Ethically Challenged Psychiatrist Gets NIH Grant

If I had a list of favorite targets on this blog, Charles Nemeroff is near the top.  Click on his name to get a longer version of the following summary.

Nemeroff failed to report several hundred thousand dollars of speaking and consulting fees he received (total figures range from $800,000 to $1.2 million), as well as payments made to other psychiatrists.  This failure to disclose a possible conflict of interest is a serious ethical problem.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant Nemeroff had at the time was pulled, and his then-institution, Emory University, banned him from applying for funding for 2 years.  Nemeroff soon decamped for the University of Miami, possibly with an assurance from senior NIH staff that Nemeroff would be able to receive funding.  Slaps on the wrist all around.

Yes, I realize I am a hard-ass about this kind of thing, possibly unproductively so.  But with graphics and articles charting bad science, or un-replicable science, on the rise, scientists need to do better in resembling the high ideals of the profession and practice that are foundational to the trust placed in scientifically generated knowledge.  Incentives need to change so that the kind of conduct highlighted here and in those articles and graphics is dissuaded, not begrudgingly accepted.  Nemeroff doesn’t seem to have learned his lesson.  He didn’t lose anything from his bad conduct.

Per ScienceInsider and the NIH RePORTER database, Nemeroff has returned to the land of the grant-holders.  As of last week, he now manages a standard 5-year R01 grant, dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

While the ban from Emory would have expired prior to applying for this grant, I think the failure to disclose over a million dollars worth of payments that give the appearance of bias for Nemeroff and others deserved a bigger sanction.  I would be surprised if Senator Grassley doesn’t raise a stink about this, as he was involved in a 2007 Senate investigation connected to Dr. Nemeroff.

Sadly, it seems that Nemeroff’s failure to understand (or perhaps he understands all too well) the appearance of conflicts of interest has been forgotten by more than just the University of Miami and NIH.  Last month The Scientist reported that a petition was circulating protesting Dr. Nemeroff’s appointment to the Board of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (recently renamed the Anxiety and Depression Association of America).  The protest, if it attracted any attention at all, did not prompt the association to rescind the appointment.

Whatever happens, I continue to recommend that prospective psychiatry students stay far, far away from Nemeroff’s institution, the University of Miami.