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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Some Context on the NIH, Charles Nemeroff, Corruption and My Favorite Latin Phrase

According to this Pharmalot article from November of this year, the National Institute for Health recently removed one of its top deputies.

Shortly before the Senate Finance Committee began its probe into conflicts of interest among academic researchers who simultaneously receive NIH grants and pharma fees, Norka Ruiz Bravo, the NIH deputy director for extramural research, maintained the agency couldn’t simply monitor such things.

To wit, she told The New York Times last March that “for us to try to manage directly the conflict-of-interest of an NIH investigator would be not only inappropriate but pretty much impossible.” She added that “I think (the system) is working to the extent that people are being honest and I think most people are honest.”

Since then, of course, she has been proven incorrect. The Senate Finance Commitee has uncovered several alleged examples of high-profile academics who failed to properly disclose industry payments, which is required by law. In a couple of prominent instances, Emory University’s Charles Nemeroff stepped down as psychiatry department chair and Stanford University’s Alan Schatzberg was replaced as the primary investigator on a grant.

The removal of Norka Ruiz Bravo was in relation to the probe by the Senate Finance Committee of Emory University Professor, Charles Nemeroff. The Senate Finance Committee found that for eight years Nemeroff took money from drug companies like Cyberonics, Glaxo Smith Kline, and Pfizer. In exchange for payments and speaking fees, Nemeroff published favorable articles about drugs that these companies were bringing to market in Psychiatry journals (Nemeroff is of course a Professor in Psychiatry). In other words, Nemeroff was, for eight years, bought and paid for by the drug companies. (as an aside he also didn't disclose most of what he earned)

Ms. Ruiz was removed because the NIH had given Nemeroff millions in grants to run OBJECTIVE studies on many of these issues. By failing to find the conflicts, the money was essentially wasted. Ruiz, as the article illustrates, felt that investigating such conflicts of interest was not her duty or responsibility. The NIH disagreed and she was removed.

As for Nemeroff, he recently stepped down as Dean of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. He does however continue to maintain his professorship and six figure salary at Emory University. In other words, even though a Senate investigation clearly proves that Nemeroff used his position to corrupt, steal tax payer money, and most of create profit for himself at the expense of his craft, this is not enough for Emory to remove him. Furthermore, Nemeroff has an impressive list of awards and organizational memberships. The list is nearly one hundred and here is a snippet.

Current Editorial BoardsEditorial Board, Regulatory Peptides; Editorial Board, Synapse; Editorial Board, LIfe Sciences; Editorial Board, Advances in Neuropsychiatry and Psychopharmacology ; Editorial Board, Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences; Editorial Board, European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences; Editor-in-Chief, Neuropyschopharmacology; Editorial Board, Harvard Review of Psychiatry; Editorial Board, Psychoneuroendocrinology; Editorial Board, Journal of Psychiatric Research; Associate Editor,


Society of the Sigma XI, Society for Neuroscience, American Association for the Advancement of Science, New York Academy of Sciences, International Society for Psychoneuroendocrinology, American Society for Neurochemistry, International Society for Neurochemistry, The Endocrine Society

None of these societies and awards have been made aware of his corruption.

Moreover, according to this chain of emails, Dr. Claudia Adkison, a Dean at Emory's Medical School (as such one of Nemeroff's boss' since the college of Psychiatry is in the Medical school) freely admits to subverting the truth to reporters and attempting to sweep the story under the rug. Here are some of the most relevant quotes.

in working on handling the reporter I tried to make this story go away because Emory's name is in the middle of it


I am embarrassed and uncomfortable that I write to colleagues around the country to try to defend this when I know all the issues.

One of the recipients of these chain of emails is Dr. Tom Lawley, another Dean of the Medical school. Furthermore, according to other documents, Emory's higher ups, Lawley included, suspected that Nemeroff was being paid off as far back as 2000 and did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Neither Lawley nor Adkison have been disciplined in any WAY SHAPE OR FORM for their behavior. They continue to collect salaries estimated to be deep in the six figures. (Emory's tuition can run up to 40k per year for undergrads)

Finally, in 2004, then medical student Kevin Kuritzky was expelled from medical school at Emory University 41 days prior to his graduation. He had recently prior to that been approached and testified to investigators as part of Department of Health and Human Services investigation into poor medical care by Emory staff at both Grady Hospital and the V.A. Hospital. The stated reason for the expulsion was several tardies. Kuritzky continues to have a civil suit against Emory to this day.

My favorite Latin phrase is Res Ipsa Loquitor, the facts speak for themselves. When analyzing corruption, often that's the best way to look at the situation. In this case, the corruption is obvious. Emory's hands are all over it. The NIH had an incompetent employee and the employee was removed. Emory had a corrupt professor and he was merely asked to step down from his position as Dean. All those that looked the other way while he continued to commit this corruption faced absolutely no sanctions. Kuritzky attempted to shed the light on the very same type of corruption and he was dealt with swiftly. Who is corrupt here and how bad is the corruption? Like I said...Res Ipsa Loquitor.

Epilogue: I have recently attempted to make contact with both Lawley and Adkison and neither responded. Here are each of the two emails. First, here is my email to Dr. Adkison.

Dr. Adkison,

My name is Michael Volpe and I am a blogger at Recently, I was given the heads up about the on going investigation in the Finance committee of one of your professors, Charles Nemeroff. I wrote this piece last night.

In documents found on the web site related to this investigation in the finance committee is a chain of emails in which you are going back and forth between Dr. Nemeroff and your own superiors. In it, you stipulate that you have been attempting to quash the investigation. You admit that it is difficult to speak to colleagues from other schools knowing what you know. You are even once thankful that a reporter wasn't "sophisticated enough to ask the right questions". Do you believe that the sort of behavior you admit in this email is appropriate of a high level dean of your stature?

Furthermore, what are the "right questions"? I am curious given the obscene level of corruption discovered against Dr. Nemeroff why he continues to be employed. Is it really appropriate for your school to continue to give him a six figure salary? Furthermore, according to records on the site, you have had suspicions of this as far back as 2000. Yet, according to the Emory Wheel, your investigation continues to be ongoing. How long will your investigation last?

Also, in 2004, Kevin Kuritzky was expelled from Emory Medical school 41 days prior to graduation. I believe you had first hand knowledge of that situation. He was expelled for a few tardies. Why is Kuritzky expelled for a few tardies, while Nemeroff continues to be employed despite engaging in million Dollar corruption?

Given your admission that you were in fact attempting to subvert the truth from the media, is it really appropriate for you to stay on as Dean? Is a Dean that admits to running interference against the truth in an investigation involving millions of Dollars, corruption,fraud, and conflicts of interest? How can those that report to you have any confidence in your own leadership when it has been so clearly compromised by your role in this corruption.

Finally, I checked the website for the Emory Wheel and I notice that this story has been written about four times, and one of the pieces compliments that administration's response to this scandal. I was personally shocked when I found out the details. This, in my estimation, should be a story that is seriously investigated. Isn't the Emory Wheel the newspaper of record for all things Emory University? Why does this get so little coverage in a newspaper dedicated to keeping the students abreast of things that are happening on campus?

I would like to schedule a time for us to speak so you can clarify the issues I have raised in this email. Please let me know when you are available.


Here is the one to Dr. Lawley

Dr. Lawley, my name is Michael Volpe and I am a blogger. I was recently made aware of the corruption perpetrated by one of the professors under your command, Dr. Charles Nemeroff. I was tipped off to the story and wrote this about it.

On the website of the Senate Finance committee, I found a startling chain of emails in which Dr. Adkison is corresponding back and forth with yourself and Dr. Nemeroff. In this chain, she freely admits that she is engaging in subverting the truth of the matter from the media. She freely admits that Nemeroff did a lot more wrong than she is disclosing to the media. You received all of these emails. Why didn't you remove her immediately? Do you believe that it is proper professionalism for a Dean to engage in covering up the truth in a matter in which millions of Dollars have been corrupted?

Furthermore, the investigation makes clear that Nemeroff took money from drug companies, didn't disclose it, and didn't even report the full extent of it. While he has been removed from being the Dean of your psychiatry department, he continues to be a professor and collect a paycheck in excess of six figures. Is this what the massive tuition your institution charges should go to? Given what you know about Dr. Nemeroff's behavior why hasn't you and your entire university not informed the proper authorities so that an investigation can be started so that could eventually lead to his PHD status being removed? Do you think it is appropriate for a PHD to be bought and paid for by drug companies?

Furthermore, I know that in 2004 you were intimately involved in expelling Kevin Kuritzky from yur medical school. Your reasoning for this was that he was tardy to a number of classes. Are you then saying that Nemeroff should continue to be employed despite being involved in corruption worth millions of Dollars while Kuritzky should have been expelled because he was late to class a few times? Dr. Lawley, you are included in emails in which there is admission of a conspiracy to withhold the truth of crimes being committed. Doesn't this fact alone mean you are no longer fit to lead?

How can those underneath you possibly trust your leadership given how badly it has been compromised because of your involvement in this scandal?

Dr. Lawley's email is

and Dr. Adkison's email is

Always be respectful, but let them know how you feel about the corruption they are party to.

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