HIDING CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Posted by Henry Bauer on 2008/03/27
For years now, universities have been a little hesitant to accept research grants or contracts from tobacco companies. Faculty too have been queasy about it—except, of course, those faculty who would be taking advantage of the money. Entrepreneurs at Weill Cornell Medical College came up with a nice scheme for masking the source of funds and hiding the associated conflict of interest:
Set up a foundation.
The foundation receives the funds.
The foundation makes research grants.
Outside academe, this is known as money laundering. Inside academe, it is a way of not letting principles interfere with getting things done, as it was once put it in my presence by an academic vice-president who later became one of the longest-serving and most highly paid university presidents (p. 167, To Rise Above Principle: The Memoirs of an Unreconstructed Dean).
At Weill Cornell Medical College, “Dr. Claudia Henschke . . . jolted the cancer world with a study saying that 80 percent of lung cancer deaths could be prevented through widespread use of CT scans” (Cigarette company paid for lung cancer study, by Gardiner Harris, New York Times, 26 March 2008).
The work had been published in the New England Journal of Medicine and credited support from the Foundation for Lung Cancer: Early Detection, Prevention & Treatment—whose funds came almost entirely from “the Liggett Group, maker of Liggett Select, Eve, Grand Prix, Quest and Pyramid cigarette brands”. President of the Foundation was Dr. Henschke, her assistant was Treasurer, and directors included the Dean of Weil Cornell (Antonio Gotto) and a member of the College’s Board of Overseers. Cozy.
“Dr. Gotto said . . . that Dr. Henschke, Dr. Yankelevitz and another colleague set up the foundation initially without the university’s approval . . . . He and Mr. Mahon joined the board some weeks or months after its creation to ensure that the Vector grants were handled correctly . . . . We think we behaved honorably. There was no attempt to set up a foundation to hide tobacco money.”
“The Cancer Letter . . . recently reported that Drs. Henschke and Yankelevitz had failed to disclose in articles and educational lectures a patent and 10 pending patents related to CT screening and follow-up. . . .Jonathan Weil, a Weill Cornell spokesman, said Dr. Henschke did not disclose the patents in some articles and lectures because she did not deem them relevant.”
“An increasing number of doctors and institutions are setting up foundations to accept money from companies without having to disclose its source, said Dr. Murray Kopelow, chief executive of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education.”
Please refer to the post of 15 December 2007, CONFLICTS OF INTEREST:
THE ONLY SAFEGUARD AGAINST THE POSSIBLE INFLUENCE
OF CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
IS TO HAVE NO CONFLICTS OF INTEREST.