JAMA Editors Go Nuts

Emory University professor Charles “Disgraced” Nemeroff was, you should remember, a respected psychiatric researcher. One of the most respected. What this says about academic psychiatry — and perhaps all academic medicine — is scary to think about.

Now comes a second episode along these lines: JAMA editors attack Jonathan Leo, a professor at Lincoln Memorial University, for daring to publish an article pointing out an undisclosed conflict of interest — exactly Nemeroff’s problem. In the most self-righteous editorial I have ever read, Catherine DeAngelis, JAMA‘s Editor in Chief, and Phil Fontanarosa, the Deputy Executive Editor,

  • say that Leo should not have contacted the New York Times
  • “A telephone conversation intended to inform Leo that his actions were inappropriate transformed into an argumentative discussion as Leo continued to refuse to acknowledge any problem with his actions.”
  • tell Leo to never submit anything to JAMA due to “his apparent lack of confidence in and regard for” the publication
  • “We felt an obligation to notify the dean of Leo’s institution . . . We sought the dean’s assistance in resolving the issue . . . “
  • “Our tone in these interactions was strong and emphatic . . . seriously . . . responsibility . . . fair process . . . integrity of science . . . We regret . . . “
  • make it more difficult to report future conflicts of interest

To make sure everyone understood this wasn’t temporary insanity, Catherine DeAngelis made similar comments to the Wall Street Journal:

“This guy is a nobody and a nothing” she said of Leo. “He is trying to make a name for himself. Please call me about something important.” She added that Leo “should be spending time with his students instead of doing this.”

Yes, nothing is less important than an unreported conflict of interest in JAMA.

The JAMA editorial, published a week after the WSJ article, claims that DeAngelis didn’t call Leo “a nobody and a nothing” but since the WSJ has not fixed the supposed error I conclude that the editorial claim of quote fabrication is wrong — not to mention highly implausible.

In their editorial, the JAMA editors write that “a rush to judgment [that is, Leo pointing out the conflict of interest himself rather than deferring to them] . . . rarely sheds light or advances medical discourse.” Au contraire. This “rush to judgment” has shed a hugely unflattering light on the very powerful doctors who run JAMA — and thus an hugely unflattering light on a culture in which such people, like Nemeroff, gain great power.

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