The Chronicle of Higher Education this week ponders why various universities have taken no action against the academic researchers who co-authored the notorious Paxil study that formed the crux of GlaxoSmithKline’s recent $3 billion settlement with the Department of Justice — read more about that case here. The Chronicle article noted that even before federal prosecutors sued GlaxoSmithKline, others (including myself in researching Side Effects) had unearthed evidence that Paxil study 329 “constituted scientific fraud.” But neither the journal that published the Paxil paper or academia have done anything to sanction the researchers involved. As the Chronicle reported:

And yet for years, the publisher of the article, the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the universities whose researchers’ names were on it resisted calls to retract the study and publicly rebuke its “authors.”

The Chronicle specifically mentions the lead author of study 329, Dr. Martin Keller, then chief of psychiatry at Brown University (who features prominently in Side Effects), and reports that the new president of Brown, Christina H. Paxson, doesn’t see any reason for further action against Keller (he stepped down as chair a year after my book came out). Other universities with which Keller’s co-authors are affiliated expressed much the same indifference. As Chronicle reporter Paul Basken noted:

Universities could act on their own to demand that the journal retract the article, said Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of BMJ, another leading medical journal. But, she said, “it is proving hard to get those who should do something to act.”

In the meantime, several of the authors on the Paxil study (including Keller) are still bringing large federal grants to their universities. Perhaps this explains why the universities involved have been sitting on their hands. They don’t want to jeopardize such a lucrative source of funding and are willing to compromise their moral scruples to keep those coffers full. But it doesn’t explain why the NIH hasn’t sanctioned the researchers or taken away their grants. One can only hope that this latest inquiry, published in the must-read publication for academia, will finally toggle the moral compass of a few federal and university officials.

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