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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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  • Oh no. They will get a fine far less than the money they made doing it, which is corp-speak for "please keep doing it." None of the executives will get any time. None of the doctors involved will get a reprimand, heck, this is just an advertisement that they play ball. On to the next corporate gig.

  • Does it ever work? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by __aanmys7397 ( 1280784 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @02:21AM (#27804001)
    Has any company ever gotten away with stuff like this in recent times? Doesn't the availability of everything on the Internet ensure that someone somewhere, doing just a little research, will call 'bullshit' when a certain journal/reviewer goes overboard in praising just one company?
  • Holy crap. (Score:5, Insightful)

    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. To hell with the music industry; this is beyond reprehensible. They're playing with peoples' lives. Somebody please tell me someone's going to jail for this.
  • Re:Holy crap. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @02:36AM (#27804057)

    I suppose it's fitting that you've been modded funny considering that if anyone does actually go to jail for this it won't be anyone actually in charge or ultimately responsible. Rich people [] don't go to jail. If they do somehow end up in jail, it's not the jail you or I would end up in [] under similar charges.

    The only real way to hurt these assholes is to completely boycott their company and products and tank their company. Of course that doesn't guarantee that they won't land on their feet, but anything else is just wishful thinking.

  • if physicians would not lend their names or pens to these efforts, and publishers would not offer their presses, these publications could not exist.

    Why is it the publishers job to censor or police what people publish?

    I can understand why it would be a professional consideration for physicians to not assist something like this, but going after the publisher morally is crazy. Let's not start witch hunting now.

  • by davester666 ( 731373 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @02:45AM (#27804081) Journal

    the article forgot ...and publishers would not offer their presses, AND MANUFACTURERS DID NOT OFFER THEIR MONEY TO SAID PHYSICIANS AND PUBLISHERS these publications could not exist

  • Re:Holy crap. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 03, 2009 @02:48AM (#27804101)

    Well, *all* of the Vioxx users I know are suffering from the forced boycott. See ... Vioxx isn't all that bad. The risk of death was pretty low compared to living in pain all the fucking time. But no, only talk radio mentioned that part. There are literally millions of people suffering now who would be willing to take the chance of death to be able to live again.

    I know, the solution is government health care, with absolutely no accountability at all. It fucking near killed me. Trust Obama with the foreign policy -- much better then Bush. Trust "civil servants" with your life? Retarded!

  • by Airw0lf ( 795770 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @02:59AM (#27804143)

    Has any company ever gotten away with stuff like this in recent times? Doesn't the availability of everything on the Internet ensure that someone somewhere, doing just a little research, will call 'bullshit' when a certain journal/reviewer goes overboard in praising just one company?

    The problem is that companies never get more than a slap on the wrist for pulling stunts like this - commercial regulatory bodies in most countries are far too easy on them. As a previous poster said, it is usually a token fine and none of the executives ever get jailed. So I guess most companies do a simple calculation along the lines of:

    Profit = Initial Sales from Lies - Estimated Fine when Caught - Dip in Sales from Bad Publicity.

    It would seem that the "Profit" term still comes out as a big number so there is no real disincentive there unless regulatory bodies clean up their act, or the public starts voting with their dollars in a significant fashion.

  • Re:Other stuff (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oneirophrenos ( 1500619 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @03:11AM (#27804179)

    So the study was cherry-picked: deceptive, because what is good in the short term can be bad in the long term.

    This is why drugs oughtn't be marketed to patients. If an ad says a drug has fared well in a study, Joe Regular will assume it's automatically a good thing. He doesn't know a good study from a bad one, or whether a medical journal is reputable - or even exists. A physician has a far greater probability of distinguishing bullshit from actual facts than a layperson, though it doesn't of course always hold true.

  • Well now... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by toby ( 759 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @03:14AM (#27804195) Homepage Journal

    Who's to say only the "American people" got fucked over? It's usually the rest of us.

    When some greedy corporation in the US gets the urge to over-reach common sense in the name of profit, people die. Hello Halliburton, [] Blackwater - sorry, "Xe" [] - Merck, Chevron, [] Shell, [] Union Carbide, [] Monsanto [] - This is going on all around you, every day. It's just the kind of business y'all have been trained to tolerate, encourage and sponsor. And let's be frank, the absurd US military budget is largely what it is so that they can keep doing it with impunity. Nice little system.

    If a corporation is legally a person, then let them be shut down and incarcerated like the murderers and thieves they are.

  • Re:Holy crap. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ArghBlarg ( 79067 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @03:26AM (#27804229) Homepage

    You know what, it's great that some people you know were helped by Vioxx. That's honestly great.

    But that in *no* way excuses the fact that, due to the drug company's *blatant lies* about the possible effects that it may have, some other people you DON'T know, may have FRICKING DIED from Vioxx.

    But hey, if the people who were baldly deceived by drug companies' LIES and died/suffered as a result were all people YOU DIDN'T KNOW PERSONALLY, then that's totally OK I guess.

    The fact the company had to make a whole FAKE JOURNAL up to shove their product says volumes about how much confidence they really had about the product.

  • by nysus ( 162232 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @03:43AM (#27804279)

    Just who the fuck can we trust these days? What makes these executives think they can act with impunity? Oh, right, they probably can. Yay, free market!

  • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Sunday May 03, 2009 @04:25AM (#27804449) Homepage Journal

    Why is it the publishers job to censor or police what people publish?

    Elsevier is a major scientific publisher; articles appearing in their journals are generally considered respectable. The fact that they were willing to publish a "journal" like this one will do a lot of damage to that reputation. Researchers will be less likely to submit high-quality articles to other Elsevier journals, and university libraries will look more closely at the subscription package deals which is where the journal publishers make most of their money.

    That's why.

  • by BrokenHalo ( 565198 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @04:39AM (#27804489)
    Suppose I am a publisher. Suppose I take a job from the mafia...

    If I were a publisher by the name of Elsevier, I would be very, very careful what journals I accept to publish. Elsevier is a very high profile outfit, publishing most of the reputable journals in my discipline (biotech) and many others. Backing up a shonky outfit like this was ill-considered, and whoever's idea it was deserves to be fired.
  • Re:Other stuff (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 03, 2009 @05:34AM (#27804681)

    Of course, we ARE talking about prescription drugs here. If we accept that a substance is so dangerous (at least potentially, when used the wrong way, in the wrong situation etc.) that Joe should not be able to buy it at all on his own, then the notion that it shouldn't be advertised to him either makes sense. Or, put another way - if a drug can be advertised to him, then how do you justify not allowing him to buy it?

    There's also the issue of truth (and lies) in advertising. Cherry-picking studies to create an impression that medication FOO will help with condition BAR when in reality, it will actually and demonstrably make it worse, should be illegal as well. In fact, I'm pretty sure it is - the relevant laws just aren't enforced the way they should be.

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <> on Sunday May 03, 2009 @05:48AM (#27804731) Journal

    the pharmas are just shopping in probably the purest free-market, the buying and selling of congressmen

    Actually, thats a highly regulated market, too. They have to jump through a lot of hoops to buy a congressman without the congressman, the lobbyist and the buyer all landing in jail. Again, it's something that larger companies can afford to do far more easily than smaller ones.


  • by MrMr ( 219533 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @06:10AM (#27804813)
    Even Elsevier is subject to Sturgeon's second law.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 03, 2009 @07:04AM (#27804999)

    How is it that free-marketeers can point to every giant market failure wrapped in paid-for regulatory loopholes, and get away with saying that it is evidence that everything is just not free enough? Why does this specious reasoning go unchallenged?

    We just have to believe harder in the power of the invisible fisting!

  • by jonbryce ( 703250 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @07:20AM (#27805047) Homepage

    That would be like suing HP for selling the Laserjets that were used to print it.

    That clearly is going too far, but going after the hosting provider does happen.

  • by jonbryce ( 703250 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @07:26AM (#27805063) Homepage

    You have a right to political free speech, but you do not have a right to commercial free speech. You also don't have a right to tell lies.

  • by Dasher42 ( 514179 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @08:04AM (#27805169)

    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.

    That's an interesting observation, but I think it's actually the other way around. The more wealth concentrates, the more the elite will lean on the government to issue laws that secure their wealth, and tilt the odds in favor of their acquiring more. There is no non-disruptive way to hold this in check once this happens. You cannot legislate against money's corruption. People can be bought - period. This makes systems of political checks and balances incompletely, because wealth is power, power corrupts, and economic power is most other forms of power spring from.

    This is why I am absolutely in favor of redistribution of wealth. I approve of Norway's lack of a sharp division between rich and poor.

  • Re:Other stuff (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mutatis Mutandis ( 921530 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @08:30AM (#27805303)

    Keep in mind that pharmaceutical companies don't have full freedom in the design of trials. It is, fortunately, a very highly regulated activity.

    This trial was probably reviewed by boards of experts and blessed by the regulatory organizations, who approved both the length of the study and the criteria for enrolment. A six-week study may very well produce misleading results, I couldn't comment on that, but it would not be the first time people defined stupid plans with the best of intentions. Typically trials are kept at a minimal length at first to reduce the risk to the volunteers, and then gradually extended in later phases of development.

  • That would be like suing HP for selling the Laserjets that were used to print it.

    Nope - the publisher actually gets to see the content before publishing it. What if they put out a magazine full of kiddie porn? Could they claim "we only publish it?" Didn't think so.

    You're confusing the publisher with the printer. The publisher is responsible for hiring the editors (you know, the people who are supposed to be reviewing what's published - unless it's slashdot), etc., and will contract with a printing company for the actual print run.

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

    by blackest_k ( 761565 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @08:36AM (#27805325) Homepage Journal

    I don't know about Vioxx, but perhaps it's not the only drug out there that can help, or maybe the only one your health insurance company was willing to pay for.

    My niece sufferers from junior rheumatoid arthritis, within a year of the symptoms first appearing she was in a wheelchair, eventually she managed to see a specialist who put her on to a new drug treatment and very rapidly she went from being wheelchair bound to being a healthy and normal teenager.

    The treatment requires 2 injections a week at a cost of £500 a week, luckily this is in the UK and its paid for by the National Health Service, a system we all pay into from our pay packets. If she had been under the American system would she have this drug or would she still be in constant pain in a wheelchair? It took a year of trials of various different medicines before she was prescribed something effective but she has it now and will continue to have it for as long as its needed.

    America is a great country but the health system is a complete disgrace. Hopefully Obama will address this issue.

  • by SkyDude ( 919251 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @08:58AM (#27805421)

    Why is it the publishers job to censor or police what people publish?

    A publisher, at least one in the dead tree business, always served as a gatekeeper. Admitting contributions that enhanced the publication's overall presentation to the consuming readership could be printed, while flamebait and trolls were consigned to the trash bucket.

    Unfortunately, that practice does not seem to have carried over to the internet.

  • Misrepresentation (Score:3, Insightful)

    by aepervius ( 535155 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @09:11AM (#27805487)
    Most if not all socialized medicine care DO NOT use civil servant for health care. They use real doctor and nurse that they pay off fater the care has been done. Such doctor have as much incencitive to do their job good as they do in a private health care concept as the US, but with the added benefit that the centralized healthcare allow for bigger cost reduction on the masses. Whereas private health care, unless in the hand in a very few, will only be a set of balkanized private area.
  • Go Open Source (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sattwic ( 545957 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @09:23AM (#27805513) Homepage Journal

    Just as there is the Proprietary vs OS struggle in Software Engg., there is now a parallel in the field of scientific publishing.

    Open Access Journals [] are all about free scientific information instead of billions charged by these greedy ba$tard$.

    An article costs approx 10$ at publishers like elsevier/merck, which can, like, feed a whole family in my country for a full week!

    And the most outrageous part is that sometimes that article would be the result from research funded by my taxmoney and my government while elsevier just earns off it for (virtually) nothing!

    Die M$, Die Elsevier, Die Die

    Jai Ho Open Source!

  • by Reservoir Penguin ( 611789 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @09:55AM (#27805727)
    You are a seriously enlightened person, but most western people subscribe to a completely different mode of thinking, if they get an uncomfortable symptom bothering them they just want to take a quick pill to get rid of it for a time. A pill for headache, for bloated stomach, for diarrhoea, for heartburn, just take a pill and go on with your lifestyle until you make it into your 60s and are a wreck kept alive by a cabinet full of drugs. This is the true value of western medicine. It doesn't occur to them that most symptoms are a sign of a lack of balance in the body that can be "treated" and prevented by regular exercise and a healthy diet. Or that eating microwave ready shit that has been shipped half across the globe and frozen and refrozen countless times and stuffed full of preservatives and artificial flavourings simply can't be healthy by common sense alone.
  • by Slur ( 61510 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @01:22PM (#27807333) Homepage Journal

    Okay, that's just plain treasonous.

    If a company authorized by The People to do business for our benefit goes out and instead defrauds The People, then We have every right and reason to revoke their charter and relegate them to oblivion. And we should!

    Yeah, it would mean the loss of some jobs and revenue for the various entities in their web, but it will do more good in the long run. First, the talented people working for this shoddy operation would be freed up to pursue their own eithical enterprises, and second, it would set the proper example and scare the shit out of other companies that might be contemplating or engaged in similar kinds of folly.

    Honestly, this is an issue where a company didn't care that it might kill us all so long as they profited, and as far as I'm concerned that's no less than treason.

    End them. End them now.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 03, 2009 @03:10PM (#27808195)


    Anaphylatic shock.

    Why? Especially in Australia, known for some of the most deadly animals in the world!

    There are so many bees.

    Now, how many asprin are sold?

  • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @03:19PM (#27808267) Journal

    >>>Corporations are people like you and I with a right to free speech.

    The *People* have a right to free speech. The corporation does not. It has no more right to free speech than a rock. If the Merck CEO wants to publish things in his own name (with jail-time if it turns-out his lies led to deaths), that's fine but Merck the soulless entity does not have rights. Only individuals have rights.

  • C.f. "phossy jaw" (Score:3, Insightful)

    by zooblethorpe ( 686757 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @03:31PM (#27808387)

    We've known about the perils of phosphorous exposure, leading to phossy jaw [], or basically the rotting-out of the jawbone, since well before the strikes of the late 1800's in England's match factories []. More historical data here [].

    The idea that Merck is in any way 'surprised' by this turn of events, when their drug is essentially the same substance at work in the body more than a century ago, is well beyond the outer limits of credibility. Never mind the sharp increase in cases of osteonecrosis of the jaw [] just in the last few years, since the introduction of bisphosphonate drugs -- by Merck.

    Corporations generally incentivize behaviours that are sociopathic on an interpersonal scale but deemed favorable by investors -- in a nutshell, maximize profits by any means available. This ethical vacuum is one of the real flaws of capitalism in its current implementation. Merck's actions are therefore not in the least surprising, and stand as a pointed reminder that corporate excesses must be held in check by some other external mechanism that is not subject to conflicts of interest. This is generally identified as government regulation, though we have seen time and again how government interests can be made to align with those of the corporations and in opposition to those of the public that the government is ostensibly supposed to serve and protect.

    Food for thought. Ain't nothing new under the sun, as it's all recurring patterns of human behaviour. The devil is in the details.


If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. -- Isaac Newton