Jeremy Laurance: 'It's an odd trial where you know the outcome before you start'

Medical Life

Doctors don't come much bigger than Joseph Biederman. He is one of the world's most influential child psychiatrists, and one of the most cited researchers on attention deficit disorder (ADD) in children. He has an ego in keeping with his reputation, as revealed in this exchange with a lawyer investigating his activities, who began by asking what title he held at Harvard University.

"Full professor," Dr Biederman answered.

"What's after that?" the lawyer asked.

"God," Dr Biederman responded.

"Did you say God?" the lawyer asked.

"Yeah," Dr Biederman said.

Delicious, isn't it? A moment to be savoured. In medicine, as in banking, the key to success is confidence, and this Dr Biederman has in spades. It makes him a force in the child psychiatry field. His work on ADD contributed to soaring levels of prescribing to children in the US and, to a lesser extent, in the UK. Critics claim we are drugging a generation of young people into submission.

It has emerged that Dr Biederman's involvement with the drug industry was rather closer than had been realised. Last year, an inquiry revealed he had earned at least $1.6m in fees from drug manufacturers from 2000 to 2007 but failed to report all but $200,000 of this income to university officials.

Now, Harvard and the National Institutes of Health have launched a new investigation, which has uncovered some slides Dr Biederman showed to drug company executives, outlining plans to test their drugs. One slide said the trial "will support the safety and effectiveness of [the drug] in this age group". Another, about a separate trial, said it would "clarify the competitive advantages of [the drug]" over its rivals.

It is an odd kind of trial where you know the outcome before you start. I was at a press briefing in London last week where a scientist patronisingly told a reporter that the point of a trial is that you don't know what you are going to find until you do it. It's a pity he wasn't able to pass on his wisdom to Dr Biederman.

Dr Biederman applied last week to the courts to have the documents containing details of the slides sealed, to keep them from prying eyes, according to 'The New York Times'. The lawyers, meanwhile, are continuing their investigations.

Whatever the outcome, the allegations raise uncomfortable questions. Most medical research is funded by the drug industry; there can be no other source for the vast sums required. Most researchers are impeccably honest. But a story like this shakes one's confidence – in a way Dr Biederman might find hard to imagine.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

    £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

    Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

    £23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

    Day In a Page

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...