Monday, July 07, 2008

Dean Edward J Wing and integrity at Brown Medical School

One thing will be obvious to anyone who has spent time looking at scientific misconduct and academic bullying. Publicly known instances tend to aggregate within particular institutions.

It may be a denominator effect. "Bad apples" might arise in productive institutions with a large number of apples. Ineffective (or corrupt) leadership might also permit fraud and bullying. Unprincipled leadership is also associated with sham investigation and attempted cover-up, which in turn precipitates public discussion.

True "bad apple" aberrations never leave an institutional stain. The fraud of Jan Hendrik Schön did not alter the reputation of Bell Laboratories. Other so called "bad apple" cases are nothing of the sort. The fraud of John Darsee at Harvard, or Vijay Soman at Yale involved collusion of leadership, ignoring of principles, bullying and cover-up.

Several institutions spring to mind, not only for the frequency of serious problems but also dismal cover-up, ignoring of principles, and bullying of those who have discussed integrity.
  • The University of Toronto (cases of Nancy Olivieri, David Healy, Godeon Koren, Brenda Gallie and others)
  • Berkeley (Ignacio Chapela, Tyrone Hayes)
  • Brown University Medical School (David Kern, Martin Keller)
  • Harvard (too many cases to mention)
  • Kingston University in the UK
Another characteristic of leadership failure is the refusal of institutions to apologize when they must know that they have done wrong. There is failure to discuss the principles honestly and publicly. There is failure to demonstrate proper academic behavior to students. When apology does take place it is often end-stage "damage limitation" of the sort illustrated here by John Cleese.

Why discuss Brown University now? Brown has a new Dean of Medicine as of 5 days ago. Professor of Edward J. Wing, M.D. took up his position on July 1 2008. There was considerable controversy about the manner of his appointment. In particular there were concerns that the process was designed to limit the field to particular insiders (see here, and here). Perhaps choosing an insider was not the best idea for an institution with a growing integrity stain.

Wing was certainly present at Brown during the terminal phase of the bullying of David Kern. It is not known that he did anything to help Kern. He must also have had interactions with Professor Martin Keller.

It is however possible that Wing will do the right thing. I wrote to Wing to find out. My communication was also sent to Associate Provost Pamela O'Neil, Provost David Kertzer and President Ruth Simmons. Given the absence of any acknowledgement, I thought I would make my communication public.
Professor Ed Wing
Chairman of Medicine
Brown Medical School

29 June 2008

Dear Professor Wing

I note that you will take up your Deanship at Brown two days from now. I congratulate you on your appointment.

I am sure you are aware of increasing concern about the integrity and honesty of leadership in medicine. Further, I am sure that you realize that the outsider's view of Brown is tainted by two unfortunate scandals. One a decade ago, has never been resolved in any principled manner. The other is ongoing.

I am referring to the cases of Dr David Kern, Professor of Occupational Medicine, and the many problems involving Professor Martin Keller.

David Kern was bullied and effectively fired at around the time you joined the faculty at Brown. Brown has never to my knowledge undertaken any soul searching with regard to this dismal affair.

I am sure that you are aware of the obvious obscenity of tainted research and research misrepresentation involving Professor Martin Keller. This research has done a grave disservice to the image of our profession. Brown has so far taken no apparent action.

I am therefore writing to ask whether you have made (or intend to make) any comment about these two incidents.

Have you anything to say of the future integrity of research at Brown, Professor Wing?

Kind Regards

Dr Aubrey Blumsohn
Sheffield, England
There is a Chinese saying, "a fish begins to smell from the head down...". You may not be a culpable head as yet Professor Wing. You are however in a position to make some statement about the institutional infection that has characterized Brown.

As Peter Drucker said, "Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things". Some statement about manipulated drug studies, an honorary degree for David Kern and an honest statement of regret might be a good idea.

Perhaps consider doing the right thing Professor Wing.

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