Is there a wanton witch hunt against academic experts by the media? That’s what a panel will explore this coming November in Monaco at the annual meeting of the International Forum on Mood and Anxiety Disorders, a European-based organization that convenes to discuss the latest psychiatric trends.
The brochure, which you can peruse here (if prompted for a password, just use AHCJ), and Web site offer precious little information about the scheduled discussion. However, the specter of a media witch hunt is being raised, not so coincidentally, after months of sustained headlines in the U.S. about a probe by the Senate Finance Committee into conflicts of interest involving academics who accept NIH grants and fees from the pharmaceutical industry.
At issue is the extent to which payments are properly disclosed and monitored. The ongoing investigation has focused on several high-profile psychiatrists, including Harvard University’s Joseph Biederman, Brown University’s Martin Keller, Emory University’s Charles Nemeroff and Stanford University’s Alan Schatzberg. In fact, Schatzberg is listed one of the forum’s scientific advisers.
Since the probe began, Nemeroff stepped down as chair of his psychiatry department and the NIH suspended a grant; Keller is vacating his post as Brown psychiatry chair and Schatzberg resigned as lead investigator of an NIH grant and Stanford is searching for a new psychiatry chair, although his pending departure is unrelated to the probe, according to Stanford. Meanwhile, the NIH changed research heads and the American Psychiatric Association, which Grassley also targeted, is phasing out industry-supported symposia and meals.
Why does this group think a witch hunt may be under way? Will they address the issue of conflicts of interest? Why is there no one from the media or Grassley’s staff invited to speak? The group’s public relations person begged off in response to a note and the organization itself has yet to respond.