When I last wrote about the perception of scientists being paid for their conclusions, it was with the tongue-in-cheek observation that perhaps Massachusetts, by seeking to end the practice, might drive research out-of-state.
But the situation is far more serious, and hits closer to home, with the story of a researcher one critic dubbed "Bling-Bling."
The nickname came from Dr. David Carlat, an ADHD researcher, in a 2006 post about Dr. Charles Nemeroff (above) of Emory University.
Now Dr. Nemeroff is being investigated for violating federal research rules, failing to report $1.2 million of income out of $2.8 million in consulting contracts he had with drug makers between 2001-2007.
It reminds me of the "crimes" being charged with respect to the "big shitpile" that Congress voted to bail-out today, in that there were no crimes committed. If the law and regulations let you create Confederate money, then outrage about the practice has nowhere to run.
The same is true here. If the law and regulations are not being violated, if only ethics are involved, then science for sale becomes standard practice.
Now let me tell you how this hits home.
The doctor called me right away and said, "your son has ADHD." Tell me something I don't know, I responded.
At the time Dr. Nemeroff was running a series of studies called ARISE, testing whether risperidone might be useful as an anti-depressant, or useful in the treatment of ADHD.
I have no evidence my son was part of that study. But if one respected person is testing a drug for a purpose, and this is known by others, chances are they might try it, too.
The answer my son gave was an emphatic no. He got no relief at all. He just got very tired. He felt awful. Once he left this professional's care he immediately went off the drug, and his recovery began.
(That recovery continues. He will graduate from high school next spring, an honor student, and cost me a fortune at some elite college.)
Nemeroff's risperidone study was published in a journal of which he was the editor, and he did not report his own financial conflict of interest, although the policy was he should have.
In any drug study like this, people are used as guinea pigs. They are beta testers, but their bodies are the computers on which the software runs.
That's what is really at stake, when life sciences become corrupted. Think of what happened to my son as one sub-prime mortgage in a "big shitpile" of corruption.
Here's the more important point. It was all legal. Dr. Nemeroff is not accused of any crime, and I doubt he will ever be accused. Maybe his reputation will be hurt. Maybe it won't be.
But that does not make what happened to my son right. And if the profession has a care for its reputation, the next doctor who does something like this will have committed a crime.