Saturday, September 11, 2010

White Coat, Black Hat: Conflicts of interest at the U

University of Minnesota bioethicist Carl Elliott's new book, "White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine" ( is already getting a lot of attention. (See the Periodic Table,, for some links and commentary.) Among other things, the book discusses the influence of pharmaceutical companies on clinical trials that take place on university campuses, including the University of Minnesota. In a riveting recent article in Mother Jones, Elliott uses the case of the death of UofM student Dan Markingson in a clinical trial conducted at the UofM to highlight the ethical issues that arise when universities compromise their ethics in pursuit of revenue. It also presents a stinging indictment of the U's abysmal record in investigating internal misconduct. Most shameful of all, the U filed a legal action against Dan Markingson's mother to recover $57,000 in legal expenses and only dropped the lawsuit after she agreed not to appeal the partial summary judgment. (The article is available for free if you register.)

Elliott was also interviewed recently on MPR:

The U, of course, has its lawyers hot on the case of disputing Elliott's work. General Counsel Mark Rotenberg issued the following statement this week:

(On Rotenberg's antics as General Counsel, check out these posts on Periodic Table:

The statement ends with a reference to the Academic Health Center's new conflict of interest policy. Aside from the issue of lack of consultation with faculty at the AHC regarding the policy, the new policy seems to have many substantive shortcomings.

One wonders if such a weak policy has the teeth necessary to prevent the conflicts of interest that may have contributed to the death of Dan Markingson.


  1. As the mother of Dan Markingson, I thank you for questioning the actions of some of the psychiatrists in the Department of Psychiatry. I, of course, am using the word 'questioning' lightly. I truly believe these doctors, and by association, the University of Minnesota, were responsible for Dan's death. Not a day goes by that I don't wish Regions Hospital had had a bed available for him. I believe he would have been properly 'treated', and not coerced into a clinical study, and that Dan would most likely today be alive and well.

    I owe Dr. Elliott a 'thank you', the extent of which cannot be conveyed here, but he knows how I feel. It is people like Carl, and Bill Gleason and those involved with the Faculty for the Renewal of Public Education that will change how things are done at the University of Minnesota. Albert Einstein said "the world is a dangerous place, not because of bad people, but because good people do nothing." Now good people are doing something!

    Thank you to all of you!

    Mary Weiss

  2. Talk about a whited sepulcher...

    What is it going to take at the U of M? If we have no integrity we have nothing.

    This whole situation makes me sick as a faculty member, as an alum, and as a citizen of the State of Minnesota. How can we, as faculty, continue to tolerate this disgraceful behavior?

    This is our president, and this is what he has said:

    "I think we need to put ourselves in the position of acting according to the highest ethical principles. I believe our people do that now and I believe our people will be doing that in the future as well." President Bruininks (Daily: 6-18-08)

    President Bruininks, you are a disgrace to the University of Minnesota

  3. After reading General Counsel Rotenberg's response to Carl Elliott's article in Mother Jones I searched everywhere I could think of trying to find any "landmark" publications naming the University of Minnesota's Psychiatry Department as having achieved anything of value for the advancement of treating mental illness. The overwhelming number of articles that named the Psychiatry Department were written by Medical Writing Consultants hired by the sponsoring pharmaceutical company and having the chair of the department sign his name. Most of the studies were nothing more than post approval studies designed to promote a drug. Perhaps a trip to Deihl Hall is in order to try and find any publication that acknowledges the Department of Psychiatry for anything beyond pharma marketing and putting on some entertaining CME'S.