectures on drug or device marketing.

October 2, 2008

From the people who brought us PEOPLESOFT


Comes another fine product...



Senate Committee on Finance and Planning

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The University is not being paid money owed to it, reports are not generated, and so on; unless there is a clear message that these problems will be resolved in the next two-three months, the situation will reflect badly on the entire central administration. Another major concern is from the human-resources perspective: people are not being treated well in their jobs, have been put in diminished or downgraded roles, and morale has sunk.

Professor Konstan said he understood the importance of understanding the process, but this reminds him of hearing the captain of the Titanic talk about how crews are looking for holes and patching them up--the boat is sinking! What is his assessment, he asked Mr. Volna. Did they know they would be in this predicament at this point? Or were the problems unanticipated? He is in a department that has lost one staff member because of EFS and he knows of other departments where staff have resigned. He said he does not care how good the punch-card list is, this system is a disaster.

Professor Luepker, noting that he might be piling on, commented that if Northwest Airlines or 3M changed software and were still installing fixes three months later, they would be out of business. The University is a $3-billion operation and people are quitting because of EFS. He said he could not understand how private companies could make a transition to a new system but the University cannot.

Professor Martin raised Professor Konstan's question again: which door is it? Mr. Pfutzenreuter said it was not a door. Professor Konstan again asked if they knew, three month ago, that this is the situation they would be in. They did not, Mr. Pfutzenreuter said.

Mr. Pfutzenreuter said the University put in the "plain vanilla" system that represents best practices. It did change duties and workflow and the way the University does business—with an eye to making the place more efficient.

When they are losing people around the University before they get to that step three, that is a big cost, Professor Martin said. They don't have the resources to jump to that step right now, Mr. Pfutzenreuter said. Or is the plan to have new employees, more familiar with how things are done in PeopleSoft, so the University is more like business, Professor Konstan asked. That is not the plan, Mr. Pfutzenreuter responded.

Ms. Kersteter said Mr. Volna has provided a lot of good information on what they are doing to fix problems; how are they communicating with users? There seems to be a void, which in turn leads to rumors that are uncomplimentary to the administration.

Professor Martin emphasized Ms. Kersteter's point about the vacuum of information: people need to know what is being done—and deans and department heads do not know. The deans will not be happy paying the EFS tax for something that does not work.

Professor Konstan said he is hoping the University can look back at this situation and learn. He also said that a lot of people have not heard an apology, acknowledging the system was launched with severe bugs, that they blew it on the testing (and obviously did not know these problems would arise), that they know they made people's lives miserable, and that they are working hard because they care about the staff.

Mr. Moseley said that from what he can understand, this is not an uncommon problem when institutions of this size install new systems. He said he has seen a lot of case studies in his classes similar to what is happening here. The University is only three months into the system; what he has learned is that it typically takes 18-20 months before the bugs and kinks are worked out. Any communication should let people know the situation will be difficult for the foreseeable future and that things will not be fixed by October 15. It simply takes that long.

In The World..

Where does the buck stop? Bob? Tom?

Ethical Problems in the Medical School, II

The Daily weighs in:

We urge Powell, who joined the corporate board of PepsiAmericas in 2006, to adopt the policies put forth by the conflict of interest task force she assembled.

Last summer, the University’s medical school received a “D? from the American Medical Student Association in a report ranking conflicts of interest policies at medical schools around the country.

The changes suggested by the task force, which included researchers, physicians, educators and students, are monumental, and Powell should accept them immediately. The recommendations include requiring doctors to disclose all relationships with drug companies to patients before making out prescriptions; prohibiting faculty, residents and students from receiving gifts from medical companies; and creating a website with conflicts of interest information.

According to Public Citizen, a consumer rights advocacy group, in a recent two-year span, the University and its faculty received nearly $1.5 million from pharmaceutical companies. These practices among medical professionals must be prohibited in the future in order to increase the quality of patient care, and the University must act quickly and responsibly in teaching the physicians and medical practitioners of tomorrow. The medical industry is in need of transparency, and it can be built from its intellectual foundation: Colleges and universities that espouse its highest principles.


Or, in the words of OurLeader:

"I think we need to put ourselves in the position of acting according to the highest ethical principles. I believe our people do that now and I believe our people will be doing that in the future as well." President Bruininks (Daily: 6-18-08)
Time to stop talking and start walking, Bob?

I wonder where - and have asked - the new proposal places us on the Student American Medical Association scorecard where we received a D for the current situation at the medical school?

October 1, 2008

Ethical Problems in the Medical School

There have been a number of posts on this topic over the years on both the Periodic Table and the Periodic Table, Too.

Yesterday I put up a post that was taken pretty much from an MPR report.

Regulating Doctors on the Dole at the University of Minnesota?


To my great surprise, this post received a large amount of traffic - about 400 hits. My blogs are generally pretty low traffic, 100 hits is a good day, so this was quite a surprise.

Turned out that the traffic was due to the site of cursor.org, wherein a link was embedded in the following paragraph:

"If we went out on the street and told people some of what went on, they would be shocked," says a journalism professor who describes himself as "the most outside outsider" on a University of Minnesota medical school conflict of interest task force.


More on all of this later. Bill Gleason