By PAUL THACKER
Over 290 documents uncovered by POGO during a ghostwriting investigation have been added to the Drug Industry Document Archive (DIDA), an online library of pharmaceutical documents housed at the University of California-San Francisco. The DIDA library was created in 2005 to help investigators and scholars comb internal corporate documents from large pharmaceutical companies.
These documents have revealed alarming practices by the drug industry, including questionable clinical trials and corrupt relations with doctors.
POGO sent the documents to UCSF after referencing them in a letter to the National Institutes of Health, asking that the agency stop funding academics involved in ghostwriting. The documents became public after they were dedesignated during litigation involving Paxil, an antidepressant sold by GlaxoSmithKline.
The DIDA library grew out of a concept established at UCSF called the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, an online database of over 13 million documents made public by the tobacco companies as part of their settlement with the federal government.
These documents are searchable and have proven critical for investigators trying to uncover corrupt activity by Big Tobacco. For instance, in a fit of insomnia in 2005, I was trolling through the archive late one night and found a Phillip Morris budget document with a line item for payment of $92,500 to Steven J. Milloy, who was the science columnist for FoxNews.com.
I later wrote an article for The New Republic, outing Milloy as a cheap, corporate trollop who used his perch at Fox News to harass legitimate scientists working to expose problems with tobacco and climate change.
James Hansen, a climate researcher at NASA and regular target of Milloy told me, "The question is, 'Why does a major news organization employ such a hack?'"
Milloy's humiliation was then trotted out for national discussion when PBS covered the affair for a documentary series on investigative journalists, which was picked up by affiliates across the country.
The Legacy Tobacco Documents Library also came in handy when I was helping journalist Mark Hertsgaard uncover the link between scientists paid by tobacco who then began taking payments from the oil and gas industry to undermine the science of climate change. Hertsgaard then scalped one of our nation's most esteemed scientists, Dr. Frederick Seitz, a former president of the National Academy of Sciences and President of the Rockefeller Institute.
According to the documents, Seitz earned approximately $585,000 for his consulting work for R. J. Reynolds, which helped to cast doubt on the dangers of smoking. One document in particular was pretty devastating.
In the late 80s, Dr. Seitz released his magnum opus on secondhand smoke for Big Tobacco, finding that ciggies weren't really all that bad for you. That same month, a tobacco executive sent a letter to one of his colleagues, revealing how little they thought of Dr. Seitz.
TO: Bill Murray
FROM: Alexander Holtzman
DATE: August 31, 1989
SUBJECT: Fred Seitz
I spoke to Bill Hobbs about arranging an appointment for you with Dr. Fred Seitz, former head of Rockefeller University and the principal scientific advisor to the R. J. Reynolds medical research program. Bill told me that Dr. Seitz is quite elderly and not sufficiently rational to offer advice. Bill said that he would strongly recommend your speaking to Dr. Alfred G. Knudson Jr. of the CTR Scientific Advisory Board.
Hertsgaard's investigation became the cover story for Vanity Fair. It was great day for Hertsgaard, and we shared more than a couple of laughs. But it was a sad day for science--the discovery that one of history's most venerated scientists had sold his dignity away like some sad, low-rent alley hooker, for little more than a pack of chewing gum and a pat on the head.
No offense to sad, low-rent alley hookers.
The newest library on drug documents, DIDA, is small and continues to grow as more documents are added. Spend a sec trolling online and see what scalp you might take.
Paul Thacker is a POGO Investigator.
Image by Flickr user adamcrowe, used under Creative Commons License.