The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘ethics’

The Situational Effects of Wealth and Status

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 6, 2012

From University of California Berkeley:

The upper class has a higher propensity for unethical behavior, being more likely to believe – as did Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street” – that “greed is good,” according to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley.

In seven separate studies conducted on the UC Berkeley campus, in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationwide, UC Berkeley researchers consistently found that upper-class participants were more likely to lie and cheat when gambling or negotiating; cut people off when driving, and endorse unethical behavior in the workplace.

“The increased unethical tendencies of upper-class individuals are driven, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed,” said Paul Piff, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley and lead author of the paper published today (Monday, Feb. 27) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Piff’s study is the latest in a series of UC Berkeley scholarly investigations into the relationship between socio-economic class and prosocial and antisocial emotions and behaviors, revealing new information about class differences during a time of rising economic tension.

“As these issues come to the fore, our research – and that by others – helps shed light on the role of inequality in shaping patterns of ethical conduct and selfish behavior, and points to certain ways in which these patterns might also be changed,” Piff said.

To investigate how class relates to ethical conduct, the researchers surveyed the ethical tendencies of more than 1,000 individuals of lower-, middle- and upper-class backgrounds. Volunteers reported their social class using the MacArthur Scale of Subjective Socioeconomic Status and filled out surveys revealing their attitudes about unprincipled behaviors and greed. They also took part in tasks designed to measure their actual unethical behavior.

In two field studies on driving behavior, upper-class motorists were found to be four times more likely than the other drivers to cut off other vehicles at a busy four-way intersection and three times more likely to cut off a pedestrian waiting to enter a crosswalk. Another study found that upper-class participants presented with scenarios of unscrupulous behavior were more likely than the individuals in the other socio-economic classes to report replicating this type of behavior themselves.

Participants in the fourth study were assigned tasks in a laboratory where a jar of candy, reserved for visiting children, was on hand, and were invited to take a candy or two. Upper-class participants helped themselves to twice as much candy as did their counterparts in other classes.

In the fifth study, participants each were assigned the role of an employer negotiating a salary with a job candidate seeking long-term employment. Among other things, they were told that the job would soon be eliminated, and that they were free to convey that information to the candidate. Upper-class participants were more likely to deceive job candidates by withholding this information, the study found.

In the sixth study, participants played a computerized dice game, with each player getting five rolls of the dice and then reporting his or her scores. The player with the highest score would receive a cash prize. The players did not know that the game was rigged so that each player would receive no more than 12 points for the five rolls. Upper-class participants were more likely to report higher scores than would be possible, indicating a higher rate of cheating, according to the study.

The last study found attitudes about greed to be the most significant predictor of unethical behavior. Participants were primed to think about the advantages of greed and then presented with bad behavior-in-the-workplace scenarios, such as stealing cash, accepting bribes and overcharging customers. It turned out that even those participants not in the upper class were just as likely to report a willingness to engage in unethical behavior as the upper-class cohort once they had been primed to see the benefits of greed, researchers said.

“These findings have very clear implications for how increased wealth and status in society shapes patterns of ethical behavior, and suggest that the different social values among the haves and the have-nots help drive these tendencies,” Piff said of the cumulative findings.

Paper: “High social class predicts increased unethical behavior,” by Paul K. Piff, Daniel M. Stancato, Stéphane Côté, Rodolfo Mendoza-Denton, and Dacher Keltner, PNAS (2012). (link)

NPR Marketplace Story on Paper.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Abstracts, Altruism, Distribution, Embodied Cognition, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Risky Situation of In-House Lawyers

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 19, 2011

Donald Langevoort recently posted his worthwhile paper, “Getting (Too) Comfortable: In-House Lawyers, Enterprise Risk and the Financial Crisis” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

In-house lawyers are under considerable pressure to “get comfortable” with the legality and legitimacy of client goals. This paper explores the psychological forces at work when inside lawyers confront such pressure by reference to the recent financial crisis, looking at problems arising from informational ambiguity, imperceptible change, and motivated inference. It also considers the pathways to power in-house, i.e., what kinds of cognitive styles are best suited to rise in highly competitive organizations such as financial services firms. The paper concludes with a research agenda for better understanding in-house lawyers, including exploration of the extent to which the diffusion of language and norms has reversed direction in recent years: that outside lawyers are taking cognitive and behavioral cues from the insiders, rather than establishing the standards and vocabulary for in-house lawyers.

Download the paper for free here.

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Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Law, Morality, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Memory and Morality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 18, 2011

Francesca Gino and Sreedhari Desai recently posted their paper, “Memory Lane and Morality: How Childhood Memories Promote Prosocial Behavior” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Four experiments demonstrated that recalling memories from one’s own childhood lead people to experience feelings of moral purity and to behave prosocially. In Experiment 1, participants instructed to recall memories from their childhood were more likely to help the experimenter with a supplementary task than were participants in a control condition, and this effect was mediated by self-reported feelings of moral purity. In Experiment 2, the same manipulation increased the amount of money participants donated to a good cause, and self-reported feelings of moral purity mediated this relationship. In Experiment 3, participants who recalled childhood memories judged the ethically-questionable behavior of others more harshly, suggesting that childhood memories lead to altruistic punishment. Finally, in Experiment 4, compared to a control condition, both positively-valenced and negatively-valenced childhood memories led to higher empathic concern for a person in need, which, in turn increased intentions to help.

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Download the paper for free here.

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Posted in Abstracts, Morality | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Why Do Lawyers Acquiesce in their Clients’ Misconduct? — Part IV

Posted by Sung Hui Kim on August 6, 2010

This is Part IV of my series, exploring the reasons why lawyers acquiesce in their clients’ frauds and other misconduct.  For background, please access Part I, Part II and Part III of this series.  In this segment, I will focus on the relationship between lawyers’ “role ideology”—normative visions about their professional role—and the inclination to “go along to get along” when their high status clients (or, more accurately, high-paying client representatives) want to engage in financial shenanigans that impact our capital markets.

Don’t think this is an issue?  It is now 2010 and we are still recovering from the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression.  No doubt, some lawyers looked the other way when their client representatives wanted to engage in deception.  The difficulty for researchers like me who want to learn more about this type of problem is that information about the lawyer-client relationship is ordinarily privileged (to be sure, there are a number of exceptions, e.g., the crime-fraud exception).   Luckily, we have the following story of the former associate general counsel of Lehman Brothers, based on some excellent reporting by James Sterngold of (Bloomberg) BusinessWeek, which you can directly access here: Lehman Bros. story.

But here’s a brief synopsis of the news story from BusinessWeek:

Oliver Budde faced a momentous life decision.  In February 2006, he had resigned from his position as associate general counsel from Lehman Brothers, a venerable (and publicly traded) investment bank in which he worked for nine years.  He had been disappointed with the lack of transparency in how his firm had disclosed certain long-term restricted stock units (RSUs) that were granted to senior executives, including former chief executive officer (CEO) Richard S. Fuld Jr.  After raising the issue with his superiors in the general counsel’s office, he was told that Lehman’s outside attorneys at a prestigious law firm had blessed the policy to exclude unvested RSUs from the annual compensation tables in the SEC filings.  Budde disagreed with this aggressive interpretation of the rules and voiced his objections.  Eventually, he quit the firm.

Later on that year, the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that it would require the clear reporting of unvested RSUs and other stock-based awards in public filings.  Eager to see if the firm would now fully disclose the controverted RSUs, Budde pored over the proxy statement released in March 2008.  “I looked several times, and my jaw just dropped,” he said.  “What happened to the RSUs?”

After performing some calculations, Budde determined that CEO Fuld’s compensation was $409.5 million, rather than the mere $146 million disclosed in the proxy statement.  Apparently, Lehman had counted only two of fifteen RSU grants. After considering his options, Budde decided to blow the whistle and report Lehman’s noncompliance to the SEC and Lehman’s board of directors.  On April 14, 2008, he sent a detailed two-page e-mail to the SEC’s Division of Enforcement.  After describing Fuld’s failure to disclose more than $250 million in RSU grants, Budde wrote:

The last thing the country needs right now is another investment bank in crisis.  I have wrestled with this over the past five weeks, since I first read the proxy.  This is not a shot at retribution, and I am in no way a disgruntled former employee (disappointed, even disgusted, yes).  I walked away freely from Lehman, and my ethical concerns in a number of areas were no secret to my superiors there. (Sterngold)

For his efforts, Budde received only a form “thank you” letter from the SEC.  His letters to the Lehman board were also ignored.  But Budde’s calculations were supported by a Yale Journal of Regulation article entitled, “The Wages of Failure: Executive Compensation at Bear Stearns and Lehman, 2000-2008” (Bebchuk et al.).  Of course, as it turned out, potential securities fraud was just one of the myriad problems afflicting Lehman at that time.  In September 2008, Lehman Brothers collapsed in the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. (Sterngold)

The Oliver Budde story raises a number of questions, the answers to which we still do not know.  One wonders: to what extent did the in-house and outside lawyers of Lehman Brothers (other than Budde) actively engage their client representatives (CEO Fuld among others) on whether it was ethically proper to exclude unvested RSUs from the annual compensation tables in the SEC public filings?  Setting aside whether it was explicitly required by the SEC regulations at the time, didn’t the concealment of material amounts of compensation cause the lawyers to at least pause and consider the ethical implications, especially in light of public furor over runaway executive compensation?

My guess is that if those lawyers paused, they didn’t pause for long.  It is likely that by the time this issue arose at Lehman Brothers, experienced lawyers had (more or less) fallen into the habit of analyzing ethical problems in a way that bleaches out the moral content.  Social psychologists call this gradual transformation “ethical fading.”

More provocatively and more generally, I wonder whether societal views about lawyers’ role can in fact contribute to lawyers’ acting unethically, which, of course, belies the notion that lawyers should be professionally independent from their clients.  I’d like to explore the issue of whether the normative visions of the lawyers’ role are the “dog wagging the tail” or the “tail wagging the dog.”

Role Ideology

Lawyers can be professionally molded to accommodate various conceptions of lawyering, with some conceptions creating greater pressures to align with clients than others.  The effect of all these alignment pressures (including the alignment pressures stemming from economic self-interest) is that lawyers’ ethical judgments will sway in the client’s favor.  (To be clear, I am focusing exclusively on lawyers who represent high-paying corporate clients.  I am fully aware that the opposite problem—lawyers exploiting or taking advantage of clients—occurs with many individual or less affluent clients.)

One key variable in determining the strength of an agent’s accountability to her principal is her understanding of the nature of her role as attorney and the ideological or normative commitments that such role entails – role ideology.  Ideologies about the law come with their own particular normative vision of lawyering and the lawyer’s role. Conversely, roles come “ready-made,” packaged by society, with their own sets of ideologies or “normative guidelines and values that give meaning and shape behavior.”  Even an ideology that purports to view the lawyer’s role in “morally neutral” or “agnostic” terms still makes a normative choice that we should view her role in such terms.

Role ideologies serve two functions.  First, they constitute nontrivial ex ante situational influences that define the universe of socially acceptable norms for that role, to whom or what the lawyer is accountable, and what degree of alignment to (or independence from) the de facto principal (i.e., the client representative) is socially appropriate.  When acting in accordance with a role, one simply acts as others expect one to act.  As put by philosopher Gerald Postema, “Although there is a personal or idiosyncratic element in any person’s conception, nevertheless, because the role of lawyer is largely socially defined, significant public or shared elements are also involved.”  Thus, socially defined role ideologies can lend ideological legitimation to a given style of lawyering (e.g., lawyering based on “client supremacy”), making it a more palatable option.  Over time, a lawyer may come to identify with a particular role ideology and come to believe that her unethical choices are in fact entirely consistent, and even possibly endorsed, by such role ideology.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, role ideologies can serve to legitimate any post hoc rationalizations of unethical behavior by framing the ethical problem in a manner that makes it more attractive to act unethically.  As Postema explains, “By taking shelter in the role, the individual places the responsibility for all of his acts at the door of the institutional author of the role.”  For the person who fully identifies with her role, the response “because I am a lawyer,” or more generally “because that’s my job,” suffices as a complete answer to the question “why do that?”  And cognitive dissonance theory predicts that when our internal attitudes do not correspond with our actions, then our internal attitudes are likely to shift to harmonize with our past actions.

In modern legal culture, various role ideologies are available.  At one extreme is the “officer of the court” view, the grand vision of a public-regarding role for lawyers that contemplates a broader professional obligation than to act only in the client’s (or the lawyer’s) self-interest.  Under this model, inside counsel, simply by virtue of being a lawyer, would be accountable not only to her client representative but also to the public. In this world, the alignment generated by accountability to the de facto principal might be partial (at best), since lawyers would not only have to consider management’s (perhaps fraudulent) goals but also the public welfare.  Of course, outside of the legal academy, most lawyers do not live in this world.

At the other extreme, the lawyer’s role is shaped by a “law is the enemy” or “libertarian-antinomian” philosophy (to use Robert Gordon’s nomenclature), which sees regulation contemptuously as nothing more than a tax on business, a hindrance to the wheels of private commerce.  This view is reflected in President Reagan’s inaugural address statements: “[G]overnment is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”  At Enron, such a view was endorsed by management: senior managers had conducted a skit in which one of the themes was deceiving the SEC.  Under this view, the lawyer’s role is to assist the client in devising creative ways to circumvent the law regardless of any harm to third parties or the underlying purposes of the law.  As the view that is most hostile to law, the alignment to the de facto principal (who favors unlawful actions) would be strong.

In the middle, two agency-centered conceptions characterize how many lawyers view their role. One traditional conception of lawyering that has found tremendous longstanding support by the organized bar and the rules of professional ethics is that the lawyer should be committed to the “aggressive and single-minded pursuit of the client’s objectives” within, but all the way up to, the limits of the law.  Her zealous advocacy should not be constrained by her own moral sentiments or commitments but only the “objective, identifible bounds of the law.”  Thus, under this model of partisan loyalty, the lawyer is instructed to interpret legal boundaries from the perspective of maximizing client interest.  In this client-centered world, the alignment to the de facto principal would also be strong.

Another middle-of-the-road ideology is the “agnostic” view that law is a “neutral constraint,” and – accordingly — the lawyer’s role is that of an amoral risk-assessor.  This view is characterized by the lack of moral imperative to comply with the law and the lawyer’s moral detachment from the law.  The lawyer’s role is diminished to that of a counselor who games the rules to work around the constraints and lower “tariffs” or “taxes” as much as possible.  While this view is not openly hostile to the law, it is not respectful of and thus corrodes the legitimating force of the law.  The lack of moral imperative to observe the law means that noncompliance is a feasible, even reasonable, business option.

Which role ideologies predominate in today’s corporate legal practice?  In my view, one can find empirical evidence of all these role ideologies with different lawyers and in different contexts.  That said, I think the two middle-of-the-road ideologies dominate modern corporate representation.  You will find the “zealous advocate” model being emulated in litigation practice.  The image and rhetoric of the “zealous advocate” also get invoked every time the legal profession fends off external regulation (e.g., regulatory attempts by the SEC).  (See Lawyer Exceptionalism in the Gatekeeping Wars for more on the external regulation of the American bar.)  You will also find a variant of the “zealous advocate” model that substitutes “adversarialism” with “entrepeneurialism” among transactional lawyers who believe that they are “greasing the wheels of commerce.”  And, in my opinion, you will find many lawyers who view themselves as amoral risk-assessors.  Any of these normative visions of lawyering can be stretched to accommodate unethical behavior.

My guess is that those lawyers who accommodated Lehman Brothers’ desire to be less transparent in their public filings were (at least for the moment) adopting something close to the amoral risk-assessor model (which, frankly, is easy to do in highly technical fields like securities regulation or tax).  In short, they were “just providing advice,” telling clients what the pros and cons of a proposed course of action are and then leaving it to the clients to make the final call, even if that final decision is unethical and/or requires the lawyer’s full-blown assistance to implement.  Many lawyers feel they can engage in this ethical division of labor (“so long as I give accurate advice and not encourage you to break the law, you can do what you want”).

But are these role ideologies the dog wagging the tail or the tail wagging the dog?  This question invariably invokes a longstanding debate in social psychology about the extent to which “reasoned deliberation” influences behavior.  Some think reason plays a large role in explaining human behavior.  Others, like psychologist Jonathan Haidt at Virginia, think that reasons—or more accurately—culturally supplied explanations are more likely to be the rational tail wagging the emotional dog, in other words, a post-hoc construction intended to justify more automatic—and typically, self-interested—judgments.  But Haidt qualifies this position.  He says that since we are highly attuned to group norms (and subject to strong conformity pressures), we are much less likely to engage in conduct that clearly violates those norms.  Accordingly, explicit moral reasoning plays an ex ante role in societies by defining what is or is not acceptable behavior.

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For a more thorough treatment of this topic, please read my more comprehensive works, The Banality of Fraud: Re-Situating the Inside Counsel as Gatekeeper, Gatekeepers Inside Out, and my most recently published article – Lawyer Exceptionalism in the Gatekeeping Wars—which relies on insights from cognitive science to explain why the rhetoric of lawyer exceptionalism, invoked when the legal profession fends off external regulation, is nonetheless so appealing.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see Part I, Part II and Part III of this series and “How Situational Self-Schemas Influence Disposition,” “Categorically Biased – Abstract,” “The Situation of John Yoo and the Torture Memos,”  “The Affective Situation of Ethics and Mediation,” On the Ethical Obligations of Lawyers,” “From Heavens to Hells to Heroes – Part II,” Person X Situation X System Dynamics,” “Situation” Trumps “Disposition” – Part I & Part II,” andThe Need for a Situationist Morality.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Ideology, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Affective Situation of Ethics and Mediation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 29, 2010

Ellen Waldman recenly posted her thoughtful article, “Mindfulness, Emotions, and Ethics: The Right Stuff?” (Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2010) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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What role do emotions play in ethical decision-making? Philosophers have long debated the question, disagreeing about both the nature of “the good” and how best to achieve it. Rationalists ground one’s capacity for virtue in logic and deliberate cognition, while moral intuitionists look to one’s capacity for feeling deeply. Immanuel Kant, for example, maintained that right conduct flowed from a sense of duty that functioned independently of emotion. Conversely, David Hume argued that all right action involved sentiment and that reason, stripped of passion, could not impel ethical choice.

Philosophers are not alone in their fascination with the question. Psychologists also have delved into the relationship between emotion and moral development, creating varying models of maturation that either embrace or reject emotion as a critical component of moral discernment. Today, debates in the “soft sciences” of the mind spill into the “hard sciences” of the body. Interest in the biological bases of emotion invigorates neuroscience, and developments in functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRI) promise methods for mapping the synaptic pathways that induce affective states. Although we can now detect activity in portions of the brain associated with emotional experience, it remains unclear whether those electrical surges push us in “right” or “wrong” directions.

In the mediation world, scholars and practitioners frequently treat emotion as the unruly step-child of the problem-solving mind. Professor Leonard Riskin characterizes emotion as a potential negotiation saboteur and offers “mindful practice” as a useful corrective. He argues that mindful mediation can help negotiators gain better control over their wandering minds and negative emotions, and achieve more satisfying, interest-based solutions.

This essay celebrates Riskin’s call to arms while suggesting some limits to what mindfulness can achieve in the ethical realm. It examines in more detail the relationship Riskin posits between mindful practice and ethical decision-making. It discusses recent developments in neuroethics that imply a prominent role for emotions in establishing ethical restraint. It also surveys a growing body of evidence that suggests the directive power of our emotions remains largely hidden from and impervious to the control of our “reasoning” selves. Lastly, it examines what Riskin has, in an earlier work, described as the ethical “hard case” in light of recent explorations into the emotional wellsprings of deontological versus consequentialist thinking. Although the mediation community need not wade deeply into the debates currently roiling social psychologists, it is useful to reflect on the genesis of our ethical commitments and whether they continue to serve the field’s long-term goals and interests.

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You can download the article for free, here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Legal Ethics,” “Blind to our Situational Blindness,” “Mood and Moral Judgment,” Law, Psychology & Morality – Abstract,” “Situating Emotion,” “The Motivated Situation of Morality,” and “Moral Psychology Primer.”

Posted in Abstracts, Book, Emotions, Morality, Neuroscience, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Lawyers’ Complicity

Posted by The Situationist Staff on November 13, 2009

LawyerCassandra Burke Robertson recently posted her intriguing article, “Judgment, Identity, and Independence” (Connecticut Law Review, 2009) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Whenever a new corporate or governmental scandal erupts, onlookers ask “Where were the lawyers?” Why would attorneys not have advised their clients of the risks posed by conduct that, from an outsider’s perspective, appears indefensible? When numerous red flags have gone unheeded, people often conclude that the lawyers’ failure to sound the alarm must be caused by greed, incompetence, or both. A few scholars have suggested that unconscious cognitive bias may better explain such lapses in judgment, but they have not explained why particular situations are more likely than others to encourage such bias. This article seeks to fill that gap. Drawing on research from behavioral and social psychology, it suggests that lawyers’ apparent lapses in judgment may be caused by cognitive biases arising from partisan kinship between lawyer and client. The article uses identity theory to distinguish particular situations in which attorney judgment is likely to be compromised, and it recommends strategies to enhance attorney independence and minimize judgment errors.

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You can download the article for free here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Gatekeepers Inside Out – Abstract,” “The Situation of Lawyers and Practicing Law,” Law, Chicken Sexing, Torture Memo, and Situation Sense,” The Situation of John Yoo and the Torture Memos,” “Why Do Lawyers Acquiesce In Their Clients’ Misconduct?,” Part I, Part II, and Part III, “The Illusion of Wall Street Reform,” “On the Ethical Obligations of Lawyers: Are We Snakes? Are We Supposed to Be?.”

Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Law, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Situation of Medical Research

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 15, 2008

Harvard Veritas Image by neutralSurfaceGardiner Harris and Benedict Carey wrote an article in last week’s New York Times includes, titled Researchers Fail to Reveal Full Drug Pay.“ In it , they describe yet another instance of industry influence over what research and manipulation of the marketplace of ideas. We’ve included a few excerpts from the story below.

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A world-renowned Harvard child psychiatrist whose work has helped fuel an explosion in the use of powerful antipsychotic medicines in children earned at least $1.6 million in consulting fees from drug makers from 2000 to 2007 but for years did not report much of this income to university officials, according to information given Congressional investigators.

By failing to report income, the psychiatrist, Dr. Joseph Biederman, and a colleague in the psychiatry department at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Timothy E. Wilens, may have violated federal and university research rules designed to police potential conflicts of interest, according to Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa. Some of their research is financed by government grants.

Like Dr. Biederman, Dr. Wilens belatedly reported earning at least $1.6 million from 2000 to 2007, and another Harvard colleague, Dr. Thomas Spencer, reported earning at least $1 million after being pressed by Mr. Grassley’s investigators. But even these amended disclosures may understate the researchers’ outside income because some entries contradict payment information from drug makers, Mr. Grassley found.

In one example, Dr. Biederman reported no income from Johnson & Johnson for 2001 in a disclosure report filed with the university. When asked to check again, he said he received $3,500. But Johnson & Johnson told Mr. Grassley that it paid him $58,169 in 2001 . . . .

The Harvard group’s consulting arrangements with drug makers were already controversial because of the researchers’ advocacy of unapproved uses of psychiatric medicines in children.

In an e-mailed statement, Dr. Biederman said, “My interests are solely in the advancement of medical treatment through rigorous and objective study,” and he said he took conflict-of-interest policies “very seriously.” Drs. Wilens and Spencer said in e-mailed statements that they thought they had complied with conflict-of-interest rules.

John Burklow, a spokesman for the National Institutes of Health, said: “If there have been violations of N.I.H. policy — and if research integrity has been compromised — we will take all the appropriate action within our power to hold those responsible accountable. This would be completely unacceptable behavior, and N.I.H. will not tolerate it.”

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Alyssa Kneller, a Harvard spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement: “The information released by Senator Grassley suggests that, in certain instances, each doctor may have failed to disclose outside income from pharmaceutical companies and other entities that should have been disclosed.”

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Dr. Biederman is one of the most influential researchers in child psychiatry and is widely admired for focusing the field’s attention on its most troubled young patients. Although many of his studies are small and often financed by drug makers, his work helped to fuel a controversial 40-fold increase from 1994 to 2003 in the diagnosis of pediatric bipolar disorder, which is characterized by severe mood swings, and a rapid rise in the use of antipsychotic medicines in children. The Grassley investigation did not address research quality.

Doctors have known for years that antipsychotic drugs, sometimes called major tranquilizers, can quickly subdue children. But youngsters appear to be especially susceptible to the weight gain and metabolic problems caused by the drugs, and it is far from clear that the medications improve children’s lives over time, experts say.

In the last 25 years, drug and device makers have displaced the federal government as the primary source of research financing, and industry support is vital to many university research programs. But as corporate research executives recruit the brightest scientists, their brethren in marketing departments have discovered that some of these same scientists can be terrific pitchmen.

pharmaceutical - istockTo protect research integrity, the National Institutes of Health require researchers to report to universities earnings of $10,000 or more per year, for instance, in consulting money from makers of drugs also studied by the researchers in federally financed trials. Universities manage financial conflicts by requiring that the money be disclosed to research subjects, among other measures.

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Universities ask professors to report their conflicts but do almost nothing to verify the accuracy of these voluntary disclosures.

“It’s really been an honor system thing,” said Dr. Robert Alpern, dean of Yale School of Medicine. “If somebody tells us that a pharmaceutical company pays them $80,000 a year, I don’t even know how to check on that.”

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In the past decade, Dr. Biederman and his colleagues have promoted the aggressive diagnosis and drug treatment of childhood bipolar disorder, a mood problem once thought confined to adults. They have maintained that the disorder was underdiagnosed in children and could be treated with antipsychotic drugs, medications invented to treat schizophrenia.

Other researchers have made similar assertions. As a result, pediatric bipolar diagnoses and antipsychotic drug use in children have soared. Some 500,000 children and teenagers were given at least one prescription for an antipsychotic in 2007, including 20,500 under 6 years of age, according to Medco Health Solutions, a pharmacy benefit manager.

Few psychiatrists today doubt that bipolar disorder can strike in the early teenage years, or that many of the children being given the diagnosis are deeply distressed.

“I consider Dr. Biederman a true visionary in recognizing this illness in children,” said Susan Resko, director of the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation, “and he’s not only saved many lives but restored hope to thousands of families across the country.”

Longtime critics of the group see its influence differently. “They have given the Harvard imprimatur to this commercial experimentation on children,” said Vera Sharav, president and founder of the Alliance for Human Research Protection, a patient advocacy group.

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Controlling for bias is especially important in such work, given that the scale is subjective, and raters often depend on reports from parents and children, several top psychiatrists said.

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“The price we pay for these kinds of revelations is credibility, and we just can’t afford to lose any more of that in this field,” said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, executive director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute, which finances psychiatric studies. “In the area of child psychiatry in particular, we know much less than we should, and we desperately need research that is not influenced by industry money.”

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The entire article is here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of University Research,” The company ‘had no control or influence over the research’ . . . .,” Deep Capture – Part VII,” “Promoting Smoking through Situation,” “Industry-Funded Research,” “Industry-Funded Research – Part II,” and “Captured Science.”

Posted in Deep Capture, Education, Food and Drug Law, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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