Harvard Psychiatry Fails Again


About a year ago I remarked upon the ethical tone deafness that characterizes Harvard psychiatry. It is bad enough that Harvard-MGH is the home of Joseph Biederman, MD, with whom Senator Grassley had so much fun a while back. Biederman is still in the news. It is also the home of Andrew Nierenberg, MD, who was rash enough to take on Marcia Angell in the New York Review over her well founded criticisms of the hyping and misuse of psychiatric drugs. In response, Dr. Angell handed Dr. Nierenberg his head.

Biederman and Nierenberg are not the only ones. When I called one of the senior Harvard professors, Carl Salzman, MD, to task for signing up a pair of compromised key opinion leaders as speakers in his annual Psychopharmacology Master Class last spring, I hoped the ensuing negative publicity would persuade him to go in a different direction next time.

No such luck! Today I saw the flyer for the 2012 Harvard Psychopharmacology Master Class. The list of speakers is virtually unchanged from a year ago. There is Charles Nemeroff. There is Alan Schatzberg. Both were outed by Senator Grassley’s investigation in 2008, and both were subjected to major administrative sanctions, by Emory University and by Stanford University. Other people now occupy the departmental leadership chairs they held in 2008. There also is a group of other key opinion leaders who appear content to endure the taint of sharing the podium with the compromised Nemeroff and the compromised Schatzberg. What are they thinking?

For that matter, what is the course director Carl Salzman thinking? A year back he said Nemeroff and Schatzberg would give great talks and that he would ensure they were objective and impartial. That’s not the point. The point is that they brought dishonor on our field, and for Harvard Medical School to give them this platform amounts to compartmentalizing information in service of their public rehabilitation. To repeat what I said a year ago, Adolph Hitler also gave a lot of speeches that received rave reviews, and compartmentalized information was widespread in the nation of Germany between 1928 and 1945. The best one can say about the upcoming course is that Biederman and Nierenberg are not on the program.

The Augean stables of psychiatry, at Harvard and nationwide, will not be flushed clean by the Carl Salzmans of our field, quibbling over legal technicalities while failing to see the ethical elephant in the living room.

For how long will the grownups at Harvard Medical School allow this farce to continue?