Psychiatry chairman faces ghostwriting accusations

· December 3, 2010, 2:02 am   ·  Updated December 3, 2010, 12:00 am

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Recently discovered e-mails reveal that a document published in 2003 by Psychiatry Department Chairman Dwight Evans may not have been honest work.

Project on Government Oversight — a nonpartisan watchdog organization that unearths corruption and promotes an ethical federal government — posted on its website Monday that Evans and Dean of Research at New York University’s Mt. Sinai School of Medicine Dennis Charney claimed authorship for an editorial they did not write.

Evans, however, has said that POGO’s accusations are not true.

The editorial emphasized the burdens of depression. The disputed documents began to surface after a lawsuit was filed against GlaxoSmithKline, the company that makes the antidepressant drug Paxil, according to POGO’s website.

An employee of Scientific Therapeutics Information — the marketing firm that helped promote the drug beginning in the early 1990s — is the suspected actual author of the document, POGO claimed. At the end of the editorial, Evans and Charney acknowledge the writer for “editorial support.”

“GlaxoSmithKline was not providing money for editorials unless it was in their best economic interest,” said POGO investigator Paul Thacker. “It appears they wanted to push the disease because they thought it would help sales.”

Evans responded to the accusation in an e-mail: “The claim made by POGO regarding the editorial we authored in 2003 is not accurate.”

“The work, opinions, and conclusions of the editorial are ours, and the editorial assistance was appropriately acknowledged,” he added. “We stand by our editorial.”

The practice he is being accused of, often called “ghostwriting,” has existed for a long time in the medical world, said Eric Campbell, associate professor of medicine at Harvard University.

Campbell, who has studied the publication behavior of faculty extensively, added that people involved in these cases are often senior members of academia who are well respected internationally.

“Publications are the mechanism by which academic researchers are measured,” he said. “They help faculty get funding and move up the promotion chain,” which is why ghostwriting can be so appealing.

Evans was granted almost $1 million for research projects this year from the National Institutes of Health. Together, he and Charney have received over $30 million for research in the past five years.

“Institutions are often unwilling to punish renowned faculty in the same way they would punish a junior faculty member or a student” for the same offense, Campbell added.

Penn’s Handbook for Faculty and Academic Administrators states that a “major infraction of University behavioral standards” — which includes plagiarism — can result in a major penalty such as termination, suspension or a large salary reduction. So far no actions have been taken against Evans.

Members of Penn’s School of Medicine questioned the accuracy of the accusation.

“While we support any effort to promote scientific integrity, we believe that the allegations of ghostwriting made by POGO regarding a short editorial authored in 2003 by Drs. Evans and Charney are unfounded,” Penn Medicine spokeswoman Susan Phillips wrote in an e-mail.

“The editorial, which notes conclusions that remain widely accepted today, reflected the work and opinions of the named authors with the acknowledged editorial assistance,” she wrote.

A professor in the Department of Psychiatry who wished to remain anonymous said, “I am surprised to hear that; in all my dealings with him I’ve found him to be honest and a man of integrity.”

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