Call for head of US bioethics commission to step down

Corporate governance and management oversight are flavour of the week with the shenanigans at Rupert Murdoch’s defunct News of the World on every front page. On a vastly different scale, a similar issue has cropped up in the bioethics community. A self-styled watchdog, the Project on Government Oversight, has called upon the chair of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to step down after allegations of ghostwriting by professors at her university.

Dr Amy Gutmann is the president of the University of Pennsylvania. A psychiatry professor there has filed a complaint of scientific misconduct regarding a “ghostwritten” paper on GlaxoSmithKline’s antidepressant Paxil which was published in 2001 in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Prof Jay Amsterdam alleges that the study failed to recruit enough patients to measure its primary outcome, and downplayed the drug’s side effects. Prof Amsterdam’s lawyer wrote a complaint to Dr Gutmann, complaining that his research had been “stolen”, “manipulated and used in a ghostwritten article.”

Allegations of ghostwriting at UPenn are not new and this fresh charge prompted POGO to make a statement. “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,” the group wrote in a July 11 letter to President Obama. Science Insider, a blog at Science, describes the confusing affair as a “spat”. UPenn says that it will investigate but there has been no reaction from Dr Gutmann. ~ BMJ Jul 13

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