Memory Hole (9 October): When white is black and black is white

Scientific Misconduct Blog Memory Hole: Events of October the 9th

Quote of the day

"There was a society of men among us,
bred from their youth in the art of proving,
by word multiplied for the purpose,
that white is black and black is white
according to how they are paid"

Jonathan Swift


20 years ago today: Cornell whitewash is undone

On 9 October 1987 final resolution of a dispute involving Cornell Medical center was announced in the journal Science.

The story began in 1981 when a prominent cardiologist, Dr. Jeffrey Borer was accused of making several misstatements in a scientific paper. the whistleblower was Dr Jerome Jacobstein. Jacobstein said that Borer had falsely declared that there were two observers in the experiment (there had only been one), and that subjects had not been chosen randomly as the paper had stated.

The committee criticised Cornell for not treating Jacobstein's initial charges properly.

Jacobson states that it is hardly surprising that cases of proven scientific misconduct are so rare, that the costs of raising it are too high and that Cornell whitewashed his concerns. "Everybody concerned dragged their feet".

Borer had served on the Cardiorenal Advisory Committee of the FDA.

Source: "NIH Finally Resolves 7-Year Dispute," Science 238 (9 October 1987)

15 years ago today: Public learns of Bristol Heart Scandal through a satirical magazine

On 9 October 1992 the British satirical magazine "Private Eye" revealed that mortality rates for infants undergoing certain cardiac procedures in Bristol was unacceptably high and that operations were still being carried out despite concerns raised by staff.

The article read:

"The sorry state of paediatric cardiac surgery at the United Bristol Healthcare Trust has been confirmed by an internal audit over the last two years' operations. The results of procedures to correct two congenital heart abnormalities (Tetralogy of Fallot and transposition of the arteries) were especially poor.

James Wisheart, chairman of the hospital management committee and medical advisor to the trust board, is required to maintain standards of medical practice at UBHT. Curiously he has not felt it necessary to inform the trust board or the trust's purchasers of these findings. Could it be because he is also associate director of cardiac surgery?"

Thus began the public exposure of what became known as the "Bristol heart scandal" as well as the institutional cover up and the ignoring and bullying of the whistleblower anaesthetist Stephen Bolsin. Between 30 and 50 babies died unnecessarily at the Bristol Royal Infirmary between 1984 and 1995. In 1992 it needed a satirical magazine to take notice. The report into the scandal made more that 200 recommendations but the real problems were not addressed. Raising concerns about patient safety and scientific misconduct is more difficult than it has ever been. The cover up culture has persisted and has been reinforced through legislation such as the Public Interest Disclosure Act. There is an illusion of change.

15 years ago today: Death of Dr Joseph Mengele confirmed

On 9 October 1994 a report confirmed that bones in a grave at Embu near Sao Paolo in 1985 were authenticated by forensic experts as belonging to Mengele. On 1943, he became medical officer of Auschwitz-Birkenau's "Gypsy camp." Mengele supervised many sadistic experiments on Gypsies and Jews.

Source: "U.S. Report on Mengele Reaffirms His Death," New York Times, 9 Oct 1992

10 years ago today: Delayed release of report into the effect of above-ground nuclear tests

On 9 October 1997 it was reported that the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) admitted they should not have avoided releasing a study of exposure to radioactive iodine from above-ground nuclear tests in the 1950s.

The study reported that up to 75,000 additional cases of thyroid cancers in America were probable given the amount of radioactive iodine to which Americans on average were exposed.

Joseph Lyon, a professor of family medicine at the University of Utah suggested that funding for follow up studies had been blocked by Bruce Wachholz, chief of NCI's Radiation Effects Branch.

(I note in Pubmed a cohort study authored by the above Lyon some 10 years later. Life near a nuclear blast site doesn't sound too bad)

Source: "NCI Apologizes for Fallout Study Delay," Nature (9 October 1997) p534.

10 years ago today: African HIV experiments criticised

On 9 October 1997 the New York Times reported on the ethics of HIV experiments in Africa. It turns out that individuals studied were given placebo and didn't grasp "what exactly a placebo is" or why they "might have been given one instead of a real medicine". It would have been virtually impossible to get approval for placebo controlled studies of HIV in the United States. There is much more to this story.

Source: " AIDS Research in Africa: Juggling Risks and Hopes" New York Times, 9 Oct 1997

5 years ago today: Declassified documents reveal further unethical toxicology experiments on military recruits

On 9 October 2002, The New York Times reports that 16 newly declassified reports from the Pentagon describe experiments conducted on soldiers without consent between 1962 and 1971.

Ships and sailors had been sprayed with sarin gas and other chemical and biological agents. An estimated 5,500 persons were involved.

Tests conducted together with the Canadian government used VX, and tests with Britain used sarin and VX, the documents show.

It took 40 years to disclose these experiments.

Source: "U.S. Troops Were Subjected to a Wider Toxic Testing" New York Times Oct 9 2002

2 years ago today: Secret funding to ADHD patient "support" groups

On 9 October 2005, a newspaper article in the UK Telegraph revealed that UK patient "support" groups for parents of children with ADHD were being secretly funded by pharmaceutical companies with an interest in selling drugs for ADHD.

In particular, the "Attention Deficit Disorder Information and Support Service" (ADDISS), a Department of Health-funded "charity" had been providing details of drugs to parents. Andrea Bilbow, chief executive of ADDISS, admitted that ADDISS had solicited and received funding from Janssen-Cilag, which makes Concerta, UCB Pharma, and Eli Lilly, which makes Strattera (an ADHD drug linked to an increased risk of suicide in children). Bilbow maintains that "not enough children are given the drugs" and that at least 700,000 children in the UK should be taking Ritalin.

Whether that is a reasonable belief or not, the drug firms' financing was not acknowledged on ADDISS website and nor did their names show up on the accounts lodged with the Charity Commission.

Bilbow stated: "If we put the names on the site that would be promoting the companies and I've told them I won't do that" and "That would be advertising and I'm not getting enough money from them for that."

Although such secret funding might not cause surprise outside of the UK, it was a shock. The funding also assumed importance because a psychologist Lisa Blakemore Brown had maintained that ADDISS had been receiving such funding. Furthermore, she maintained ADDISS had coached a patient to place a spurious complaint about her to the British Psychological Society. In leaked transcripts of the case, it appeared that the BPS had then accused Blakemore Brown of being paranoid (and hence not fit to practice). As part evidence for this supposed paranoia, Dr Friedman (a psychiatrist who had not examined her) felt such as idea would be "amazing" and "extremely unlikely". Friedman also works as psychiatric assessor for Doctors facing fitness to practice tribunals with the GMC.

Source: ADHD advice secretly paid for by drugs companies", Telegraph, 9 Oct 2000

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Comments on: Memory Hole (9 October): When white is black and black is white


Blogger Natalie said ... (October 10, 2007) : 

Just to let you know, the link you have posted for "U.S. Troops Were Subjected To a Wider Toxic Testing" does not work. The correct link is:


Blogger Aubrey Blumsohn said ... (October 11, 2007) : 

Thank you :)

Fixed it


Anonymous Sean said ... (October 13, 2007) : 

From Wikipedia

"Who's gonna investigate the man who investigates the man who investigates me" was the refrain of "The Investigator's Song", words and music by Harold RomeThe song's final line: "One more problem puzzles me; Pardon my strange whim. But who's gonna investigate the man who investigates the man who investigates... him?"


Anonymous Michael said ... (October 14, 2007) : 

Your Oct 9 quote from Swift (above a litany of scientific dishonesty) inspired me to draw your attention to this one from an Australian sci-fi author.

"Everyone here would die for the sake of truth.
Everyone here lies constantly for the tiniest chance of personal gain.
This is what it means to be a scientist."
- from The Demon's Passage by Greg Egan's+Passage§ion=fiction



Blogger Aubrey Blumsohn said ... (October 14, 2007) : 

Thank you Michael and Sean. That Harold Rome lyric is great. I'll use that. Have added the Egan to my reading list.


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