Thursday, March 15, 2007

Procter & Gamble: Purple Haze

The Procter & Gamble –Aubrey Blumsohnn saga has officially turned into tragicomedy to the 7th power. As you may know, Blumsohn was performing research for P & G regarding its osteoporosis drug Actonel. To make a long story short, Blumsohn discovered that P & G’s data analysis strongly appeared to differ from reality. When Blumsohn attempted to make such knowledge public, he nearly lost his job. But worry not, the poorly done data analyses resulted in several scientific presentations and a publication in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research that has yet to be retracted. So the official scientific record still seems to paint an unrealistically favorable picture of P & G’s Actonel.

Latest Installment: Dr. Blumsohn has decided to present the results of some of the real data analyses, (i.e., data not, um, creatively analyzed, by Procter & Gamble) so that the scientific and medical communities may become familiar with what appears to be the real story of Actonel rather than the PR currently posing as the official scientific record.

Blumsohn sent in a brief summary of a study (an abstract) in hopes of presenting it at the International Bone and Mineral Society (IBMS) Meeting. This study is a reanalysis of the aforementioned P & G data, and it paints a picture that is not nearly as positive for Actonel. The abstract contains a statement stating: “Study funded by Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals.” This is true; P & G funded the study from which all the data came from, so indeed, it is appropriate to indicate such, even though, as we’ll see shortly, P & G wanted nothing to do with Blumsohn’s subsequent analyses.

Enter Dr. Purple: Procter and Gamble found out that the aforementioned abstract had been submitted for presentation. A man named Dr. Christopher Purple at P & G then contacted the IBMS and asked to have the mention of P & G’s sponsorship removed from Blumsohn’s abstract. Mind you, Dr. Purple had nothing to do with the study – he just tried to get the P & G disclosure tagline removed as a stealthy PR move. The IBMS people then replied to Dr. Purple that the P & G line would indeed be removed.

Unfortunately for Dr. Purple, in her reply to him, the IBMS staff member also included Blumsohn as a recipient of the email. Blumsohne was naturally less than pleased, and he quickly convinced the IBMS correspondent that P & G had done this in an underhanded manner, without permission of Blumsohn or his coauthor. The P & G disclosure tagline was then re-added to the abstract.

Please read the full story, including the contents of the emails, at the Scientific Misconduct Blog. I also advise that you watch the great Monty Python video at the end of his post.

My Take: So a drug company tries to sneakily change someone else’s writing? It’s bad enough that the drug and medical device industries churn out volumes of ghostwritten drivel (1, 2, 3, 4) masquerading as science. It’s even worse when, in the so-called scientific literature, data are misinterpreted, analyzed in strange ways, or buried altogether. Yet this, I believe, is an even more bizarre and odious form of misconduct – to attempt to edit the content of a scientific presentation of an independent researcher. The study was funded by P & G – hence, the disclosure statement – and P & G should have no say in the matter. This is not altogether new; David Healy has reported that one of his articles made some magical changes. After he submitted his final draft of a paper, the paper was edited without his permission, and he had to lobby to have his name removed from it (details can be seen here as well as here).

Perhaps I’ll email the good Dr. Purple and see if he has an opinion he’d like to share on the matter.

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