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Posts by Dan Greenberg

July 29, 2008, 03:33 PM ET

Bending the Rules for Drug Approval

When the next administration takes office, reconstruction of the Food and Drug Administration should receive high priority and generous resources. That we’ve dodged a pharmaceutical catastrophe from neglect of this indispensable guardian of safe medicine is merely good luck. Fresh evidence of the FDA’s decline comes in a new report, FDA’s Oversight of the Promotion of Drugs for Off-Label Uses, by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s investigative agency.

“Off-label uses” is the descriptive term for one of the many slippery tactics employed by Big Pharma for evading FDA scrutiny while seemingly abiding by FDA’s strict, but poorly enforced, regulations for drug safety and efficacy. When a drug passes FDA’s muster, it is approved only for treatment of a specified condition, and for no other use. Look at the...

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July 19, 2008, 10:21 AM ET

Truth in Publishing: Blurbs and Acknowledgments, Continued

Is it necessary or advisable to read a book before providing a blurb for its jacket?

This question and others have arisen in response to my July 16 post, “Truth in Publishing: Curb Those Blurbs and Syrupy Acknowledgments.”

Answer: Custom dictates that blurbing may proceed without reading beforehand and even in complete ignorance of the book. Support for this principle can probably be found in what has widely been described as an authoritative work, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (Bloomsbury USA, 2007), by Pierre Bayard, a best seller in France, where it was originally published.

I haven’t read Bayard’s book, but, given the title, we can safely assume that since talk about unread books is permissible, blurbing is, too.

Next comes the question of whether reading a book is a prerequisite for reviewing it. Reviewing without reading does occur. I personally have...

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July 16, 2008, 03:27 PM ET

Truth in Publishing: Curb Those Blurbs and Syrupy Acknowledgments

Proposed here is the Truth In Blurbing and Author’s Acknowledgment Act of 2008. Enactment and enforcement may encounter First Amendment considerations, but that’s what lawyers are for. If the Supreme Court says the militia reference in the Second Amendment has nothing to do with the right to pack heat, we’re bound to be okay with matters affecting only literary affairs.

On the backs of book jackets, I’ve blurbed and been blurbed many times. In either role, I used to draw guidance from Dr. Johnson’s assurance that “In lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath.” As the beneficiary of effusive blurbs— the only kind allowed — I figured that no one is fooled, and besides, blurbs might sell some books. When solicited for blurbs, I went along with the game, thinking that the accounts eventually even up. I blurb for you or your friend and you or your friend blurb for me, which leads to such...

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July 10, 2008, 03:27 PM ET

Colleges Are Protected From Failure

It’s not always apparent what keeps colleges flying. But clearly, they perform with a time-tested safety net. (Photo by Flickr user blmurch.)

Over the past year, angry alumni and outraged faculty stirred wide attention to the tortuous demise of Antioch College, sunk by declining enrollments and insufficient resources. But another attention-raising factor was present, too: the rarity of an academic collapse.

Unlike poor Antioch, colleges and universities rarely die. In fact, the long-ago birth dates of many institutions of higher education indicate astonishing longevity, if not immortality. Bologna goes back to 1088. Harvard came along in 1636. The Morrill Act of 1862 spawned a nationwide system of land-grant universities. Occasionally, a sagging school will be absorbed by a healthy neighbor. But the rule holds true: Colleges and universities rarely die.

Moving on, the...

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July 7, 2008, 04:19 PM ET

Ripe for the Gripe

In many encounters with academe, in the course of journalistic duty, I have been told:

Morale here is low.

The president is a fool.

The administration is incompetent.

The faculty is weighted with dead wood.

The students are not held to high standards.

Hiring and tenure decisions are suspect.

It’s a rare campus that lacks at least one of these accolades, and there are more than a few that register all of them.

Given that there are more than 4,000 two- and four-year postsecondary schools in the country, some unworthiness is bound to flourish here and there. But the aforementioned laments, and others, occur too frequently to be written off as local peculiarities or wine-bar fulminations.

As sometimes manifested in Brainstorm posts and ensuing reader commentaries, bitterness among faculty and staff is no rarity in our institutions of higher education. It may be that...

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July 1, 2008, 04:20 PM ET

'Rebranding' Engineering

“Say, shouldn’t there be some numbers on this blueprint?”

Pity the engineers. Kids regard engineering as nerdy and boring, dependent on inscrutable math. On top of that engineers suffer from low self-esteem. And all this despite great efforts and massive expenditures to decorate the image of engineering and draw youngsters to the profession. What to do?

Do what’s been done by other institutions and organizations concerned about public regard. Bring in the image meisters of public relations and marketing. Let these experts plumb the minds of the public, including young children, via focus groups and surveys. And “rebrand,” as others have done. The dairy industry boosted sales with “Got milk?” Pork has prospered as “The Other White Meat,” and commonplace cotton is “The fabric of our lives.” Don’t forget that orange juice “isn’t just for breakfast anymore.”


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June 25, 2008, 02:12 PM ET

Prizes Won't Beat the Energy Crunch ...

Partisan scoffing has inevitably greeted John McCain’s proposal for a $300-million prize for a super battery to propel cars.

It is kind of gimmicky, as Barack Obama says. The prize amount simply represents $1 per head of the American population, with no relation to the costs of research or the commercial, political, or social worth of success. Moreover, at present, there’s no lack of effort on battery research, given the bonanza that a winner will reap in the ordinary marketplace. Plenty of smart people and rich organizations have been working on the battery conundrum for years, with limited success in appealing the laws of physics.

On the other hand, history shows that prizes can fire up the creative neurons. Jim Watson was sniffing the Nobel Prize as he and Francis Crick doped out the double helix, a step ahead of Linus Pauling. In 1714, the British Longitude Act...

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June 23, 2008, 03:37 PM ET

Detecting Scientific Fraud

Fraud, fakery, or larceny is what ordinary people would call it. But in the sciences’ refined venues the proper term is “misconduct,” and there’s a lot more of it than official figures show, according to a report in Nature (19 June), “Repairing research integrity.”

Perhaps it’s nostalgia for my journalistic apprenticeship as a police reporter that draws me to such publications. But as much as I relish a crackdown on miscreants in lab coats, I’m wary of this report, though it has impressive authorship: a University of Wisconsin official responsible for research policy, and a current and a retired official of the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI), which monitors scientific purity for the National Institutes of Health and other parts of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Under ORI’s...

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June 18, 2008, 12:39 PM ET

Countering Big Pharma's Misuse of Academic Prestige

Pharmaceutical firms are incorrigible in buying academic prestige to elude FDA scrutiny and push the sale of dubious drugs. Can they be prevented from inflicting danger on the public?

Not easily or directly, given the lure of Big Pharma’s money and the regulatory lassitude that prevails in Washington and on many campuses.

But a good weapon for promoting virtue remains underutilized: shame and embarrassment directed at complicit professors and the schools that tolerate their shady commercialism.

There’s an ample supply of big-name professors willing to do business with Big Pharma in return for generous payments. Some, perhaps many, operate above board in these relationships. Others allow their names to be put on the company’s ghost-written papers and hawk drugs without acknowledging their mercenary roles.

The latest scandal, revealed by Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ...

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June 14, 2008, 07:45 PM ET

Reports of U.S. Science's Demise Are Premature

Conclude there’s no crisis, and what do you get? Official Washington and the mainline press pass you by without a sniff.

That’s pretty much what’s happened with an intriguing report recently issued by the RAND Corporation, “U.S. Competitiveness in Science and Technology.” Contrary to establishment doctrine, RAND’s researchers concluded that the American scientific enterprise leads the world by a wide margin in expenditures and research output, continues to grow at a healthy pace, and is not slumping into decrepitude.

Piling on the heresies, they assert that the U.S. is not short of scientists or engineers, and U.S. expenditures per student on elementary and secondary education are on par with those of other rich nations.

There are problems, the report acknowledges, such as poor student performance in math and science and disruptive financial ups and downs in particular fields of...

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