Thursday, March 31, 2005

Misdeeds in the world of science.

You get all busy with work and family and fearing Giblets' plans (while seriously wondering whether Giblets could be a cat), and important bits of news slip by. Like this item about Dr. Eric T. Poehlman at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. From the above-linked ORI press release:

From in or about 1992 to 2000, Dr. Poehlman submitted seventeen (17) research grant applications to federal agencies or departments that included false and fabricated research data. In these grant applications, Dr. Poehlman requested approximately $11.6 million in federal research funding. In most cases, Dr. Poehlman falsified and fabricated research data in the "preliminary studies" sections of grant applications in order to support the scientific basis for and his expertise in conducting the proposed research. Reviewers of these grant applications relied on the accuracy of the "preliminary studies" to determine if a grant should be recommended for award. While many of the grant applications were not awarded, NIH and USDA expended approximately $2.9 million in research funding based on grant applications with false and fabricated research data.

Dr. Poehlman's areas of research in which the fabrication and falsification played a role were fairly important: studies about aging in men and women, menopause, and hormone replacement therapy. Given that it would be helpful to an aging population to know what's going on in these areas, it would be good if one could rely on the data presented in research reports to be accurate rather than made up! In some ways, I find the falsification and fabrication of the "preliminary studies" in the grant applications even more repellant, since Poehlman's convincing fiction may well have resulted in some truly promising studies not being funded when scarce research funding dollars went to Poehlman instead.

Well, Dr. Poehlman can take a break from writing all those grant proposals to federal funding agencies, as he "has agreed to be barred for life from seeking or receiving funding from any federal agency in the future, including all components of the Public Health Service".

Sadly, it's not just scientists asking the feds for money who have been screwing up lately. There are also the scientists in the employ of the federal government who have apparently forgotten that falsification is a no-no.

The scientists in question work for the U.S. Geological Survey, and it would seem they have falsified some data in a safety study. Of the Yucca Mountain project. You know, the one that is supposed to give us a safe place to dump nuclear waste. Except, if one can't trust the reports of the scientists charged to study what is likely to happen at the proposed dump (and, in particular, whether water could seep into it), the whole "safety" question becomes rather more troubling.

Obviously, it's time for someone to step up and put a sexier face on the reality-based community so the wayward scientists will come on back.


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