Reports have arisent that the editors of the prestigious Journal of the Medical Association(JAMA) are under investigation for attempting to intimidate a doctor.
The reason? Whistle-blowing.
If this sounds like an episode of Gossip Girl to you, you're not alone. But here's the story--Dr. Johnathan Leo, a professor of neuroanatomy at the Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee, read a recent article in JAMA about the antidepressant drug Lexapro in stroke patients. He decided to do a Google search to learn more.
He discovered by Googling that the author of the study had a financial relationship with the Lexapro's maker--Forest Labs. However, that hadn't been disclosed in the article, a big no no in academic medicine and research. When he realized this, he wrote to another journal, the British Medical Journal, which published his letter online.
This got JAMA's editor pretty angry per the reports. So much so that its editor-in-chief, Catherine DeAngelis, and the deputy editor, Phil Fontanarosa, called the dean of Dr. Leo's school and demanded a retraction.
But here's where the story get really juicy in a geeky sort of way--according the dean of Dr. Leo's school, both editors tried to intimidate Leo and the school into behaving with threats. Fontanarosa allegedly said that Leo "will be banned from JAMA for life. You will be sorry. Your school will be sorry. Your students will be sorry." DeAngelis said she would "ruin the reputation" of the Tennesee University's medical school.
The Wall Street Journal contacted DeAngelis about the issue. Her reponse:
“This guy is a nobody and a nothing” she said of Leo. “He is trying to make a name for himself. Please call me about something important.” She added that Leo “should be spending time with his students instead of doing this.”
It looks like that kind of language may come back to bite both big wigs. After harsh criticism from academic quarters over how they handled the situation, the AMA, JAMA's parent group, has started an internal investigation.
At this point, it's not exactly clear as to why Dr. Leo just didn't got to JAMA with his concerns. However, DeAngelis and Fontanarosa published an editorial in JAMA to defend themselves (must have been hard to get that by the editorial board...oh, wait! They ARE the editorial board!).
Maybe they're right in saying they deserve the right to investigate the matter internally before ruining reputations. However, intimidating a whistleblower seems like anything but a good idea.
3/31/09: Addendum: Thanks for some crack letters by the OS community, I realized I overlooked the fact that Dr. Leo did attempt to bring this issue to JAMAs attention well before he went public.