- Allegations of misconduct by U.S. researchers reached
record highs last year as the Department of Health and Human Services received
274 complaints - 50 percent higher than 2003 and the most since 1989 when
the federal government established a program to deal with scientific misconduct.
- Chris Pascal, director of the federal Office of Research
Integrity, said its 28 staffers and $7 million annual budget haven't kept
pace with the allegations. The result: Only 23 cases were closed last year.
Of those, eight individuals were found guilty of research misconduct. In
the past 15 years, the office has confirmed about 185 cases of scientific
- Research suggests this is but a small fraction of all
the incidents of fabrication, falsification and plagiarism. In a survey
published June 9 in the journal Nature, about 1.5 percent of 3,247 researchers
who responded admitted to falsification or plagiarism. (One in three admitted
to some type of professional misbehavior.)
- On the night of his 12th wedding anniversary, Dr. Andrew
Friedman was terrified.
- This brilliant surgeon and researcher at Brigham and
Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School feared that he was about to
lose everything - his career, his family, the life he'd built - because
his boss was coming closer and closer to the truth:
- For the past three years, Friedman had been faking -
actually making up - data in some of the respected, peer-reviewed studies
he had published in top medical journals.
- "It is difficult for me to describe the degree of
panic and irrational thought that I was going through," he would later
tell an inquiry panel at Harvard.
- On this night, March 13, 1995, he had been ordered in
writing by his department chair to clear up what appeared to be suspicious
- But Friedman didn't clear things up.
- "I did something which was the worst possible thing
I could have done," he testified.
- He went to the medical record room, and for the next
three or four hours he pulled out permanent medical files of a handful
of patients. Then, covered up his lies, scribbling in the information he
needed to support his study.
- "I created data. I made it up. I also made up patients
that were fictitious," he testified.
- Friedman's wife met him at the door when he came home
that night. He wept uncontrollably. The next morning he had an emergency
appointment with his psychiatrist.
- But he didn't tell the therapist the truth, and his lies
continued for 10 more days, during which time he delivered a letter, and
copies of the doctored files, to his boss. Eventually he broke down, admitting
first to his wife and psychiatrist, and later to his colleagues and managers,
what he had been doing.
- Friedman formally confessed, retracted his articles,
apologized to colleagues and was punished. Today he has resurrected his
career, as senior director of clinical research at Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical
Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company.
- He refused to speak with the Associated Press. But his
case, recorded in a seven-foot-high stack of documents at the Massachusetts
Board of Registration in Medicine, tells a story of one man's struggle
with power, lies and the crushing pressure of academia.
- Some other cases have made headlines:
- _On July 18, Eric Poehlman, once a prominent nutrition
researcher, will be sentenced in federal court in Vermont for fabricating
research data to obtain a $542,000 federal grant while working as a professor
at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. He faces up to five years
in prison. Poehlman, 49, made up research between 1992 and 2000 on issues
like menopause, aging and hormone supplements to win millions of dollars
in grant money from the federal government. He is the first researcher
to be permanently barred from ever receiving federal research grants again.
- In 2001, while he was being investigated, Poehlman left
the medical school and was awarded a $1 million chair in nutrition and
metabolism at the University of Montreal, where officials say they were
unaware of his problems. He resigned in January when his contract expired.
- _In March, Dr. 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 Dr.
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. When brought before
an inquiry committee, Sultan tried to pin the blame on a postdoctoral student.
Sultan resigned and is now a faculty member at Weill Cornell Medical College
in Qatar, according to a spokeswoman there.
- While the cases are high-profile, scientists have been
cheating for decades.
- In 1974, Dr. 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
from Tennessee, 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 their hearings, Congress passed a
law in 1985 requiring institutions that receive federal money for scientific
research to have some system to report rulebreakers.
- "Often we're confronted with people who are brilliant,
absolutely incredible researchers, but that's not what makes them great
scientists. It's the character," said Debbi Gilad, a research compliance
and integrity officer at the University of California, Davis, which has
taken a lead on handling scientific misconduct.
- 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.
- "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."
- At the time he started cheating, Friedman was in his
late 30s, married and a father of two young children. Following the path
of his father, grandfather and uncle who were all doctors and medical researchers,
he was an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive
biology at Harvard Medical School and chief of the department of reproductive
endocrinology at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
- His reputation was tremendous and his work groundbreaking.
His 30-page resume highlighted numerous awards and honors, lectures in
Canada, Europe and Australia, and more than 150 articles, book chapters,
reviews and abstracts. Of those, 58 were original research articles, where
he had designed studies, conducted clinical trials, enrolled patients,
collected and analyzed data and made conclusions.
- In the end, investigators found - and Friedman confessed
- to making up information for three separate journal articles (one of
them never published) involving hormonal treatment of gynecological conditions.
- He testified that he was working 80 to 90 hours a week,
seeing patients two days a week, doing surgery one day a week, supervising
medical residents, serving on as many as 10 different committees at the
hospital and the medical school and putting on national medical conferences.
- 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.
- Unlike many scientists who file immediate lawsuits when
they're caught, Friedman was repentant, resigning from his positions at
both Brigham and Women's, and Harvard.
- In 1996, Friedman agreed to be excluded for three years
from working on federally funded research. During the next three years
he consulted with drug companies, he paid a $10,000 fine to the state of
Massachusetts and surrendered his medical license for a year, became very
active with the American Red Cross, donating more than 500 hours, and attended
several lectures on ethics and record-keeping.
- "Andy can never undo the damage that his actions
have caused. However, he has paid the price - his academic career is ruined,
his reputation sullied, and his personal shame unremitting," wrote
Dr. Charles Lockwood, then chair of obstetrics and gynecology at New York
University School of Medicine, in a letter on Friedman's behalf.
- In 1999, after successfully petitioning to get his license
reinstated, he went to work as director of women's health care at Ortho-McNeil
Pharmaceuticals. The job, which he still has, involves designing and reviewing
clinical trials for hormonal birth control, writing package insert labels
and lecturing to doctors. Lately he's appeared on television and in newspaper
articles responding to concerns about the safety of the birth control patch.
- Mary Anne Wyatt, a retired biochemist in Natick, Mass.,
is one of several former patients.
- "I think it's not at all surprising that a drug
company would hire somebody who is very comfortable with hiding the effects
of very dangerous drugs," said Wyatt, who unsuccessfully sued him.
- Ortho-McNeil spokeswoman Bonnie Jacobs said the company
was well aware of Friedman's history when it hired him. "He is an
excellent doctor, an asset to our company," she said.