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Research Misconduct Project

 

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MISSION


To investigate institutional research misconduct in which science is being manipulated or suppressed by government, industry or academia to support government policies and industry practices.

OVERVIEW

 

The Research Misconduct Project was created by the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC) Board of Directors in December 2010 to deal with institutional research misconduct. Increasingly, important areas of scientific research are being manipulated by government agencies, large corporations and leading universities to promote and protect their own interests. Suppressing independent research that threatens their interests is key to their success.

Most scientists have never been targeted for retribution by government, industry or academia. Usually, such treatment is reserved for researchers who gain public attention and directly threaten important government policies or corporate profits. To stop researchers who publish unwanted results, institutions have resorted to using false allegations of research misconduct as a weapon of choice. Scientists who are targeted in this manner suffer lifelong consequences, and the chilling effect it has on other scientists is profound. Few, if any, scientists are willing to step into the firing line of government or big industry and risk being martyred.

Unfortunately, there is no place for researchers targeted by government and industry to hide. Scientific societies and scholarly journals will broadcast allegations of research misconduct throughout the scientific community and to the mass media. Government inquiries and academic proceedings designed to protect scientists from false allegations of research misconduct are useless when government agencies and academic institutions are the source of the allegations. And, protections afforded under the law do not even recognize that research misconduct exists at the institutional level.

Intentionally creating false allegations of research misconduct is itself a form of research misconduct. When academic institutions facilitate efforts by government and industry to skew data in their favor and silence researchers who publish unwanted results, that too is research misconduct. Such practices are increasingly undermining scientific progress. The objective of the NWC Research Misconduct Project is to reverse this trend through public education and legislative action.

David L. Lewis, Ph.D., Director

NEWS

 
"Fresh dispute about MMR 'fraud,'" Nature (November 9, 2011)

Peer-reviewed Letter on Wakefield case published by British Medical Journal on November 9, 2011

"Agencies unveil plans to safeguard science," Nature (August 18, 2011)

CURRENT PROJECTS
 

Independent Review of the Allegations Against Dr. Andrew Wakefield

In January 2011, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published editorials and a series of articles by reporter Brian Deer accusing Dr. Andrew Wakefield of fraud associated with a case series that Wakefield and 12 coauthors at the Royal Free School of Medicine in London published in 1998 in The Lancet. The study involved 12 children with regressive developmental disorders and chronic inflammatory bowel disease. Wakefield and his coauthors called the condition lleal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia and non-specific colitis. This disease, which is neither Crohn's disease nor ulcerative colitis, involves a nodular proliferation of lymph cells in the ileum of the small intestine. Parents of the children in Wakefield's study, and the children's physicians, linked the onset of the children's autism to the measles mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.  

Given the potential significance of Dr. Wakefield's initial findings, the Research Project will undertake a review of the scientific attacks lodged against Dr. Wakefield in order to produce a non-biased, objective review of this very important matter.

DIRECTOR'S STORY


It was from my own experiences that I first learned that traditional controls established within government and academia to deal with research misconduct have no effect on what I refer to as institutional research misconduct. Isolated acts of research misconduct can disrupt scientific progress, but such misconduct at the institutional level, I learned, can stall or even reverse the course of whole areas of science. See, The Gatekeepers (2012) by Hallman & Wingate, LLC.  

In 2001, the head of EPA's Office of Wastewater Management, Michael Cook, had Dr. John Walker join him for lunch with executives of a major corporation in the business of marketing biosolids (processed sewage sludge). Walker was EPA's chief spokesperson for promoting biosolids. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss my research, which linked widespread illnesses and several deaths to land application of biosolids throughout the United States and Canada.

Several months later, one of the industry executives e-mailed Cook and Walker an anonymous white paper titled "Analysis of David Lewis' Theories Regarding Biosolids." It contained allegations of research misconduct and possible criminal fraud against me. Using EPA letterhead, Walker forwarded the document to a waste disposal company in Atlanta, GA for public distribution. Industry executives later filed the allegations with the University of Georgia (UGA) as a formal petition to investigate research misconduct against me and my primary coauthor, a UGA professor.

At the time, I was a senior-level (GS-15) research microbiologist with over 30 years of experience in EPA's Office of Research & Development. My research published in Lancet and Nature Medicine in the 1990s prompted the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and other public health organizations worldwide to issue new infection-control guidelines for dentistry. Similarly, my research on biosolids led the CDC to issue guidelines for protecting workers exposed to biosolids.

I was the only EPA scientist to ever publish first-authored research articles in Nature, Lancet and Nature Medicine. In 2000, Administrator Carol Browner awarded EPA's Science Achievement Award to my Nature article concerning the effects of climate change on the environmental persistence of chiral compounds, which includes many pesticides, pharmaceuticals and organic compounds found in crude oil.

From 1998 to 2001, I filed various complaints with the U.S. Department of Labor and EPA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) over EPA's collaborative efforts with industry executives to spread false allegations of research fraud against me. EPA's Office of General Counsel eventually stipulated to the Labor Department that none of the company's allegations had any basis in any facts; and EPA's Inspector General published an audit report based on my complaints. It concluded that EPA could not assure the public that land application of biosolids is safe and the EPA stopped promoting the practice. The Science Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives held hearings into EPA's retaliations against me and others concerned about adverse effects of biosolids on public health and passed the No Fear Act of 2002 to better protect federal whistleblowers.

None of the actions taken by Congress or the U.S. Department of Labor, however, prevented EPA from stopping my investigations in 1998 into the potential for a deepwater oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Nor did they stop EPA from terminating me in 2003 before I could fulfill the terms and conditions of my Intergovernmental Personnel Act assignment to UGA. Upon retiring from EPA, my former laboratory director Dr. Rosemarie Russo released the following public statement: "Dr. Lewis' involuntary termination over his research articles was not supported by the local lab management in Athens. He was an excellent researcher and an asset to EPA science."

UGA initially attempted to dismiss the research misconduct petition that corporate executives filed against me and my UGA coauthor. But, when the corporation hired Georgia senator Kasim Reed (now Mayor of Atlanta) to pressure UGA not to drop the allegations, UGA decided not to hire me into a tenured faculty position; and it permanently shelved the misconduct petition. So far as UGA is concerned, the allegations remain officially unresolved ─ even though its Science Integrity Officer in charge of ruling on the research misconduct petition called the allegations a "witch-hunt" and testified that she never believed them.

In 2008, Nature published an editorial supporting my research on biosolids, which cited a multi-university study confirming our findings at UGA. The editorial was accompanied by a news article about a federal court ruling that data published by EPA and UGA were "fabricated" and "invented." EPA provided a research article with the fake data to the National Academy of Sciences to dismiss reports from two dairy farms I investigated in Georgia where people were sickened by biosolids and hundreds of cattle died.

RELATED EVENTS involving the NWC RMP


Research Ethics: A Question of Method?

A dialogue between different (research) perspectives     - Program -

Friday, May 6, 2011
12 - 4:30 p.m.

Harvard University
John F. Kennedy School of Government
79 John F. Kennedy Street
Littauer Building, Fainsod Room (Room 324)

Co-Sponsored by the Program on Science, Technology and Society and the Center of Excellence "Cultural Foundations of Integration" at the University of Konstanz

Please RSVP to sts@hks.harvard.edu no later than Wednesday noon, May 3, if you would like to attend.  Space is limited and will be available on a first come, first served basis. 

CONTACT THE NWC RESEARCH MISCONDUCT PROJECT (RMP)


David L. Lewis, Director
Research Misconduct Project
National Whistleblowers Center
3238 P Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007
Tele. (202) 342-1903
Fax: (202) 342-1904
RMP@whistleblowers.org