Monday, May 4, 2009

Gardasil and the Fake Medical Journal Scandal

By Kristin Johns @

Maybe this doesn’t really belong in a blog focusing solely on Gardasil and HPV, but my jaw hit the ground so hard when I read about this little shocker that I just can’t help myself. And it sure sheds a horrifying light on the lengths that Merck, the manufacturer of Gardasil, will go to for the sake of sales.

Turns out that Merck made up an entire fake medical journal for marketing its osteoporosis drug Fosamax.

Talk about a bone-headed (sorry) scam. The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine was published by Elsevier, famed for heavyweight scientific journals such as The Lancet, and contained favorable data for Merck products like Vioxx and Fosamax. According to, the journal so closely mimicked a traditional, peer-reviewed journal that one George Jelinek, an Australian physician and member of the World Association of Medical Editors, testified in court that "Only close inspection of the journals, along with knowledge of medical journals and publishing conventions, enabled me to determine that the Journal was not, in fact, a peer reviewed medical journal, but instead a marketing publication for MSD[A]" (a Merck subsidiary).

The Scientist’s information came from a look at testimony in a lawsuit filed against Merck by a man who believes his heart attack was caused by Vioxx. “The Federal Court has heard that Merck & Co "prepared and gathered" doctors and academics to write the company's own research on Vioxx, which was then published in prestigious medical journals as independent studies…The drug company also allegedly produced an entire journal—called The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine—and passed it off as an independent peer review publication,” reported The Australian on April 9.

The journal apparently had no acknowledgement anywhere in its pages that it was funded solely by Merck, and the editorials were basically summaries of the articles with scant references. In happy phrase, Honorary Editorial Board member and rheumatologist Peter Brooks admitted that he had in the past put his name on a few “advertorials.” Advertorials?

Oh, God. What have medicine, science, and indeed publishing, come to?

I want to believe in medicine and science, I really do. I want to be able to go to my doctor and believe what he says and take his advice. I want to believe that when our pediatrician advises me to get my girls that 3-shot series of Gardasil vaccinations, she’s read up fully on it in objective, well-written and peer-reviewed journals that cover properly-conducted trials. I want to believe that Merck genuinely tries to cure diseases, not just to make money hand-over-fist like some cheap Main Street emporium marketing fashion to gullible teenagers.

But good grief, they’re making it increasingly hard.

Luckily I know enough responsible, ethical scientists and doctors to know that the once-honorable traits of all-encompassing curiosity and genuine caring still exist. I’m pretty sure that my doctor wouldn’t dream of adding spurious medical credibility to “advertorials.”

But on my shelf, I have a little green bottle that I dug out of an ancient dump. Once upon a time, according to its raised lettering, it contained “Doctor Kilmer’s Swamp Root Kidney Cure." I’m starting to wonder whether a few of my medicines shouldn’t go up on that shelf right alongside it.

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