The AMA investigates Catherine DeAngelis and JAMA

Last week, there was a bit of a scandal of sorts over an editorial published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which I blogged about in a rather long post. The short version is that a flawed study that tested using Lexapro that neglected to report a rather important comparison that would have changed the conclusion to finding no difference between cognitive therapy and Lexapro in relieving the symptoms of depression after a stroke resulted in a complaint by Dr. Jonathan Leo of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, TN. Dr. Leo wrote a letter pointing inquiring about the “oversight” in the paper, while at the same time inquiring privately of the editors of JAMA about an undisclosed conflict of interest (COI) of the corresponding author that he had discovered with a simple Google search. It turned out that that author had been on the speakers’ bureau of Forest Laboratories, the manufacturers of Lexapro. Taking the lapse in reporting of a result that would have undermined the paper’s conclusion that Lexapro was the most efficacious means of treating post-stroke depression with the undisclosed COI, the whole paper smelled fishy. After five months, having heard nothing, Dr. Leo wrote a letter to BMJ “outing” the undisclosed COI.

The result? In a blatant display of intimidation more suited to the “guys named Guido” that she likes to joke about than to the editor of a major journal, Catherine DeAngelis, editor-in-chief of JAMA came down on Dr. Leo like a ton of bricks, with the assistance of her deputy Phil Fontanarosa. Her call to the dean was along the lines of, “Nice university ya got here; be a shame if something bad happened to it.” Meanwhile, Fontanarosa’s call to Dr. Leo was along the lines of, “You’ll never work in this town again,” as in threatening to ban him from JAMA for life. Now it appears that even the American Medical Association is fed up:

The American Medical Association said it has asked an oversight committee to investigate charges that the top editors of its well-known medical journal threatened a researcher who publicly faulted a study in the publication.

The move by the AMA follows criticism of the actions of top editors at the Journal of the American Medical Association, known as JAMA.

The AMA, in a statement, said JAMA operates with editorial independence. However, the association said it has “formally referred” the matter to a seven-member Journal Oversight Committee, comprised primarily of medical academics, to investigate the actions of JAMA editors. The oversight committee is a standing body that has editorial responsibility for JAMA, including evaluating the performance of the editor in chief.

It’s about time. Thuggish behavior such as that demonstrated by Catherine DeAngelis. coupled with her hypocrisy in bragging about how well JAMA polices its COI policy while leaning on an investigator who expressed legitimate concern about it is unacceptable. Worse, this appears to be a pattern of abusive behavior that risks completely undermining all the good she’s done in terms of pushing for more openness in reporting COIs.

Unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely that any such investigation will lead to the ouster of DeAngelis and Fontanarosa for the following reason:

Dr. DeAngelis declined to take the job as editor until an independent oversight committee was created and a two-thirds vote was required to dismiss her. Now, she said, she feels comfortable, saying that being editor requires someone “tough-minded, thick-skinned and tender-hearted.”

“Whaddatheygonna do? Take my job?” she asks, slipping back into schtick. “Go ahead. Take it.”

Anyone want to make any bets on what the findings of this independent review board will be or whether it will take any action?