Trust is everywhere in business. Without integrity, the whole system falls apart.

Investors trusted management at Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) and Citigroup (NYSE:C) to not make bad loans. They trusted management and the boards at companies like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) to not backdate strike prices for management's stock options. They trusted management at Enron and WorldCom, too.

They handed money over to Bernie Madoff, Nicholas Cosmo, and Arthur Nadel, expecting that the money managers would take good care of their fortunes. It didn't work out that way. The list could go on and on.

But sometimes companies get burned, too.

Unless you're an avid reader of Anesthesia & Analgesia -- show of hands! -- you've probably never heard of Dr. Scott Reuben. Allegedly, Reuben faked data in 21 articles published in scientific journals. Twenty-one! Yikes! The articles supported the use of drugs made by Merck (NYSE:MRK), Pfizer (NYSE:PFE), and Wyeth (NYSE:WYE). Pfizer even paid Reuben to be a spokesman.

I doubt the faked data will hurt the companies very much. Some of the articles were about Merck's Vioxx and Pfizer's Bextra, painkillers that have both been withdrawn, and it doesn't appear the faked results were the basis for any of the drugs' marketing applications.

The bigger problem is that faked data tarnishes the entire industry. The Food and Drug Administration has to trust the data that companies send it, just like investors have to be able to trust their money to managers who won't use it to live the high life. When one rogue doctor -- or a company like Ranbaxy -- fakes data, it hampers the progress of the entire industry.

I'm not sure where this country is going, but I worry that greed for money and fame will ruin us if it's not brought under control.

More Foolish commentary on trust:

  • Buffett and Madoff have some things in common.
  • The truth about Satyam.
  • You need to trust the management of the companies you invest in.

Pfizer and UnitedHealth are Inside Value selections. Pfizer is a former Income Investor recommendation. UnitedHealth and Apple are Stock Advisor picks. The Fool owns shares of UnitedHealth and used to own shares of Pfizer. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days

Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. We hope the Fool's disclosure policy helps you trust us.