Current Events

An Unwelcome Discovery

While I was reading the The New York Times Magazine, I came across a very interesting article regarding scientific integrity.  The article (“An unwelcome discovery“) documents how a Eric Poehlman, a faculty member at the University of Vermont, had fabricated ten years worth of data.  This is a serious problem .  Sally Jean Rockey of the N.I.H. explains the gravity of the situation best:

“Science is incremental,â€? she said, explaining that most scientific advances build on what came before. “When there’s a break in the chain, all the links that follow that break can be compromised.â€? Moreover, she said, fraud as extensive as Poehlman’s would inevitably lead to further erosion of the public’s trust in science. 

Dr. Pohelman was sentenced to one year in prison and two years of probation and is banned from receiving any public research dollars for life.  Some of Poehlman’s fraudulent activities include:

  • Changing results: Poehlman hypothesized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) would increase as individuals age while high-density lipoprotein (HDL) would decrease over time.  When a longitudinal study which he set up did not produce the desired results Poehlman changed the number manually.
  • ‘Inventing’ data: Poehlman was most noted for a longitudinal study on menopause.  Yet these results were also completely fabricated.  Poehlman had tested only 2 women, not 35 as he had claimed.   

The fabrication of this data lead to Poehlman receiving millions of dollars in NIH grant money.  This money comes from working men and women who had entrusted scientists to work to discover the next cures to make their lives–or their children or grandchildren’s lives–better.  In the case of Poehlman, this trust was not warranted.  Integrity is needed from today’s researchers.  Without integrity, the steady march of scientific progress made over the centuries could come to a grinding halt.