Andrew Skolnick beards Dr Hari Sharma

Used with permission of the author

Sherilyn, The research at Ohio State University that Chopra is referring to was conducted by Hari Sharma, M.D. one of three coauthors of Chopra's "Letter from New Delhi" published in JAMA May 22/29,1991. To help you judge the value of Sharma's research, I'm copying below an article I posted to a.m.t last year.

I don't know about you, but when I find a researcher behaving this way, I move his Roladex card from the Roladex file to the "round file." Like many science writers, I believe that the work of scientists who disguise or lie about their financial ties to the products they're testing cannot be trusted. After all, this is the reason major science journals in recent years instituted conflicts of interest exposure policies -- to help readers judge the integrity of the research by identifying the financial ties or other substantial conflicts of interests the authors may have.

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Andrew Skolnick
I express only my own opinions, I do not express the opinions of any other individual or organization.

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Date: Tue, 8 Aug 1995 19:31:13 -0700
Message-Id: <199508090231.TAA08586@ix9.ix.netcom.com>
From: skolnick@ix.netcom.com (Andrew Skolnick)
To: Skolnick@ix.netcom.comStatus:
Status: RO

A Study in Alternative Truth

Like many TM promoters, Hari Sharma, MD, practices what(in the interest of avoiding another frivolous SLAPP suit) I'll call "alternative truth." Here's a good example of what I mean:

On May 22, 1995, just weeks before taking early retirement from Ohio State University, where he was professor of pathology, Sharma chaired a session on Maharishi Ayur-Veda at the First International Congress on Alternative & Complementary Medicine, in Arlington, Va. During his presentation, Sharma described the many health benefits of TM, and Maharishi Ayur-Veda products and services. At the end of the session, Ridgley Ochs, a science reporter for Newsday, went up to the podium to speak with Sharma. As any good journalist would, she asked him if he had received funding from the company that sells the products described in his report.

"No," said Sharma.

"Then who funded your research?" Ochs asked. "I receive funding from the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Foundation," he replied. Outraged by this obfuscation, I jumped in: "Yes, and Maharishi Ayur-Veda Foundation owns MAPI [Maharishi Ayur-Veda Products International], Inc, which is the company that sells the products described in your report."

"I do not know about that," Sharma said. "You certainly do know about that," I said. "You have a million dollar grant from the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Foundation, which owns the marketing company MAPI."

How do I know he "knows about that"? Because I have a copy of the results of Ohio State University's investigation of conflict of interest charges that were brought against Sharma in 1991. In the report, a university's Committee of Inquiry admonished Sharma for not disclosing a major grant from the foundation that owns the company that markets the products he studies.

Sharma looked surprised. He took a step forward to read my press badge, which read: "Andrew Skolnick, The Skeptical Inquirer" -- the publication for which I was covering the conference. Turning to his followers, he said, "Oh, this is that journalist who thinks there is something wrong in taking money for research."

"No, I do not think it is wrong for a researcher to take money," I said. "I think it is wrong for a researcher to take money and then to lie to journalists that they don't."

In response to a complaint from within the university community, Ohio State University appointed a Committee of Inquiry to investigate charges that Sharma misled the editors and readers of the Journal of the American Medical Association in his article on Maharishi Ayur-Veda, published in May 22/29, 1991. The committee concluded that Sharma did not deliberately mislead the scientific community, although it admonished him for not disclosing that he is funded by the foundation that owns the company that sells the products he studies.

In a December 9, 1991 letter to Ohio State's Dean of Medical Administration, Manuel Tzagournis, MD, Sharma protested the investigation, but obviously conceded knowing that MAF owned the marketing company MAPI, Inc., sole manufacturer and marketer of the herbal products he studies: "A question has been raised regarding conflict of interest since I am doing research on herbal compounds and receiving support from MAF. Many faculty members in the College of Medicine are doing research on pharmaceutical agents and are funded by pharmaceutical companies. Medical students are supplied with materials from pharmaceutical companies. The majority of CME [Continuing Medical Education] courses given by the College of Medicine are supported by pharmaceutical companies. Then why am I being singled out for this investigation."

In its report in June 1992, the Committee of Inquiry found that Sharma and his coauthors did indeed "sign a statement that each had no financial interest, including consultantships, in the content of the manuscript and that `all financial research or project support is identified in an acknowledgement in the manuscript.' None was identified in the manuscript." Indeed, in the signed statement, none of the authors identified any financial connections or other conflicts of interest, of which there were many (JAMA, October 2, 1991, pages 1741-1750).

The Committee of Inquiry said it was "troubled" by Sharma's failure to disclose receiving a [$1.2 million dollar] research grant [with the university receiving an additional $1 million] from Maharishi Ayur-Veda Foundation, which owns the company that sells the products Sharma touted in his JAMA article, "since the JAMA form [that Sharma signed] explicitly called for such disclosure."

After examining Sharma's explanation for why he failed to disclose this financial support and why he signed a statement that he received no such support, the committee recommended that the matter be dropped, but issued this "admonishment:"

"The Committee is somewhat concerned that there was no acknowledgement of the MAF grant support at the time of the appearance of [Sharma's] JAMA article. The JAMA disclosure form specifically states that `financial research or project support is identified in an acknowledgement in the manuscript.' To have left it out for the reasons given above is, in our opinion, a minor error of judgment in light of the appearance of a close relationship of MAF and MAPI. While the Committee is convinced that there was no intent on the part of Dr. Sharma to mislead, the omission could have lead [sic] to some misunderstanding of the relationships involved."

A University of Ohio source says that, as a result of this affair, the university has adopted ethical guidelines that more clearly define such conduct as improper and unacceptable.

Did Sharma learn anything from the admonition? Apparently not. Approximately 5 months after the committee's admonition, the journal Psychosomatic Medicine received a manuscript from Sharma and Charles N. Alexander, Ph.D., Maharishi International University, Fairfield, Iowa, entitled: "Research Review of Maharishi Ayur-Veda: A Multi-Strategy System of Natural Medicine. The article states that the work was supported by grants from the Lancaster and Maharishi Ayur-Veda Foundations, but does not inform the editors or readers that MAF owns the company that sells the cure-alls touted in the review. One of the outside peer reviewers pointed out this hidden financial connection and urged rejection. The journal did not publish the report.

(An interesting aside: This may be the same article that a TM lawyer tried to force Oncology Times into publishing. In a letter that threatened to do to Oncology Times what TM was doing to JAMA (SLAPPing the editors with a $194 million suit for defamation [which was dismissed wihtout prejudice nine months after it was filed]), the TM lawyer demanded that Oncology Times publish a 3000-word article or else it would be hit with a libel suit.

What had Oncology Times done to warrant this threat of litigation? The monthly newspaper published a single sentence stating that the "TM cult" was exploiting AIDS patients by selling "a variety of Indian folk medicines as replacement for the modern medicine it recommends stopping." Libel? In October 1991, the two top TM physicians of Great Britain lost their licenses to practice medicine for doing just that. On April 16, 1993, Keay Davidson, science writer for the San Francisco Examiner, reported TM's attempt to intimidate Oncology Times into publishing a MAV article. [Perhaps I can get permission to post Keay's article here if anyone is interested.])

Judging from Sharma's attempt to deceive Newsday reporter Ochs into thinking that his research is not funded by the organization that sells the products he touts, he has not taken Ohio State University's admonition to heart. Rather than deal honestly with reporters, editors, and the public, Sharma prefers to deny his financial connection to the marketers of the products he tests. When caught, he tries to shift the focus of the question to should researchers take money from commercial interests? -- a red herring question only he has raised.

Sharma would do better by addressing a different question: Sharma, if there is nothing wrong with your taking a lot of research money from the organization that sells Maharishi Ayur-Veda products (so you can study their products and travel about touting their wonders) then why do you keep telling journals and journalists that you do not receive such funding?
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Andrew Skolnick
I speak only for myself, not for any other individual or organization.
Copyright 1995, Andrew A. Skolnick