Emory University professor Charles “Disgraced” Nemeroff was, you should remember, a respected psychiatric researcher. One of the most respected. What this says about academic psychiatry — and perhaps all academic medicine — is scary to think about.
Now comes a second episode along these lines: JAMA editors attack Jonathan Leo, a professor at Lincoln Memorial University, for daring to publish an article pointing out an undisclosed conflict of interest — exactly Nemeroff’s problem. In the most self-righteous editorial I have ever read, Catherine DeAngelis, JAMA‘s Editor in Chief, and Phil Fontanarosa, the Deputy Executive Editor,
- say that Leo should not have contacted the New York Times
- “A telephone conversation intended to inform Leo that his actions were inappropriate transformed into an argumentative discussion as Leo continued to refuse to acknowledge any problem with his actions.”
- tell Leo to never submit anything to JAMA due to “his apparent lack of confidence in and regard for” the publication
- “We felt an obligation to notify the dean of Leo’s institution . . . We sought the dean’s assistance in resolving the issue . . . “
- “Our tone in these interactions was strong and emphatic . . . seriously . . . responsibility . . . fair process . . . integrity of science . . . We regret . . . “
- make it more difficult to report future conflicts of interest
To make sure everyone understood this wasn’t temporary insanity, Catherine DeAngelis made similar comments to the Wall Street Journal:
â€œThis guy is a nobody and a nothingâ€ she said of Leo. â€œHe is trying to make a name for himself. Please call me about something important.â€ She added that Leo â€œshould be spending time with his students instead of doing this.â€
Yes, nothing is less important than an unreported conflict of interest in JAMA.
The JAMA editorial, published a week after the WSJ article, claims that DeAngelis didn’t call Leo “a nobody and a nothing” but since the WSJ has not fixed the supposed error I conclude that the editorial claim of quote fabrication is wrong — not to mention highly implausible.
In their editorial, the JAMA editors write that “a rush to judgment [that is, Leo pointing out the conflict of interest himself rather than deferring to them] . . . rarely sheds light or advances medical discourse.” Au contraire. This “rush to judgment” has shed a hugely unflattering light on the very powerful doctors who run JAMA — and thus an hugely unflattering light on a culture in which such people, like Nemeroff, gain great power.