Freddy Goodwin Hides Drug Company Funding from NPR audience

Dr. Goodwin sold his ethics, and NPR, for such small amounts.1 Petty greed. Is the money really worth it?

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An influential psychiatrist who was the host of the popular NPR program “The Infinite Mind” earned at least $1.3 million from 2000 to 2007 giving marketing lectures for drugmakers, income not mentioned on the program.

The psychiatrist and radio host, Dr. Frederick K. Goodwin, is the latest in a series of doctors and researchers whose ties to drugmakers have been uncovered by Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa. Dr. Goodwin, a former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, is the first news media figure to be investigated.

Dr. Goodwin’s weekly radio programs have often touched on subjects important to the commercial interests of the companies for which he consults. In a program broadcast on Sept. 20, 2005, he warned that children with bipolar disorder who were left untreated could suffer brain damage, a controversial view.

“But as we’ll be hearing today,” Dr. Goodwin told his audience, “modern treatments — mood stabilizers in particular — have been proven both safe and effective in bipolar children.”

That same day, GlaxoSmithKline paid Dr. Goodwin $2,500 to give a promotional lecture for its mood stabilizer drug, Lamictal, at the Ritz Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Fla. In all, GlaxoSmithKline paid him more than $329,000 that year for promoting Lamictal, records given to Congressional investigators show.

[From Radio Host Has Drug Company Ties –]

Kudos to Senator Grassley, by the way, who isn’t all bad.

My radio-listening mornings have been replaced by sleeping in, so I cannot verify or deny NPR’s claims to be canceling the show as soon as the current episodes are aired, but the controversy first emerged way back in May of 2008. NPR’s Ombudsman tried to spin the fact that technically, The Infinite Mind is not an NPR show:

But more importantly, the show didn’t disclose that the guests and host had some financial ties to makers of anti-depressants. “To me, it’s not terribly relevant whether there’s a clear scientific link between anti-depressants and suicide,” said Gary Schwitzer, publisher of HealthNewsReview, an independent website that evaluates health coverage. “Bill Lichtenstein does good work. But he should have disclosed the financial ties.”

One of the guests was Peter Pitts, a former Food and Drug Administration official. The show’s host doesn’t mention that Pitts is senior vice president for global health affairs at a public relations firm. That firm represents drug companies that make anti-depressants. Lichtenstein acknowledged that Pitts’ business ties should have been mentioned. He said Pitts didn’t disclose them while the Website Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, where Pitts is president, says he did.

“If we had known, and (full mea culpa here) we should have, we would have disclosed that connection,” wrote Lichtenstein in a response on Slate’s, The Fray. “Pitts apparently didn’t disclose it elsewhere, either – he’s appeared on NPR’s Talk of the Nation as well as PBS’ News Hour with Jim Lehrer, without either of those programs mentioning the PR company ties.” (Slate responded to Lichtenstein on May 12.)

Lichtenstein is correct about Talk of the Nation. Pitts appeared on the show in June 2005, one year after joining the public relations firm Manning Selvage & Lee, according to the firm. The call-in show identified him only as with the Pacific Research Institute, which lists itself as a non-profit educational charity promoting free market policy solutions.

Another issue is The Infinite Mind’s funding. According to Lichtenstein, he takes no more than 15 percent of the budget from any one sector. In 2006, he told me, the program got $100,000 from Eli Lily, which makes the anti-depressant, Prozac.

All that said: Is The Infinite Mind an NPR show?

Technically, it depends on what you mean by an NPR show.

but then recommended NPR add disclaimers:

a few things should happen. On NPR’s website listing “popular public radio shows,” NPR should make it clear which are distinctly NPR-produced shows and which ones are not. For instance, the site lists Prairie Home Companion and provides a link, even though the popular show is produced and distributed by American Public Media, a competing public radio service.

The Infinite Mind, particularly since it deals in the controversial world of science and medicine, should include information on its website about how it is funded. It should also add Peter Pitts’ public relations job to the link for the “Prozac Nation” episode and to any related transcripts.

Being upfront about real or potential financial conflicts of interest is key to establishing credibility. Financial associations don’t mean that experts should necessarily be disqualified as commentators, but the public must be told about them.

With the Internet, it is much easier for news operations to be transparent, and they should take advantage of the ability to be more transparent if they ever want to win back the public’s respect and trust.

Again, I don’t listen to the show, but it seems as if NPR never followed this advice:

Margaret Low Smith, vice president of National Public Radio, said NPR would remove “The Infinite Mind” from its satellite radio service next week, the earliest date possible. Ms. Smith said that had NPR been aware of Dr. Goodwin’s financial interests, it would not have broadcast the program.

and Dr. Goodwin was very concerned about maintaining his home in Aspen, and wasn’t going to let any damned ethics get between him and that sweet, sweet drug corporation cash…

In the fine print of a study he wrote in 2003, Dr. Goodwin reported consulting or speaking for nine drugmakers, including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Novartis. Mr. Grassley asked for payment information only from GlaxoSmithKline. Dr. Goodwin said that in recent years, GlaxoSmithKline paid him more than other companies.

He said that he had never given marketing lectures for antidepressant medicines like Prozac, so he saw no conflict with a program he hosted in March titled “Prozac Nation: Revisited.” which he introduced by saying, “As you will hear today, there is no credible scientific evidence linking antidepressants to violence or to suicide.”

That same week, Dr. Goodwin earned around $20,000 from GlaxoSmithKline, which for years suppressed studies showing that its antidepressant, Paxil, increased suicidal behaviors.

  1. well, $1,400,000 isn’t petty cash, but Dr. Goodwin wasn’t hurting for cash []

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