Professors accused of ghostwriting


Health and Human Services is investigating a charge of research misconduct




A Penn professor has accused two of his colleagues of signing their names to a ghostwritten paper.

Psychiatry professor Jay Amsterdam submitted a charge of research misconduct against professors Dwight Evans and Laszlo Gyulai, both in the psychiatry department as well, claiming that a paper published under their names in 2001 was actually drafted by a “medical communications company.” This practice, known as ghostwriting, is looked upon disapprovingly by the research community.

In a letter sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Research Integrity on Friday, Amsterdam’s lawyer stated that the paper — which examined the effect of the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline’s antidepressant drug Paxil — was ghostwritten by a company named Scientific Therapeutics Information, hired by GSK itself.

He also claimed that Amsterdam had been a co-principal investigator for the study but was subsequently left out during its final review and publication.

“It is my client’s belief that the data from his study was effectively stolen from him, manipulated and used in a ghostwritten article published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in order to advance a marketing scheme by GlaxoSmithKline to increase sales of Paxil,” Amsterdam’s lawyer wrote in another letter sent to Penn President Amy Gutmann.

In addition to Evans and Gyulai, professors at other universities were also named in Amsterdam’s charge, including Charles Nemeroff of the University of Miami, Gary Sachs of Harvard University and Charles Bowden of the University of Texas.

An HHS spokesperson said that the ORI is reviewing the issue.

Penn also received a copy of the complaint submitted to the ORI.

“We take allegations of research misconduct seriously, and will investigate the matter thoroughly under the University’s and the School of Medicine’s well-defined processes and procedures,” the University said in a statement. “Both Penn faculty members have been advised of the allegations in the complaint and while they believe them to be unfounded, have made clear to the University that they will fully cooperate with the investigation, which they hope will be resolved expeditiously.”

Evans and Gyulai did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

Evans has previously been accused of taking credit for a piece of work ghostwritten by STI.

In December 2010, the Project on Government Oversight — a nonprofit that aims to expose misconduct — claimed that it was an STI employee who had authored a 2003 editorial on the burdens of depression that Evans and his co-researcher Dennis Charney, Dean of Research at New York University’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine, had taken credit for.

“The claim made by POGO regarding the editorial we authored in 2003 is not accurate,” Evans wrote in an email at that time. “The work, opinions, and conclusions of the editorial are ours, and the editorial assistance was appropriately acknowledged. We stand by our editorial.”

Penn stood by him, too. In a statement in December, the University said that POGO’s accusation was “unfounded.”

It was around this time that Penn, which had already considered ghostwriting to be plagiarism, explicitly prohibited the practice among faculty of the School of Medicine.

But because of Amsterdam’s recent ghostwriting charge, POGO is claiming that Gutmann has not done enough to curb the practice at Penn. The organization wrote a letter to President Barack Obama on Monday, asking him to remove Gutmann from her position as chair of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

“We do not understand how Dr. Gutmann can be a credible Chair of the Commission when she seems to ignore bioethical problems on her own campus,” Danielle Brian, POGO’s executive director, wrote in the letter. “Until the University concludes a sincere and transparent investigation of these charges and takes decisive action to deter future ghostwriting, we feel that Dr. Gutmann should be removed as Chair of the Commission.”

Gutmann has chaired the Commission since November 2009.

“The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues provides a forum for public discourse and is a source of critical, independent advice for the government,” the HHS spokesperson said.

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