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Psychiatrist accuses university of ghostwriting ‘whitewash’

The University of Pennsylvania psychiatrist who last year alleged that his colleagues had allowed their names to be added to an influential manuscript that had been ghostwritten by authors paid by a drug company said today that the university “whitewashed” their behaviour in a subsequent investigation that found the psychiatrists to be rightful authors of the paper.

On 26 June, their accuser, Jay Amsterdam, filed a 24-page complaint with the Office of Research Integrity at the US National Institutes of Health, asking that the office undertake “a more thorough and complete” investigation of the matter than did the Ivy League university.

The findings of an investigation by the university’s Perelman School of Medicine were made public in March. As Nature reported (see ‘University clears psychiatrists of misconduct‘),  the investigation found that the two university authors, Dwight Evans, who is the chairman of psychiatry at the university, and Laszlo Gyulai, now a retired associate professor of psychiatry, broke no rules that were in place when the widely cited 2001 paper was prepared and published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The publication, about the antidepressant drug Paxil (paroxetine), failed to acknowledge a medical-writing company paid by the drug’s maker, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), to help prepare the manuscript. It also failed to acknowledge that three of the other authors were GSK employees at the time the study was conducted.

In today’s complaint, Amsterdam says that the university “went out of its way to find a path to whitewash the conduct of its employees”.

Amsterdam contends that the investigating committee failed to obtain and examine important documents from Scientific Therapeutics Information, Inc., the scientific writing company employed by GSK. He writes:

“The University intentionally chose not to obtain and examine important documentary evidence it was aware existed from the files of the ghostwriting firm, STI, which would have provided the Committee highly relevant information not otherwise available to them. The Inquiry Committee relied on the word of the two University of Pennsylvania Respondents as factual, while the unexamined STI documents appear to contradict the Respondents’ testimony.”

Amsterdam also argues that the investigators should have interviewed the paper’s other co-authors.

“By choosing not to obtain the testimony of the other respondents named in the case, we believe the Inquiry Committee lost the opportunity of obtaining important information that may have corroborated (or called into question) the testimony provided to the Committee by Dr. Evans and Dr. Gyulai.”

Susan Phillips, senior vice-president at Penn Medicine, the governing board that oversees the medical school, said today that “no facts have changed” since the investigation was completed. “We are standing by our original statement,” she added, referring to the announcement the university made in March when the investigation’s results were publicized.  It says, in part:

“There was no plagiarism and no merit to the allegations of research misconduct. Drs. Evans and Gyulai satisfied all authorship criteria and the publication presented the research findings accurately.”

Gyulai declined to comment on the letter. At the time of this story’s publication , the other academic authors on the paper had not respond to e-mail requests for comment.


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