Tue, Jul 12, 2005 - Page 16 News List

Fake reasearch undermines scientific integrity

The pressure to publish and inadequate mentoring are among reasons driving researchers to fabricate their data


Also this year, Gary Kammer, a Wake Forest University rheumatology professor and leading lupus expert, was found to have made up two families and their medical conditions in grant applications to the National Institutes of Health. He has resigned from the university and has been suspended from receiving federal grants for three years.

In November, 2004, federal officials found that Ali Sultan, an award-winning malaria researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health, had plagiarized text and figures, and falsified his data -- substituting results from one type of malaria for another -- on a grant application for federal funds to study malaria drugs.

While recent cases have been high-profile, they are not unprecedented.

In 1974, William Summerlin, a top-ranking Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute researcher, used a marker to make black patches of fur on white mice in an attempt to prove his new skin graft technique was working.

His case prompted Al Gore, then a young Democratic congressman, to hold the first congressional hearings on the issue.

``At the base of our involvement in research lies the trust of American people and the integrity of the scientific exercise,'' said Gore at the time. As a result of the hearings, Congress passed a law in 1985 requiring institutions that receive federal money for scientific research to have some system to report rulebreakers.

David Wright, a Michigan State University professor who has researched why scientists cheat, said there are four basic reasons: some sort of mental disorder; foreign nationals who learned somewhat different scientific standards; inadequate mentoring; and, most commonly, tremendous and increasing professional pressure to publish studies.

His inability to handle that pressure, Friedman testified, was his downfall. At the time he started cheating, Friedman's reputation was tremendous and his work groundbreaking.

``And it was almost as though you're on a treadmill that starts out slowly and gradually increases in speed. And it happens so gradually you don't realize that eventually you're just hoping you don't fall off,'' he told a magistrate during a state hearing in 1995. ``You're sprinting near the end and taking it all you can not to fall off.''

He testified that he was working 80 to 90 hours a week, with patient visits, surgery, meetings and more. He did seek help, both from a psychiatrist, who counseled him to cut back, and from his boss, who demanded Friedman increase his research and refused to reduce Friedman's patient load.

As good as Friedman was as a doctor, surgeon and researcher, he was actually a lousy cheater. One thing that brought about his demise, in fact, was that the initials he used for fictitious patients were the same as those of residents and faculty members in his program.

Friedman was repentant once caught, and he resigned from his positions at both Brigham and Women's, and Harvard.

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