Keeping an Eye on Medical Research


A few weeks ago, Washington Post journalist Peter Whoriskey reported on a growing problem in medical research: money! Beginning with a case study on the development, marketing and eventual disappearance from the market of Avandia (a drug for diabetes), Whoriskey paints a picture of contemporary research on human subjects that is not flattering. One of his many important observations is the following,

Over a year-long period ending in August, NEJM [New England Journal of Medicine] published 73 articles on original studies of new drugs, encompassing drugs approved by the FDA since 2000 and experimental drugs, according to a review by The Washington Post. Of those articles, 60 were funded by a pharmaceutical company, 50 were co-written by drug company employees and 37 had a lead author, typically an academic, who had previously accepted outside compensation from the sponsoring drug company in the form of consultant pay, grants or speaker fees. (Peter Whoriskey, “As drug industry’s influence over research grows, so does the potential for bias,” Washington Post, November 24, 2012 (accessed,

Carl Elliot’s excellent and balanced treatment of human-subjects research comes to a similar conclusion, though his treatment is, of course, more comprehensive and more compelling than what a newspaper report can accomplish. See Elliot’s book White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine. James Marcum has recently published a book entitled The Virtuous Physician (Springer, 2012): A timely book indeed.


Stephen Napier Ph.D. CIP. (Certified IRB Professional)
Consultant, National Catholic Bioethics Center