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
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker / Trainee Broker / Closer - OTE £250,000

    £30000 - £250000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker/ Trainee FX, Stoc...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL)

    £30 - 40k + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / ...

    Recruitment Genius: ICT Operations Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is the single governing and regul...

    Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This high quality thread manufa...

    Day In a Page

    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935