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Whistleblowing in academic medicine
  1. R Rhodes,
  2. J J Strain
  1. Mount Sinai School of Medicine, CUNY, One Gustave L Levy Place, New York, NY 10029, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr R Rhodes
 Box 1108, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, CUNY, One Gustave L Levy Place, New York, NY 10029, USA; rhodessmtplink.mssm.edu

Abstract

Although medical centres have established boards, special committees, and offices for the review and redress of breaches in ethical behaviour, these mechanisms repeatedly prove themselves ineffective in addressing research misconduct within the institutions of academic medicine. As the authors see it, institutional design: (1) systematically ignores serious ethical problems, (2) makes whistleblowers into institutional enemies and punishes them, and (3) thereby fails to provide an ethical environment.

The authors present and discuss cases of academic medicine failing to address unethical behaviour in academic science and, thereby, illustrate the scope and seriousness of the problem. The Olivieri/Apotex affair is just another instance of academic medicine’s dereliction in a case of scientific fraud and misconduct. Instead of vigorously supporting their faculty member in her efforts to honestly communicate her findings and to protect patients from the risks associated with the use of the study drug, the University of Toronto collaborated with the Apotex company’s “stalling tactics,” closed down Dr Olivieri’s laboratory, harassed her, and ultimately dismissed her.

The authors argue that the incentives for addressing problematic behaviour have to be revised in order to effect a change in the current pattern of response that occurs in academic medicine. An externally imposed realignment of incentives could convert the perception of the whistleblower, from their present caste as the enemy within, into a new position, as valued friend of the institution. The authors explain how such a correction could encourage appropriate reactions to scientific misconduct from academic medicine.

  • Whistleblowing
  • research
  • ethics of research
  • research misconduct
  • Olivieri/Apotex affair

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Footnotes

  • This paper draws on an earlier publication by Rosamond Rhodes and James J Strain: Trust and transforming medical institutions, Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics2000;:–17.

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