More Watchdogs Who Did Not Bark: the UCU Ignores Dr Blumsohn

We posted first here in 2005, then here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here about the story of Dr Aubrey Blumsohn’s dispute with Procter and Gamble (P&G) and the University of Sheffield in the UK. In summary, Blumsohn and Professor Richard Eastell had done clinical research on the risedronate (Actonel), sponsored by P&G, the drug’s manufacturer. P&G refused Blumsohn access to the original data from the study he was ostensibly running, and hired a ghost-writer to write abstracts in his name. Some of the analyses done by P&G seemed biased in favor of the drug. Despite repeated attempts, P&G would not give Blumsohn access to the raw data of the project. Blumsohn protested to Eastell, who advised him not to make waves because P&G “is a good source of income” for the university. When protests to other university officials produced no results, Blumsohn told the story to the press, whereupon the university suspended him. As far as I can tell, he eventually lost his academic position at the university, and has not been rehired. Also as far as I can tell, these events have never been the subject of open hearings at the university, or of investigations by any outside body.

This week, Dr Blumsohn, who now has quite a following (currently 53 on the Healthcare100 hit parade) for his Scientific Misconduct Blog, posted about the lack of response to a letter he wrote in 2005 to the UK Association of University Teachers (AUT), which later merged with another organization to form the University and Colleges Union (UCU). He also noted that the UCU has failed to respond for an even longer time to the case of a faculty member at another university who was dismissed apparently after her research (about the politically controversial topic of the characteristics of people seeking asylum in the UK) was found to be “incompatible” with that university. It is unclear why the UCU has ignored two cases in which universities sacrificed their faculty members’ academic freedom to avoid offending the powerful. It is disgraceful that the case of Dr Blumsohn has never been publicly revisited at the University of Sheffield, and never been investigated by any academic or medical organization.

What befell Dr Blumsohn has been a continuing motivation for us to at Health Care Renewal. Sadly, it is hardly the only case of medical and health care academics who suffered because because what they said or wrote, no matter how true, offended those in power. Credible medical and clinical science will not long survive when scientists cannot draw conclusions that threaten vested interests. Academic medicine’s credibility will not long survive in the absence of academic freedom.