Brown University’s student newspaper, The Daily Herald, reported this week that Martin Keller had announced his decision to step down as Brown’s chair of psychiatry in August 2007. In a letter he apparently sent to faculty in his department, Keller said he would be stepping down in June 2009 to devote more time to research and allow the university to take the time to find a “world-class new chair.”

However, according to sources, Keller was then asked to stay on as chair until Brown’s affiliate hospitals could complete a merger with Lifespan Hospital. “The thinking was that they couldn’t recruit a chair of psychiatry until the merger was decided,” said a Brown faculty member who asked not to be named. The merger, of course, hasn’t happened yet, and Brown officials apparently decided to revert to the original timetable for Keller’s departure in the wake of publicity over Keller’s misrepresentation of data in Paxil study 329 — see back story here — and Sen. Grassley’s probe into his extensive financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry; see story here.

As several Brown faculty members note, it doesn’t really matter when Keller was asked to step down as chair. What matters is the fact that the university let Keller stay on the faculty long after they were made aware of his scientific misconduct. Brown officials were first made aware of allegations about Keller’s misrepresentation of data in Paxil study 329 when I was doing research for Side Effects in early 2007, and again in 2008, when David Egilman, a Brown faculty member, filed an ethics complaint against Keller, and Side Effects was published.

“[Keller] omitted evidence that showed that Paxil increased the risk of suicide attempts from his published papers,” Egilman, a clinical associate professor at Brown, said in a recent interview. “He manipulated the data to show the drug was an effective treatment for depression when the data really showed it was no better than a sugar pill. GSK, the manufacturer of Paxil, wrote up the results and Keller claimed authorship.” See back story here.

Egilman continues: “If my student does that, it’s called plagiarism and he gets thrown out; if a faculty member does it, the University runs a protection racket for him.”

Brown should have disciplined Keller as soon as they knew about his manipulation of data, Egilman says. “The fact that they cleared him of wrongdoing shows that the university relies on faculty to police themselves,” he says. “Brown has no standards whatsoever for the work that the faculty does.”

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