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March 21, 2008
Pfizer Loses, So Far
I wanted to follow up on the post the other day about Pfizer's attempts to open up the editorial files in various scientific journals. The decision on the New England Journal of Medicine motion hasn't come down yet, but two others have.
And Pfizer's lost both of them. The district court in Chicago rejected the company's arguments to compel JAMA and the Archives of Internal Medicine to open up their records on papers concerning Celebrex or Bexxtra. The ruling held (correctly, in my opinion) that the possible value of these documents to Pfizer's case was more than outweighed by the harm that would be done to the journals by allowing access.
And as this story at the Science web site mentions, the NEJM case may well be about to go the same way. According to the journal's attorneys, Pfizer narrowed its request to just the peer-review comments returned to the authors of the manuscripts. That seems, at least to me, to weaken the argument that these documents are of such great value to their legal case, while leaving the problem of breaching confidential peer review.
At least I think it does - I assume that Pfizer wants names attached to these things, unless they can use them in their case without attribution. Even so, that still doesn't sound like something that'll make people enthusiastic about reviewing such papers - the prospect of having their comments read off in open court. No, I think that argument that sank Pfizer's requests in Illinois still obtains, and that the Massachusetts court will rule the same way.
So if this whole issue goes away, we can relax until the next legal inspiration hits. In the interim, I still think that Pfizer should at least be vaguely ashamed of having taken this road. A confidential poll of the company's own scientists would surely find that a solid majority of them would be opposed to the whole idea of legal discovery of peer review documents. (I say that because I've hardly talked to a single chemist or biologist who didn't think the same way). That said, there aren't many companies that size whose business decisions would all survive after polls among the scientific staff. . .
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