Birds of a feather at Brown University party for Martin Keller

A festschrift is defined by Wikipedia as “a book honoring a respected person, especially an academic, and presented during his or her lifetime,” usually on the occasion of the honoree’s retirement. Dictionary.com offers much the same definition for this term of German origin.

So it comes as bit of a surprise to see that Brown University’s School of Medicine is throwing a festschrift of sorts on October 8 to honor none other than Martin Keller, the former chief of psychiatry at Brown who is being investigated by the Senate Finance Committee for failing to disclose major conflicts of interest. As I’ve reported in Side Effects and my blog here and here, Keller not only failed to disclose the millions of dollars he received over the years from companies whose drugs he was studying and promoting in medical journals and at conferences. But there is evidence that Keller and his co-authors misrepresented data in a clinical trial of Paxil to make the antidepressant look safer and more effective than it really was. This trial, known as study 329 and funded by GlaxoSmithKline, was published in 2001 and used by the drug company to heavily market Paxil for off-label use in children and adolescents.

The festschrift for Keller at Brown’s Butler campus will feature a talk by none other than Alan Schatzberg, another disgraced former psychiatry chief (of Stanford) who, like Keller, stepped down after extensive publicity about his own conflicts of interest. What got Schatzberg into trouble was his failure to properly disclose the millions of dollars in stock he owned in a company whose drug he was studying and promoting; for more detail, see here.

Also presiding at the festschrift is Robert Hirschfeld, the chief of psychiatry at Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, which has had its own share of bad publicity (see here); and Lewis Judd, a former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, the federal agency that threw so much research money Keller’s way over the years despite his blatant conflicts of interest and the evidence of scientific misconduct.

All of which raises a number of questions in my mind. Why at a time of university budget cutbacks, is Brown spending good money to throw a party for Keller? And does he really fit the definition of a respected academic? I’ll leave that to you to decide.

All I can conclude is: birds of a feather do flock together.

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