Twin Kill - Ethical Problems at NIH
A yearlong effort by the National Institutes of Health to toughen its policies against financial conflicts of interest was led by an administrator who quietly helped one of the most prominent transgressors get hired by the University of Miami after a decade of undisclosed corporate payments led to his departure from Emory University, a Chronicle investigation has found.
The administrator, Thomas R. Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, also encouraged the researcher, Charles B. Nemeroff, to apply for new NIH grants, even though Emory had agreed on its own to restrict Dr. Nemeroff from NIH grant eligibility for two years. The NIH also allowed Dr. Nemeroff uninterrupted eligibility to serve on NIH advisory panels that help decide who receives NIH grant money.
"It leaves everybody scratching their heads as to what Insel's posture and NIH's posture about ethics is," said Bernard J. Carroll, who served as chairman of the psychiatry department at Duke University from 1983 to 1990, while Dr. Nemeroff was a professor there.
Dr. Nemeroff began offering help to the now-director of the NIMH in 1994, when Dr. Insel was facing the nonrenewal of his research job at the NIH, Mr. Carroll said, bringing him to Emory to serve as a professor of psychiatry and director of the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center. Dr. Nemeroff also led a lobbying effort that helped ensure Dr. Insel's appointment in 2002 as NIMH director, Mr. Carroll said.
Mr. Carroll, who supervised Dr. Nemeroff for six years at Duke, describes the career assistance for Dr. Insel as part of a strategy in which Dr. Nemeroff would "put people in debt to him, and then call in the chips later."
The latest exposé is from Paul Basken in yesterday's Chronicle of Higher Education. Mr. Basken laid out the appearance of hypocrisy within NIH, with Insel leading an NIH initiative for strengthening ethics rules for medical researchers while he was "quietly help(ing) one of the most prominent transgressors get hired by the University of Miami after a decade of undisclosed corporate payments..." That, of course, would be Nemeroff.
Let's think about what is going on here. If Insel wanted to do favors for Nemeroff, because he owes Nemeroff big time, his rationalization was that Nemeroff has not (yet) been adjudicated a felon.
[This also sounds familiar, gentle readers.]
All of this new information validates concerns that I raised over recent months here and here. I said then that Dr. Insel appeared disingenuous in trying to put distance between himself and Dr. Nemeroff. These new revelations by Paul Basken confirm the cronyism in their relationship. In his recent published commentary, Insel downplayed the gravity of the ethical issues surrounding Dr. Nemeroff and some other academic psychiatrists. Basically, he allowed for them to cop a plea on the issue of disclosing payments from corporations, and he tried to point fingers at other medical specialties, while he glossed over the evidence of their wider corruption. With some sadness, one needs now to say that the Director of NIMH cannot or will not recognize the corruption of his cronies. Is that the style of ethical leadership we should expect from an NIH Institute Director?