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Professor served cease and desist after publishing journal article

Prof.’s class canceled, letter requests prof. removes Brown affiliation from paper

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, March 13, 2020

The U. Grievance Committee found that the circumstances surrounding the cancellation of Egilman’s class were “inherently suspicious.”

In 2017, David Egilman ’74 MD’78, clinical professor of family medicine at Warren Alpert Medical School, published a peer-reviewed paper that accused a Johnson & Johnson company of publishing a poorly designed study. Since then, Egilman has received a cease-and-desist letter from the University, his long-running class has been canceled and the University Grievance Committee has conducted an investigation and filed a report with the administration, according to the grievance committee report.

Egilman published a paper titled “Grave fraudulence in medical device research: a narrative review of the PIN seeding study for the Pinnacle hip system” in the journal “Accountability in Research” in December 2017. According to the paper’s findings, a study conducted by DePuy Synthes, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, had been a covert “seeding trial,” which aimed to generate data for marketing their Pinnacle hip replacement system rather than study empirical results of the product’s use.

After the paper was published, Egilman told The Herald that an employee of Johnson & Johnson asked “Accountability in Research” to retract the paper, alleging that Egilman’s role as a paid expert witness against DePuy in a previous class action lawsuit corrupted the paper’s findings. Plaintiffs alleged that they were injured by the hip replacement technology.

Egilman and the paper’s other authors disclosed in the journal article that they were not compensated for their work on the paper and the lawyers for the injured plaintiffs in the suit had no input on the paper’s content.

“Accountability in Research” conducted an internal review based on Johnson & Johnson’s allegations, and “found no grounds for retraction” of the paper, according to the University grievance report reviewed by The Herald. “Accountability in Research” and DePuy did not respond to requests for comment.

In January 2019, Executive Dean of Administration for the Med School Kimberly Galligan sent Egilman a cease-and-desist letter, which was obtained by The Herald. The letter requested that Egilman remove his Brown affiliation from his publication in “Accountability in Research.” It also requested he disclose when his research was not a product of his work at Brown on future papers, in accordance with University policy.

Galligan declined to comment due to the confidentiality of personnel matters.

The grievance committee found that Galligan’s request that Egilman remove his University affiliation from his publications was arbitrary and “in express violation of University policy that states that faculty involved in outside activities may reference their Brown appointments in publications,” and that the removal of Egilman’s course was largely due to misinformation, according to its report.

According to the grievance report, several deans of the School of Public Health decided that Egilman’s course, PHP 1050: “Science and Power: The Corruption of Public Health,” would no longer be offered because, in their understanding, Egilman was to be terminated and removed from the faculty of the University in relation to the journal publication. Egilman said he had taught the course multiple times, beginning in 1987.

Following the removal of his class and the cease-and-desist letter, Egilman said that he filed a complaint with the American Association of University Professors and with the University Grievance Committee, alleging “violations of Academic Freedom arising from undue corporate influence on his research and teaching activities,” according to the grievance committee’s report.

“We fully and unequivocally reject any suggestion of any external influence at all on our process or decision-making,” University spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald. “Decisions on faculty appointments, research by Brown scholars (and/or) courses offered on campus are in no case influenced by corporations. The University’s actions and decisions related to this grievance would have been no different if the journal article in question were on any other topic,” he wrote.

In response to the grievance report, the University is “beginning the process to outline … expanded guidance … to clinical faculty on how and when to appropriately list their Brown affiliation,” Clark wrote. “The University is fully confident in the decisions made in this recent grievance matter,” Clark added.

While the committee did not find direct evidence of corporate influence in the University’s actions, it wrote that it found the decisions to be “inherently suspicious and (they open) the door to the perception of corporate influence.”

The committee recommended that the cease-and-desist letter be retracted and that Egilman’s ENVS 1552: “Science and Power: The Corruption of Environmental Health” course be reconsidered for registration by the School of Public Health Curriculum Committee, according to the grievance committee’s report. The University did not respond to whether or not the recommendations were followed.

Egilman had submitted a proposal for this new course in the environmental studies department to be taught in spring 2020. But, Egilman said he chose to cancel the course from fear of being removed from the faculty before the course’s conclusion.

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  1. History might not repeat itself, but Brown University School of Public Health sure likes to rhyme: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1179/oeh.1998.4.1.19

    (In short: In 1997 Brown attempted to silence David G. Kern, who revealed conditions in a factory owned by a major corporate donor posed a cancer risk to workers.)

    Could the BDH either interview David Kern, or solicit an op-ed from him?

  2. Ivan Woalkey says:

    This peace is alarming at the very least. Yes, please interview David Kern.

  3. Professor Egilman’s original article was right in pointing out that the study was intended for marketing purposes, and was not a ‘valid’ scientific article. As a former top medical device manager myself (Boston Scientific), and medical device VC, I concur that there needs to be a firm differentiation between evidence levels and scientific relevance explicitly identified in such articles.
    As to Brown’s behavior, it was execrable. Such cowards to hide behind anonymous decisions, to bow to J&J, to ignore the facts behind Egilman’s accusations. Shame on you, Brown! Come out from the darkness, identify yourselves, and apologize for your cowardice.
    John Lonergan, AB ’72, Harvard MBA ’76

  4. Heidi Brown says:

    This article is thoroughly disheartening. I took a course with Professor Egilman in the late 1990s as an undergrad and it’s changed the way I think and practice medicine. I hope Brown recognizes his value and continues to let him teach our future physicians and public and environmental health professionals.

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