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The mess at Emory med school

From Academic Exchange - on the Emory University website:


Faculty Member Removes Emory Name from Blog

July 9, 2009

In his June 18 blog post, Doug Bremner, a professor of psychiatry and radiology at Emory, wrote that, at Emory's insistence, he had removed all mention of the university from his blog. The move didn't go unnoticed.

Bremner's sometimes-acerbic blog, "Before You Take That Pill," comments on drug and health safety news. He frequently goes after the pharmaceutical industry for, among other things, misleading claims and unseemly financial ties with academic researchers.

According to Bremner's July 1 post, Emory wanted to distance itself from his blog because of a complaint it had received about a satirical letter posted January 28. Bremner had written about mental health blogger Phillip Dawdy, who was being evicted from his Seattle apartment because he smoked on the property in violation of the lease. He wrote that Dawdy, who has bipolar disorder, should be allowed to smoke because the strain of quitting could "disrupt his mental condition in an unacceptable way" and that it was "medically contraindicated for him to stop smoking cigarettes." Emory, Bremner added, said that his blog is for personal use and therefore it is a violation to use its name or letterhead.

In separate letters, Emory's executive associate dean for administration and faculty affairs, Claudia Adkison, and the acting chair of the psychiatry and behavioral sciences department, Steven Levy, ordered Bremner to remove the Emory's name from his site because he had violated Emory policies of using its name for non-Emory Business.

"If that's the case, why doesn't Emory ask others to take their names off of work not related to Emory? It's not like I'm just blogging about what I had for breakfast or where go on weekend with kids," Bremner told the Academic Exchange. "I only write about things that are relevant to what I've carved out in my work, which is prescription medications, health care news, and mental health in general." If [Emory] is asking me to take name my name off of my blog, why not ask others to take name off work not related to Emory?"

The story was picked up by Inside Higher Ed, which said it had received the letters from Bremner:

"According to Bremner's Emory superiors, complaints they received suggested that he was making 'clinical recommendations for a patient you do not know and have never examined,' and these postings made them feel the need to tell him to stop using the Emory name."

Comments posted by on the blog and the Inside Higher Ed website have been overwhelming supportive of Bremner and generally critical of Emory. Bremner said that visits to his blog had quadrupled since the controversy broke.

Some of the comments contrast Bremner's situation with that of other medical researchers at Emory who freely identify themselves as Emory faculty when involved with outside interests. The Inside Higher Ed article noted that other Emory faculty bloggers "who blog (but not anything to do with the pharmaceutical industry) don't appear to distress the university by having their affiliations noted."

The article went on to say that Emory Health Sciences director of media relations, Sarah Goodwin, said that "Emory's objection to the use of its name in non-official places was 'across the board' and not related to the content of Bremner's blog,"

Bremner responded to Goodwin in his July 1 entry by naming other Emory faculty who write for non-Emory online publications and who "prominently display the name of our university on their blogs."

Goodwin told Inside Higher Ed that she didn't know why other Emory bloggers or Web sites who listed their Emory affiliations seemed to fall outside of the restrictions.

The Inside Higher Ed article went on to say, "Goodwin noted that Bremner has been 'blogging for some period of time,' and that "if you read it over a long period of time, you can see comments he makes that may be of concern.' She declined to identify those comments."

Cary Nelson, national president of the American Association of University Professors, told Inside Higher Ed that "he had no problem with Emory restricting the use of its logo, or even of asking professors to add a statement to a blog stating that opinions don't reflect those of the institution. But he said that it was wrong and a violation of academic freedom for Emory to tell a faculty blogger not to use the university's name in his identification or elsewhere on his blog."

Interesting.

On my PTII blog (this one) I assume everyone knows or could find out that I am a U of M faculty member. Since the avowed purpose of UThink is personal expression, I don't worry too much about what I put up here. No one has ever directly requested that I take something down or spoken to me about it. Directly is used here deliberately, because I have heard it through the grapevine that some people are not too happy about it.

My colleague PZ Myers, at the Morris campus, has taken serious flack for his blog Pharyngula. But the administration at Morris and the Twin Cities campus made it pretty clear that his head would not roll to appease the wingnuts. That is to their credit - PZ is an asset to the University community - whether or not you agree with him. I have always been a great admirer of people of conscience who do not put their finger to the wind before making a pronouncement and who do not compromise their principles for the sake of being popular.

My other site, the (original) Periodic Table, is on Google. There I can be a little more irreverent, since the blog does not depend on the U for its existence. I don't make a big deal about being a U of M faculty member and don't use U of M logos, etc., very often. And I don't feel that people should take what I say as the Gospel because I happen to be a faculty member. Obviously I don't speak for the U.

But what is going on at Emory should be disturbing to any academic who writes a blog.

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