• September 30, 2014

Professor at Canada's McGill U. Admits Signing Research Generated by Drug Maker

In the latest revelation in a widening scandal over ghostwritten scientific papers, a psychology professor at McGill University, in Montreal, has acknowledged putting her name on an article in a medical journal that actually was written by a freelance author under contract with the drug manufacturer Wyeth.

The professor, Barbara B. Sherwin, said in a written statement provided to The Gazette, "I made an error in agreeing to have my name attached to that article without having it made clear that others contributed to it."

The article appeared in the April 2000 edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Ms. Sherwin said that it was the only time she engaged in the practice and that the article itself "represented sound and thorough scholarship and in no way could be construed as promotion for any particular product or company."

The case is the latest in a series of incidents in which university professors have signed their names to articles initially written by freelance authors hired by DesignWrite, a company paid by Wyeth and other drug makers to produce research articles favorable to their products.

The article attributed to Ms. Sherwin listed her as its sole author, and argued that estrogen could help treat memory loss in older patients. Its full authorship was discovered by lawyers representing 8,400 women who filed suit against Wyeth, claiming they were harmed by its hormone drugs. The lawyers have so far discovered 26 such research papers printed in 18 medical journals, including The American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and the International Journal of Cardiology.

McGill's provost, Anthony C. Masi, said in a statement to The Gazette that the university had "an established process for investigating and dealing with such allegations" and would "look into this matter and take appropriate action."

Comments

1. daffane - August 25, 2009 at 07:02 am

Is the title "Ms" (or "Mr") what this journal usually uses for a person on faculty at a university?

2. mbelvadi - August 25, 2009 at 08:31 am

daffane: yes, that is standard editorial practice at the Chronicle of Higher Ed.

3. tmcdonal - August 25, 2009 at 09:52 am

There is a lot missing from this article. Was Ms. Sherwin paid for the use of her name? Was there a contract? Had she actually conducted research to make the claim that estrogen improves memory in older people?

So Wyeth uses this purchased research to then convince the FDA and doctors that their product can actually prevent alzheimers--which it can't, but they'll get a ton of profits selling a non-generic drug for at least 10 or 15 years. Then it's oops! In the meantime, those older women who, scared of Alzheimers and associated it with having forgotten where they put there keys one morning, are popping their doctor-prescribed remedy and are beginning to develop cancers in unusual places and they still can't remember who suggested taking those hormones!

Purchase our legislators, purchase our teachers, purchase our doctors.... There ought to be a law against it.

4. maggiesoltan - August 25, 2009 at 12:07 pm

tmcdonal: So far the question of how Sherwin was paid has been a bit obscure.

But she certainly was paid, and paid well. She was a consultant to Wyeth and worked closely with them and the ghostwriting firm under contract to Wyeth to write a paper for her. Whether her payment was a specific amount itemized for this particular task (we must assume, given her relationship with the firm, that there were other tasks she performed for them), or was part of a general consultancy fee, is unclear.

As to whether, as you ask, she "actually conducted research to make the claim" she -- or rather her ghostwriter -- makes in the article, I'm afraid you're touching on ... what? A black hole problem? When was this person's work ever legitimate? When did her love of hormones and money first fall in love with the suitor that approached her from Wyeth? Can we ever be confident of her history of legitimate research, given her demonstrated willingness to sell her integrity to corporations?

5. 11272784 - August 25, 2009 at 12:52 pm

I love the delicate phrasing: "I made an error in agreeing to have my name attached to that article without having it made clear that others contributed to it."

What a nicely nuanced way of saying "I put my name on someone else's work."

6. lindacar - August 25, 2009 at 01:54 pm

Sherwin has done a lot of legitimate high-quality research on the cognitive effects of estrogen - it would be a terrible shame for this to taint her past accomplishments. I hope people can reserve judgement and keep an open mind until the full story is revealed.

7. merlot - August 25, 2009 at 02:15 pm

As far as I'm concerned, she nullified any research she has previously conducted and written by agreeing to lie about being the sole author of a paper she never worked on.

8. merlot - August 25, 2009 at 02:15 pm

As far as I'm concerned, she nullified any research she has previously conducted and written by agreeing to lie about being the sole author of a paper she never worked on.

9. kcissna - August 25, 2009 at 02:52 pm

So, this still isn't very clear: Did she do the research under a grant from Wyeth and someone at Wyeth prepared the manuscript, or didn't she even do the research?

10. tmcdonal - August 25, 2009 at 05:14 pm

to lindacar--

By confessing that she put her name on an article written by someone else, she has sullied her own reputation all by herself. Her admitted lapse of integrity has placed a cloud of doubt over all her work. I've seen it happen to authors so many times.

By participating in a fraud, she bears some responsibility for all the women who claim injury from a hormone prescribed to them becuase of supposedly valid research studies.

I wish we could persuade legislators not to take money from big business. It's strange how they don't see that as a conflict of interest. "Thanks, Blue Cross, Blue Shield for the $200,000 these past few years and all the free trips to the caribbean. No, no don't worry. I'll oppose healthcare reform."

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