Via “Kathy G.”:, this “WSJ article”: has to be read to be believed. Since most of it languishes behind teh paywall, I provide the selected highlights below.

The Journal of the American Medical Association, one of the world’s most influential medical journals … , says it is instituting a new policy for how it handles complaints about study authors who fail to disclose they have received payments from drug companies or others that pose a conflict: It will instruct anyone filing a complaint to remain silent about the allegation until the journal investigates the charge. … comes after JAMA was criticized for taking five months to acknowledge [a previous lapse] … AMA editors, in a rare online editorial posted Friday, criticized the actions of a Tennessee researcher, Jonathan Leo, who first wrote about the disclosure problem in another medical journal. Dr. Leo, a professor of neuro-anatomy at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn., alerted JAMA to the disclosure problem last October. …

The JAMA editors said Dr. Leo was guilty of a “serious breach of confidentiality” by writing about the problems with the JAMA study while the medical journal was still investigating the matter. After Dr. Leo wrote the letter to BMJ alleging flaws in the JAMA stroke study, JAMA editors contacted both Dr. Leo and the dean of his medical school, seeking a retraction. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, JAMA editor-in-chief Catherine DeAngelis called Dr. Leo “a nothing and a nobody.” In the editorial Friday, Dr. DeAngelis and co-author Phil Fontanarosa, JAMA’s executive deputy editor, said her comment about Dr. Leo “was erroneously reported” and that Dr. Leo “certainly is somebody doing something very important.” The dean of the medical school where Dr. Leo teaches said Dr. Catherine threatened in a telephone conversation earlier this month that she would “ruin the reputation of our medical school” if he did not force Dr. Leo to retract the BMJ letter and stop talking to the media.

In an interview Friday, Dean Ray Stowers said Dr. DeAngelis “flat out” threatened him and attempted to bully him during the conversation. The telephone call was followed by an email exchange. In a March 11 email, Dr. DeAngelis wrote to Dr. Stowers: “As I’ve already expressed to you, I don’t want to make trouble for your school, but I cannot allow Jonathan Leo to continue to seek media coverage without my responding. I trust you have already or soon will speak with him and alert me to what I should expect.” Dr. Stowers responded the next day by saying he couldn’t find any fault in Dr. Leo’s actions and pressed JAMA editors for more specifics on what they believed was wrong with Dr. Leo’s writing or actions. “I think this can be worked out without your continued threats to our institution which are not appreciated and I believe to be below the dignity of both you and JAMA,” he wrote. Dr. Stowers says he has not heard from JAMA since sending that email. Dr. Godlee said BMJ would not retract Dr. Leo’s letter because “there are no factual inaccuracies.”

Dr. DeAngelis, through a spokeswoman, denied threatening the dean. Dr. Leo said he received an angry call from Dr. Fontanarosa after his BMJ letter was published. “He said, ‘Who do you think you are,’ ” Dr. Leo said. “He then said, ‘You are banned from JAMA for life. You will be sorry. Your school will be sorry. Your students will be sorry.” Dr. Fontanarosa said Dr. Leo’s retelling of the conversation is “inaccurate.”

The earth shape controversy revived

by John Q on March 23, 2009

Just about everyone has already piled on to the latest development in the George Will saga – the Washington Post’s belated publication of an opinion piece by Chris Mooney and a letter from the World Meteorological Association pointing out (very politely) that Will was lying in every paragraph of his notorious piece on global warming. And just about everyone has the same take: in the absence of a retraction or correction, the Post is taking the view that Will is entitled to his own facts. (Here’s Matthew Yglesias, for example, and Mooney has a huge list of links at his site).

The absolute refusal of the Post to take a position on the truth or falsity of what it publishes (along with the continued scandal of anonymous sourcing) leads me to a steadily more negative view of the question of whether we actually need newspapers and whether we should regret their seemingly inexorable decline. The standard claim is that without reporters, we in the blogosphere would have no material to work on. But Will’s recycling of long-refuted Internet factoids (something very common among rightwing pundits in particular) shows that, in important respects, the opposite is true.

More importantly as far as political and business news goes, there is almost always someone with an interest in having any given story published. If newspapers are unwilling to take a stand on which stories are true or false, their only function is that of gatekeeper – determining which stories see the light of day and which do not. The potential for corruption in this role is clear, and the reality was obvious particularly in relation to the Iraq war.

Update Lots of readers have inferred that I welcome/wish for the demise of newspapers or opinion columnists. Actually, having written (and been paid for) an opinion column in a national newspaper for the past fifteen years, I am deeply ambivalent on the subject. On the one hand, the deplorable handling of issues like climate change (particularly in opinion pages, but to a significant extent in news as well) the early years of the Iraq war (if anything worse in the news pages than the opinion section), and the ‘inside baseball’ approach to political news in general leads me to think we would be better off without them. On the other hand, there’s obviously a lot to lose here, and it’s not clear how, if at all, some of it can be replaced.

Of course, what will happen will happen, regardless of what I think about it. But maybe if those making decisions about how newspapers are run think more closely about episodes like this one, they might see the need for change, and that change might enhance their chances of survival.