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Merck Created Phony Peer-Review Medical Journal 213

Hugh Pickens writes "Don't believe everything you read on the internet is a good rule to follow, but it turns out that you can't even believe a 'peer reviewed scientific journal' as details emerge that drug manufacturer Merck created a phony, but real sounding, peer-review journal titled the 'Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine' to publish data favorable to its products. 'What's sad is that I'm sure many a primary care physician was given literature from Merck that said, "As published in Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine, Fosamax outperforms all other medications...."' writes Summer Johnson in a post on the website of the American Journal of Bioethics. One Australian rheumatologist named Peter Brooks who served as an 'honorary advisory board' to the journal didn't receive a single paper for peer-review in his entire time on the board, but it didn't bother him because he apparently knew the journal did not receive original submissions of research. All this is probably not too surprising in light of Merck's difficulties with Vioxx, the once $2.5 billion a year drug that was pulled from the market in September 2004, after a study showed it doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke in long-term users resulting in payments by Merck of $4.85 billion to settle personal injury claims from former users, but it bears repeating that 'if physicians would not lend their names or pens to these efforts, and publishers would not offer their presses, these publications could not exist.'"
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Merck Created Phony Peer-Review Medical Journal

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  • Re:Holy crap. (Score:5, Informative)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @02:37AM (#27804061) Homepage Journal

    I've seen a lot of seedy stuff in my time, but this might just take the cake with respect to all-time industry lows.

    How about drug companies treating thousands of doctors to a free night out in a posh restaurant every week for years, so that they can be informed about the latest products.

  • by sy5t3m ( 1349857 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @03:54AM (#27804327)
    The article says that it was published by Elsevier. If they were just a printing company, I'd agree with you, but they are claiming to be more than that.
    http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/intro.cws_home/ataglance [elsevier.com]

    As the world's leading publisher of science and health information, Elsevier serves more than 30 million scientists, students, and health and information professionals worldwide.

    We are proud to play an essential role in the global science and health communities and to contribute to the advancement of these critical fields. By delivering world-class information and innovative tools to researchers, students, educators and practitioners worldwide, we help them increase their productivity and effectiveness.

    And from http://www.elsevier.com/wps/find/intro.cws_home/mission [elsevier.com]:

    That's why Elsevier partners with leading experts to publish the most authoritative and reliable information so scientists and health professionals can make critical decisions that advance scientific discovery and save lives.

    At best, they were duped into lending any credibility they have to a sham. At worst, they knew that the thing was fake and went against their mission statement, yet published anyway because the money was too good to pass up.

  • Re:Well now... (Score:5, Informative)

    by G-Man ( 79561 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @04:19AM (#27804433)

    Umm, you are aware that Shell is a *Dutch*, company, right? Getting a little blood on your hands for a few extra dollars/pounds/yen/euros/whatever is hardly just an American corporate phenomenon. TotalFinaElf was plenty happy to develop oil fields for Hussein under the utterly corrupt Oil for Food program, while ordinary Iraqis starved. Toshiba illegally sold submarine propeller tech to the Soviet Union. Shall we even get started on Chinese companies and food safety?

  • by Maelwryth ( 982896 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @04:50AM (#27804529) Homepage
    The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery [ejbjs.org] might not be very happy about this as well. Especially as their slogan is, "Excellence through peer review". :)
  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <jcr@@@mac...com> on Sunday May 03, 2009 @04:59AM (#27804561) Journal

    Yay, free market!

    Big pharma does not operate in a free market. They exist in a regulatory framework consisting of thousands of laws and regulations written primarily by their own lobbyists to raise barriers to competition.

    The more any industry is regulated, the more it will concentrate into fewer and larger organizations. Big companies can cope with the regulation, but the compliance costs drive smaller competitors out, or push them to be acquired by larger organizations.

    If you want to see a free market in medicine, the closest you get to it is Mexico, Thailand, China, or India. There's a reason why medical tourism is a rapidly-growing market.


  • Elsevier (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 03, 2009 @05:08AM (#27804607)
    The summary should mention that Elsevier published this. That's the shocking part... We already knew about Merck's lack of ethics.
  • Misinformation (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 03, 2009 @05:45AM (#27804713)

    Are you muddying these waters on purpose?

    This is the Merck that everyone is thinking of [wikipedia.org]; ie, the manufacturer of Fosamax, Propecia, Singulair, Vioxx and Zocor.

  • by jw3 ( 99683 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @07:20AM (#27805045) Homepage
    There are hundreds or thousands of journals with a fairly low standard. Even if they are not industry founded, they make it relatively easy for anyone to publish next to anything. I know of scientific institutions that have their own journals just so that the (lousy) researchers can publish *somewhere* and have a non-zero publication list.
    That said, it is also fairly easy to see how good a scientific journal is, especially to someone who reads scientific literature. The system is not perfect, but it is better than nothing, and relies on the number of times that a single article from a journal gets cited. This metrics spawns the "Science Citation Index" [wikipedia.org] (how often did I get cited?) and "Impact Factor" [wikipedia.org] (how often, on the avearage, an article from a given journal gets cited?).
    Think Google. This is exactly what the original google algorithm was using: number of times someone found an information useful / reliable as a measure of how relevant / important / interesting this information is. However, IF / SCI is much older than Google or WWW.
    Both indices can be misused or manipulated. Furthermore, they differ wildly depending on the area studied (in especially, medical journals have ridicoulously high impact factors) because of the different number of citations per article and article turnover rate. Finally, it can be really hard for a new journal to get a high IF because of preferential attachement -- scientists flock to these journals that already have high impact factors.
    Still, they are better than anything else.
  • suggests that we may be dealing with shills.. But I shudder to think that slashdot is such a high-profile news site for drug companies, that they'd bother.

    I once had a job offer to be an "online forum participant", you needed to have already established identities in many popular discussion boards and be willing to create more and maintain them with daily participation.

    Astroturfing is apparently done now by hiring a company with shills established where you want to have a say, not by specific companies engaging the forums directly.

  • Ahem (Score:5, Informative)

    by IdahoEv ( 195056 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @12:46PM (#27807017) Homepage

    You are SERIOUSLY overestimating the value of medicine.

    Many of the most significant advances in medical science over the past 100 years has to do with a better understanding of nutrition and hygiene.

    Oh geez. Yes, our understanding of nutrition and hygiene have added significantly to our lifespan. But overestimating the value of medicine? No, "most sicknesses" are not caused by what we eat. A very few of the classic illnesses - scurvy, for example - were caused by nutrient deficiencies. Most of the rest are caused by infectious migroorganisms or viruses, autoimmune reactions, injury/trauma, genetic abnormality, or aging. Come on, man: the last 150 years have seen the development of:

            Vaccinations - clearly "medicine", they are responsible for saving more lives than anything else in history. Because of them we basically no longer suffer from Diptheria, Measles, Mumps, Pertussis, Polio, Smallpox, and Tetanus. Are you aware of how many people these diseases, in combination, used to kill?

            Antibiotics - Antibiotics have changed hundreds of bacterial diseases from universal death sentences to something generally handled by a single quick trip to the doctor. Among them are a few you might have heard of: Syphilis, Leprosy, Cholera, and the Black Plague. Antibiotics also have reduced the danger of infection from surgery by, oh, 95% or so, making surgery a much more realistic proposition.

            Radiation therapy and chemotherapy - when combined with improved surgery, they have changed cancer from a death sentence to something we can cure over 50% of the time (across all forms of cancer ... there are some we can cure 95% now).

            Diagnostic Imaging - starting with X-rays, and progressing to MRIs and CAT scans, the ability to see inside the body without opening it allows doctors to discover what's going on inside - making the planning of proper intervention (surgical or otherwise) possible, and even more importantly making it more possible to avoid unnecessary or unhelpful intervention.

            Diagnostic Biochemistry - It's pretty cool that now we can actually tell the difference between a virus and a bacterium, for example, and that we can diagnose diabetes, high LDL cholesterol, and a thousand other conditions through simple blood tests.

    Nutrition is a great thing. But the rest of medicine has made some pretty damn big contradictions that you are too quick to discount.

  • by spun ( 1352 ) <loverevolutionary@nOSpaM.yahoo.com> on Sunday May 03, 2009 @03:30PM (#27808369) Journal

    I really wish you were right. According to the Supreme Court, corporations are people with civil rights like you and I. Immortal people with orders of magnitude more power than an individual. Isn't that special?

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN