Thursday, June 24, 2010

Will Wonders Never Cease?

I've been checking the comments section of the Age of Autism article David Gorski’s Financial Pharma Ties: What He Didn’t Tell You the past few days to see how things have developed. Imagine my surprise this morning to see not one, not two, but three comments that go against the general ideology of AoA!

First, Christie of the Observations of a Nerd blog, asks a pertinent question of Jake Crosby:

If you are so concerned with conflicts of interest, how is it that you seem to be OK with the fact that the very man responsible for the so-called connection between vaccines and autism, was being paid to find a way to sue vaccine companies? That doesn't bother you at all?

Posted by: Christie | June 22, 2010 at 11:02 PM

This is a very good question, since the undisclosed conflicts of interest that Andrew Wakefield had in connection with his retracted Lancet study stood to have a much more direct influence on Wakefield than the tenuous and tortured connections that Jake tries to make between Sanofi-Aventis and Dr. David Gorski.

The next comment, from Mary P, makes the same observation:

Jake: The reason for giving the university the money is to remove some of their influence. They do not control how the money is spent. Given Big Pharma's misbehavior on some of their drug trials, it helps to prevent them from saying "You can't publish that". The researcher who receives these funds from the university will have a conflict of interest to declare. I would expect that David Gorski is paid to teach and that he has to find his own research grants.

I have to agree with Christie as Andrew Wakefield was being paid directly to find the evidence which he then claimed to find. Or are you just trying to hold David Gorski to a higher standard as that is what he requires of others?

Posted by: Mary P | June 23, 2010 at 10:52 AM

Often what happens when a corporation, whether pharmaceutical or otherwise, gives money to an institution that conducts research, the money goes into a fund that either supports general research in an area (e.g., cancer research) or that funds a specific research project (e.g., investigating the efficacy of drug X in the treatment of condition Y in pediatric patients).

If the money goes into the former type of fund, then the money may be doled out however the primary investigator or financial manager of the fund sees fit. The dollars are all mixed with contributions from a number of different donors, some of whom may agree with the direction that research should take, some who will disagree. Suffice to say, the money is all lumped together, and the donors have little, if any, further say in how the money is used, other than that it be used for cancer research, for example.

On the other hand, if the money is for a specific project, then how it is used is much more restricted. In the example above, the money could not be used to study the efficacy of drug A or to study drug X in the treatment of connection Z. Again, though, the money in such a fund may be mixed with donations from more than one donor, and, like the more general fund, the donors may have differing views on what would constitute "acceptable" results. As far as directing the money, the donors again have little say other than that it be used for the specific research being funded. They cannot dictate what results are acceptable after the fact.

In both cases, salaries for a university professor/clinician/researcher are highly unlikely to be funded from either fund. Pay for research assistants, lab techs, etc., might come out of these kinds of funds, but a salaried professor will most likely be paid from more general university funds designated for administrative expenditures.

Now, all this is not to say that donors might threaten to stop giving in the future, if they do not like the results coming out of the research. This can be a motivating factor, but my thoughts are that most researchers would see such actions by the donors as an indication that they should start applying for grants from other places, such as NIH, which is a far larger source of money when it comes to academic institutions than industry funding.

All this is to say that simply because a pharmaceutical company gives money to a university does not mean that every researcher conducting studies at that university has a conflict of interest tying them to the company. Brandeis University received a small grant from Bristol-Myers Squibb (PDF link) in 2009. Does that mean that Jake Crosby has a conflict of interest connected to BMS if he conducts a study with funds received from the university? No.

Finally, commenter chris then asks:

Why is there a rise in once rare outbreaks of measles, pertussis, and mumps?

Posted by: chris | June 23, 2010 at 02:17 PM

While this is a bit off topic for the article, it is a good question. Jake's response didn't seem to follow from his past anti-vaccine attitude. He suggests that waning immunity from the DTaP is responsible for pertussis outbreaks, which may be somewhat true (since adult boosters have typically been for diphtheria and tetanus only), though he declines to mention that immunity from pertussis itself also wanes over time and at about the same rate as the vaccine. As to MMR, Jake seems to blame the unavailability of single shots, breaking the MMR up into measles shots, mumps shots and rubella shots. Why would he call for this, though? One of the main mantras of AoA has been "Too Many, Too Soon". So, instead of getting just one shot for each installment of the series, Jake proposes tripling the number of shots? He's in favor of increased cost, in terms of paying for more shots and more doctor visits? He's in favor of more needle pricks and more pain for the child?

Chris has posted several more comments since I looked this morning. My prediction is that posts by chris will soon no longer appear at AoA. I even wonder how long the comments I quoted will remain. I am impressed, though, that such comments actually made it past the watchful eyes of AoA's Ministry of Truth managing editors.


  1. Of more interest is Craig Willoughby's comment protesting the call for complaints to Wayne State. Willoughby is very much a straight-and-narrow "vaccine blamer", and it is telling that even he would have a problem with the course of action Kim Stagliano endorses.

  2. @David

    Good point. I had seen that, but forgot by the time I got around to writing up this post. Thanks for pointing it out. Craig's comment can be viewed here.


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