What do the editors of JAMA have in common with the Pope?

Their first impulse when misconduct is reported is to silence the people reporting it.

Apparently, the belief that the most important step in “investigating” a charge of serious misconduct is to bully the complaining witnesses into silence.

Here’s the Pope’s version.

And here’s JAMA’s.

Not much to choose, is there?

Except that Ratzinger could only threaten excommunication and eternal damnation; JAMA can threaten to ruin the reputation of a medical school. Now that’s a threat.

The fact that many medical schools are now financially dependent on drug-company money to run drug-safety-efficacy trials builds a kind of systemic corruption right into the fabric of the biomedical research enterprise. University presidents, please take notice.


The JAMA editorial on the affair, published on line March 20 of this year, is an astounding document. It admits that Dr. Leo was right, and in fact that there were more undisclosed conflicts of interest than he had originally pointed out. It reports that JAMA’s own investigation led to the publication in JAMA of an apology by the author who had failed to report his conflict of interest. But, it says, Dr. Leo was A Very Bad Person anyway, because he insisted on making the dispute public before the High and Mighty Editors of JAMA had finished reviewing it.

While denying the reported insults directed at Dr. Leo by the editors, it confirms the threat

Leo also was informed that, if his actions represented his apparent lack of confidence in and regard for JAMA, he certainly should not plan to submit future manuscripts or letters for publication.

and the attempt to put pressure on Dr. Leo through his dean

However, since Leo apparently did not appreciate the serious implications of his actions, despite our attempts to explain, we felt an obligation to notify the dean of his institution about our concerns of how Leo’s actions were potentially damaging to JAMA’s reputation. We sought the dean’s assistance in resolving this issue involving a member of the faculty of his institution, to assure there would be no need to publicly identify that faculty member. No dean wants his or her institution implicated in a publication reflecting improper behavior by a faculty member. We fully expected a professional and appropriate response and assistance with resolution, as has occurred when we have notified other deans about related issues in the past, such as in other cases involving undisclosed financial conflicts of interest and cases of duplicate


Our tone in these interactions was strong and emphatic, reflecting just how seriously we take the responsibility to ensure a fair process of investigation and above all, to protect the integrity of science and the reputation of JAMA.

In English: The editors of JAMA a researcher that he would be blacklisted from publication, and told the dean of an obscure medical school that they would try to ruin his school’s reputation unless the dean cracked down on the right of one of his faculty members to complain publicly about scientific misconduct.

And they’re proud of it!

Is there a Nobel Prize for arrogance?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com