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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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  • by asifyoucare ( 302582 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @02:15AM (#27803979)

    I'd be very surprised if the ACCC did not investigate. Looks like a slam-dunk case under s 52 of the Trade Practices Act.

  • Revolting! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Kotoku ( 1531373 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @02:55AM (#27804123) Journal
    I am nearly speechless. This is honestly one of the most revolting acts of subterfuge I've ever seen committed on the American People (well..other than our current issues). Merck creates phoney studies so they can pass potentially unsafe drugs to the masses?

    They should be run out of town for this. Sadly I see nothing major happening to them.
  • Other stuff (Score:5, Interesting)

    by guyminuslife ( 1349809 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @02:56AM (#27804133)

    My father, who is a psychiatrist, was looking over a medical journal one day and showed me an article where some researcher---in a study funded by one of the drug companies, I forget which one---had determined that whatever SSRI the company was peddling was effective against bipolar disorder. This had been a six-week trial.

    I didn't understand. My father explained to me that yes, SSRIs tend to be effective as short-term treatment for bipolar disorder, but that over the long term, they actually can make bipolar symptoms worse. So the study was cherry-picked: deceptive, because what is good in the short term can be bad in the long term. Many bipolar people get put on antidepressants, which are counterproductive. And doctors often go along with it, because the drug companies have been intentionally misleading them in publications.

  • by spun ( 1352 ) <> on Sunday May 03, 2009 @03:31AM (#27804243) Journal

    People need to be informed of the other kinds of 'jobs' that the companies they do business with perform. It will help them make rational decisions about who they want to do business with. Where they want to get their books published, where they want to get their colon checked, who they want to buy their drugs from, you know, that sort of thing.

    Unfortunately, people do not like it to be known that they are in the side business of helping kill random strangers. It tends to put a damper on business. So we have governments and courts. But the word never seems to get out to enough people, and it is just ever so easy to ignore the deaths of random strangers. They are just a statistic connected at one remove to the publisher of a fake journal.

    Suppose I am a publisher. Suppose I take a job from the mafia, to print and put up a bunch of fliers offering $10,000 for your nut sack, JordanL? And suppose your nut sack is delivered to the mafia, should I be partially liable for your loss?

  • by Wheat ( 20250 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @03:33AM (#27804255) Homepage Journal

    Fosomax is a crazy drug, it stops bone turnover and in some cases has lead to patients having to have their jaw bone removed. That's nasty!

        Raisor was told her jaw bone was going to end up in a bucket. "They took some out, took some out, kept taking more out," Raisor said.

        They tried to save what they could. They used a metal plate for reinforcement.

        It didn't work.
        """ []

  • by AnalPerfume ( 1356177 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @03:55AM (#27804333)
    Hienie flu? Is that not caused by diet? Just because someone farts a lot does not make them contagious. Mind you, I wouldn't put it past companies like Merck to sell placebo cures for a non-existent problem.
  • The free market has nothing to do with this. We still have criminal statutes for a reason, although regrettably no executives will go to prison for this.
  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <jcr.mac@com> on Sunday May 03, 2009 @05:03AM (#27804593) Journal

    Just who the fuck can we trust these days?

    Actually, you can trust most of the people you meet. Criminals and fraudsters are still a minority.

    My own policy is to trust people until and unless they show me a reason not to, and then I never trust that individual again.


  • by Xarvh ( 1244438 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @05:31AM (#27804669)

    I am ashamed to be a researcher.
    Scientific journals are built on reliability and reputation, if they are willing to squander it for a few extra bucks, the entire peer-review process is dead, and modern scientific advancement with it.

  • by MrMr ( 219533 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @06:08AM (#27804801)
    The publisher may be deeper involved than you think; I have been offered 'special issues' of journals with favorable pieces on one of our products in the past. I never figured out if it was just one desperate sales guy or a real company policy.
  • by boombaard ( 1001577 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @06:17AM (#27804833) Journal
    You've missed this [] story then?
    Sadly, the blog that was initially involved in this, and where the 'riddle' was solved, seems to have removed the entire blog post + comments (lawyers?), but the posts can still be found here []
  • by bennomatic ( 691188 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @07:03AM (#27804997) Homepage
    No, publishers should and do exercise editorial and quality controls over the content that they publish. CNN is a publisher. If I write a news article, should I be able to get it published as news if I pay them enough money?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 03, 2009 @07:43AM (#27805105)

    according to this: Peter Brooks is the Executive Dean of Health Sciences at The University of Queensland, scary

  • by Mutatis Mutandis ( 921530 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @08:23AM (#27805255)

    It is not particularly outrageous in itself that a drug manufacturer should collect a few papers that report favourable data on its products, bundle them with a few adverts and some marketing materials, and hand them out at conferences and trade shows. This happens all the time and it does little harm because you know who the sponsor is, and of course that you should not expect full objectivity.

    The problem is in the disguise: Elsevier, a respectable publisher of scientific journals, apparently has a side business "Excerpta Medica", which states on its website that "Excerpta Medica Helps Pharma Companies Fulfill 2009 Pharma Guidelines with Elsevierâ(TM)s Physician and Patient Educational Content." In other words, Excerpta Medica is a marketing organisation that serves pharmaceutical companies. It seems highly unwise for a large scientific publisher to run a side business of this nature, which screams "conflict of interest" pretty loud.

    The moral figleaf is provided by the "2009 Pharma Guidelines", issued by the PhRMA. However, the PhRMA is essentially a lobby organization for the pharmaceutical companies. Being a lobbyist is not necessarily evil, and no doubt self-regulation can be a good thing, but nevertheless this figleaf is a bit too small to cover Elsevier's shame: Essentially Excerpta Medica is vowing to obey the moral standards defined by its own customers!

    The selling point, of course, is obvious: Elsevier holds copyrights to a vast amount of scientific publications, both journals and books, so it can churn out impressive compilations on demand. Or, as they put it on their website "we can leverage the resources of the worldâ(TM)s largest medical and scientific publisher."

    We can only hope that most of these publications will have been peer-reviewed earlier, but Excerpta's website also makes it clear that "authors take full responsibility for the content of their manuscripts" and the editor of the publication is "an outside expert". In other words, Elsevier lends it good name to promotional materials, but declines responsibility for their content.

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @08:33AM (#27805315) 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. The fact is, "we know better" than to each much of the crap we eat which often leads to sicknesses we wouldn't otherwise get. Quite a few medicines suppress or weaken your immune system as well.

    Yes, there are times in life when medications are necessary, I won't deny it. But those times are actually quite rare. But you can't build a huge industry on rare. We already know what Merck and companies like them are prepared to do in order to sell more drugs to people, so it wouldn't be stupid to look into your own medicine cabinet to see what you don't actually need.

    Aspirin is good medicine. Nothing has completely replaced it. They will sell you a lot of more advanced things, but aspirin is good and it's "inferior." Quite often things are sold as newer or superior when it is actually quite the same as the thing before it but with a new combination of components or manufacturing process and most importantly, "A New Patent!" Be careful about that.

    I have found that from the time I have become more aware of what I put into my body, the more healthy I have become. Eating less, eating less junk food, drinking less soda and the like are some pretty obvious ones, and are also the ones quite a few people lack the will-power to cut down on in the first place. But you could easily dig deeper into the rabbit hole -- for example, "high fructose corn syrup" is responsible for a lot of pancreatic disorders in people... a little won't hurt you, but when it's in everything you eat? Adult animals don't naturally drink milk -- it's for babies. So why do humans think they "need" it? We know why, we just don't think to question if it's true.

    Prevention is truly the best way to play this game. But from the government on down, no one wants to talk about prevention when they talk about the healthcare system.

  • by hankwang ( 413283 ) * on Sunday May 03, 2009 @09:44AM (#27805659) Homepage

    Elsevier is a major scientific publisher; ... and university libraries will look more closely at the subscription package deals which is where the journal publishers make most of their money.

    Well, ask any librarian who has to deal with Elsevier Science about their opinion. Elsevier is the Microsoft of the scientific press. Elsevier charges subscribers as much as they can afford, completely unrelated to the costs related to producing the journal. Typically, they will start a new journal, get some reputable professors to participate in the editorial board. If the journal has enough papers that are being cited, Elsevier increases the subscription price, knowing that a university that does research in the particular niche that the journal covers must have a subscription regardless of the price.

    A while ago, I did a price comparison of a couple of journals. The (non-profit) American Physical Society publishes the reputable Physical Review journals (A-E and Letters). An institutional subscription (up to 500 people or so) costs about €0,10 per page IIRC. (There are quite a few pages per year, though) Science and Nature, published by for-profit companies, charge significantly more, I think around €0,60 per page. One of the more reputable Elsevier journals, Chemical Physics Letters, costs €2 per page! That means that a journal that has 5000 pages per year sets you back by 10 k per year. And those prices for Elsevier tend to increase every year.

    It doesn't surprise me in the least that Elsevier would do something unethical that makes them money. If you're a scientist and considering to publish papers, avoid citing papers published in Elsevier journals and don't publish there yourself.

  • by digitalderbs ( 718388 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @10:26AM (#27805933)
    They're already slipping. I try to avoid Elsevier when I publish my articles. Look at this journal, for instance : []
  • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @10:41AM (#27806053) Homepage
    I've been inside Chinese hospitals. You know how when you go in a hospital, it has "that hospital smell"? That smell is disenfectant, they're always cleaning inside. Took me a while to realize what wasn't right, but Chinese hospitals don't have that smell. You know why? Because nobody cleans them, they're freaking filthy. Doctors don't even wash their hands between seeing patients. I live in fear that one day I'll have to use Chinese health care. The practice of physicians prescribing unnecessary or even counterfeit medication is a thousand times worse than the USA. Pro tip: next time you use Chinese health care, tell them you'll pay extra if they give you the real medicine. When they say, "are you sure? it's a lot more expensive" assure them that you do indeed want the geniune article and don't mind paying.
  • Hoax! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ygslash ( 893445 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @11:08AM (#27806293) Journal
    Now wait a minute. Could this whole thing be a hoax?

    There is not a single reference to this "journal" in the entire citeseer database. The query

    "Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine" -merck

    on Google returns no reference to such a "journal" from before this scandal broke.

    This sounds like a fabrication of the quacks! Does anyone have any real evidence that such a fake journal ever existed?

  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @11:13AM (#27806337) Journal

    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. The fact is, "we know better" than to each much of the crap we eat which often leads to sicknesses we wouldn't otherwise get. Quite a few medicines suppress or weaken your immune system as well.

    So precisely what is it we eat that causes arthritis (the most common indication for Vioxx)?

    Aspirin is good medicine. Nothing has completely replaced it. They will sell you a lot of more advanced things, but aspirin is good and it's "inferior." Quite often things are sold as newer or superior when it is actually quite the same as the thing before it but with a new combination of components or manufacturing process and most importantly, "A New Patent!" Be careful about that.

    Aspirin is good. But it has negative effects, like promoting ulcers, particularly with long-term use. It also has a dose-response relationship for pain relief which levels off, though the side-effects continue to get worse. And it's a fairly short-acting medication. The COX-2 inhibitors relieve pain better, for longer, with fewer gastrointestinal side effects. They also slightly increase the chance of heart attack, which is why most of them got banned, but IMO that's a foolish trade of quantity of life for quality of life.

  • by cusco ( 717999 ) <> on Sunday May 03, 2009 @11:58AM (#27806663)
    Wild salmon have pink or orange meat because they eat krill and such that have red pigment that gets deposited in their flesh. Farmed salmon or fresh water salmon have white flesh naturally because they don't get krill in their diet. Salmon farmers now feed them red dyes to change their meat to the color that consumers expect.
  • by caffeinemessiah ( 918089 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @12:43PM (#27806993) Journal

    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

    Just had to correct a few things. Google's original algorithm is a variant of what is sometimes called an eigenvalue problem []. It's not quite the "number of times someone found an information useful" -- rather, it analyzes the linking patterns between webpages in terms of a recursive-sounding definition: "an important page links to other important pages".

    In science, there is an ongoing attempt to reform the use of impact factors [], which are easily abused. Check out well-formed eigenfactor [] as an example.

  • by radtea ( 464814 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @01:17PM (#27807291)

    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.

    So to avoid the corrupting effects of power you are in favour of giving some individuals vastly more power than they have now, to forcibly redistribute wealth?

    Personally, I'm in favour of legal and tax frameworks whose policy goal is to produce flatter wealth distributions, and in favour of putting a tax-payer-funded floor under the poorest people, but wholesale redistribution necessarily involves some individuals (and it is ALWAYS individuals) having far too much power over other individuals for anyone to be safe.

    You are correct that power corrupts. The power to redistribute wealth on a large scale corrupts absolutely.

  • by apunahasapeemapetala ( 656835 ) on Sunday May 03, 2009 @01:58PM (#27807617)
    This sort of thing is hardly new. My wife (medical school grad, ER physician) has a whole TEXTBOOK written by GlaxoSmithKline. She wrote a scathing review of that particular segment because of it, but you better believe that if it makes business sense to do this sort of thing it's going to be done.

Loose bits sink chips.