Monday, March 03, 2008

HipSaver: Diss Us and We'll Sue You

In an amazing and highly troubling move, HipSaver, a corporation that manufactures hip protection gear, is suing the authors of a study who had the temerity to write in their article: "These results add to the increasing body of evidence that hip protectors, as currently designed, are not effective for preventing hip fracture among nursing home residents."

Though this is not my area of expertise, my loose familiarity with the research indicates that the above statement appears to be true. The study in question did not examine the HipSaver product, and the offending statement was made in the discussion section, where authors offer opinions about their findings.

HipSaver said that such claims are a slander upon the field of hip protectors. If we are going to start suing authors based on the discussion sections of their articles, then we may as well stop doing science immediately. Of course, much of what passes for science these days is iffy, so maybe nobody would notice if we just stopped doing clinical trials.

Read more at the WSJ Health Blog. Thanks to the reader who alerted me to this bizarre development.

8 comments:

Teggey said...

Don't you think it would have been more appropriate to name the one hip protector that didn't work instead of freaking out an entire medical community over an intervention that has good science that indicates hip protectors DO work provided you have the RIGHT one? Let's all remember that the hip protector in the JAMA article is mysteriously no longer being sold. Wonder why! Secondly, when government funds (your tax dollars and mine) are being used, it would be more ethical to make sure that the product, whatever it is, is clearly named instead of undermining businesses that employee Americans and make quality goods. Painting everyone and everything with the same brush is a very, very dangerous practice. JAMA shouldn't allow it, the government should demand better accountability when tax dollars are used and researchers should be more concerned about the ethics of the work they put out there. Front line workers can get better advice from colleagues than academics when research lacks quality and clarity.

CL Psych said...

Teggey,

But my point was not whether the JAMA study was sound or not. My point was whether we should be suing researchers who say things we don't like. Does this mean we should also sue researchers whose name appears on papers that unrealistically praise the efficacy of a product?

Plus, the linked article seems to cast doubt on hip protectors as a class. Perhaps there is data to support a particular hip protector, but the JAMA authors seemed correct to point to doubts about their efficacy as a group.

Radagast said...

This is bollox! The Law of Defamation does not cover opinion fairly held on a matter of public interest. Unless, that is, the US take on this area has changed things around!

Moreover, one cannot libel a class, and one cannot libel an inanimate object. Only companies and people can be libeled. I could say that all scientists were charlatans, and give generic examples of the sort of things that they did, but no single scientist would be able to sue me.

The test is this: would the plaintiff's reputation have been unfairly damaged by the comments, in the eyes of the public? Unless detail was included (by the researchers) that specifically draws attention to the product mentioned, in this case, then the plaintiff is bargaining in the shadow of the Law, and has actually drawn attention to its own product as being one of the ineffective (as alleged by the study) hip protectors.

Jesus, any first year (freshman) Law student could shoot holes in Hipsaver's argument. To reiterate: unless opinion has been expressed that specifically identifies Hipsaver's product, and the comments are made maliciously (ie, not just being fair comment on a matter of public interest), then Hipsaver is wasting its time.

Matt

Anonymous said...

See also Dr. Blumsohn's post on the Scientific Misconduct blog:

http://scientific-misconduct.blogspot.com/2008/03/threats-and-hipsavers-in-osteoporosis.html

Marilyn

Anonymous said...

See also this discussion by Professor Tushnet:

http://tushnet.blogspot.com/2008/03/save-hip-sue-critic.html

Marilyn

Aubrey Blumsohn said...

Indeed. As far as I can work out Hipsaver do not exactly have strong research indicating fracture prevention, but they might point to something I have not seen.

The only experiment I have so far been able to find shows absolutely nothing

See here

I will keep looking.

In the meantime it is not clear who should be suing who. Perhaps patients (who rely on good science) should be suing anyone who claims without evidence that their device prevents fracture.

Maybe someone from Hipsaver will help me to understand the basis for their efficacy statements.

To make this even more depressing these JAMA authors failed to declare their COI's (funding from bisphosphonate manufacturers)

Anonymous said...

Unless I am missing something, the funding from bisphosphonate manufacturers isn't relevant to the litigation except in the unlikely event that HipSaver can show that the researchers intended to harm the hip protector industry in order to favor the bisphosphonate manufacturers.

Marilyn

Radagast said...

Marilyn wrote:
"Unless I am missing something..."

Yes, although I think Aubrey's point is a wider one, in that, while we may be championing the right of academics to conduct research, draw conclusions and report on those conclusions, without fear of lawsuits becoming the normalized response by industry, we need to understand that the business of "interested" academic opinion is a real issue, in and of itself.

The field of psychopharmacology, for one, is littered with dubious-looking papers, supposedly written by KOLs with ties to the pharmaceutical industry (although the role of ghostwriters is key here, too).

Matt