Conflicts of Interest–nothing new. You could make a movie about this!!

I came across a letter in the June 26th N.Y. Review of Books from Gayle Greene regarding a dispute in the 50’s and 60’s about the safety of x-raying pregnant mothers. Today a defense of this practice would be viewed as ludicrous but read the letter, and also the book The Woman Who Knew Too Much: Alice Stewart and the Secrets of Radiation to learn more.

From the NY Review of Books:

“I interviewed Doll while writing about Stewart, the physician and epidemiologist who discovered that the practice of X-raying pregnant women, which was common in the Forties and Fifties, doubled the chance of a childhood cancer. Doll and Stewart moved in the same Oxbridge circles, sat on the same committees and editorial boards. Both started out as physicians, then moved into epidemiology after the war, each making major discoveries in the Fifties that helped shape epidemiology so it came to include cancer as well as infectious diseases. But after Stewart went public with the dangers of radiation, she plummeted to obscurity, while Doll, credited with discovering the link between lung cancer and smoking, rocketed to fame and a knighthood.”

“Immediately after Stewart published her findings, Doll launched a study to prove her wrong. For nearly two decades, he succeeded in keeping her findings from being accepted, thereby allowing fetal X-raying to continue”

“After his death it came out that Doll was receiving payment from Monsanto (quite a lot) all the while he was doing the studies that cleared vinyl chloride of an association with liver cancer. I’d have thought that would have laid to rest this overblown veneration. But no, Horton defends him, suggesting that he may simply have been “naive.” I can tell you, whatever else he was, he was not naive.”

Not much has changed as indicated in today’s (June 8,2008) NY Times report on professors of pediatrics receiving unreported income from drug companies.

“In 2000, for instance, Dr. Biederman received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to study in children Strattera, an Eli Lilly drug for attention deficit disorder. Dr. Biederman reported to Harvard that he received less than $10,000 from Lilly that year, but the company told Mr. Grassley that it paid Dr. Biederman more than $14,000 in 2000, Mr. Grassley’s letter stated.”

“At the time, Harvard forbade professors from conducting clinical trials if they received payments over $10,000 from the company whose product was being studied, and federal rules required such conflicts to be managed.”

This is the tip of the iceberg of unreported relationships between physicians, researchers, and institutions and the medical industrial complex.

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