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In Research Integrity – Get It Right

September 9, 2014

It is vitally important to communicate objective and accurate information about known cases of research misconduct, including the management environment in which it occurs.  This knowledge is fundamental to our understanding of scientific misconduct, and thus to improving the integrity and ROI in our biomedical research.  It is also essential to education and training in Responsible Conduct in Research ( ).

At PRIM&R’s Advancing Ethical Research Conference in 2010 (AER 2010) (1) the U.S. Deptartment of Health and Human Services, Office of Research Integrity ( presented several sessions.  In a session on research misconduct cases, Sandra Titus of the Office of Research Integrity presented information about Eric Poehlman’s work (2).  She stated several times that Poehlman “worked alone” while conducting his research.  That he worked alone when he was first at UVM during the time I was working with him (1988 – 1991+); that he worked alone while at University of Maryland, and he continued to work alone when he returned to UVM.  It is fair to say that this was a point Titus was intent on making and reinforcing.

Those who have worked on research protocols of this type know that it simply is not possible for one person to conduct such a study alone. Poehlman was not working alone when I worked with him, and he did not do so later. This does not mean that those who worked on Poehlman’s protocols were necessarily aware of, or intentionally took part in, misconduct .  It is, however, an important point to clarify in our effort to improve our understanding of research misconduct.

I attended the Office of Research Integrity’s Conference in April, 2013 (“ORI at 20” Conference; April 3rd to 5th 2013; Baltimore,MD) where I told Alan Price (who worked on the Poehlman case when he was at the ORI) about Titus’ AER 10 presentation.  That Titus stated repeatedly that Poehlman had worked alone.  I explained my view that this was not the case, and why I thought it was important to understanding Poehlman’s misconduct as well as for improving our Responsible Conduct in Research educational efforts.  Alan also felt that it was important to understand that Poehlman did not work alone, in fact he said he would talk to Titus about it.

Sandra Titus went on to present more inaccurate information at AER 2010 about Walter DeNino (who reported Eric Poehlman’s wrong doing through procedures then available at UVM).  She said DeNino later “applied to four medical schools, didn’t get into any of them, and went back to New York”.  The fact is Walter DeNino was admitted to, and graduated from, the University of Vermont College of Medicine in 2010.  Indeed, as Titus was telling the audience this, Dr. Walter DeNino had started the Integrated Cardiothoracic Surgery Training Program at the Medical University of South Carolina.

It is important to note that the ORI is presenting information which is incorrect but easily available after a brief internet search, about one who reported one of the largest instances of biomedical research misconduct in the US.  I spoke with Sandra Titus at the Office of Research Integrity Conference in April of 2013.  She still did not know Walter DeNino had gone to medical school.  She said she had a phone conversation with DeNino after he applied to medical schools during which she thought he had told her he was not accepted to, and would not be attending, medical school.

(1) At the PRIM&R, AER 2010 Conference; Dec 6th – 8th, 2010, San Diego, CA; I presented my Research Integrity “Thesis” from UVM: Session C5; “Towards Ensuring Research Integrity: Appropriate Communication and Delegation of Responsibilities by the Principal Investigator” .

(2) PRIM&R, AER 2010 Conference; Dec 6th – 8th, 2010, San Diego, CA;  D24  An Update from the Office of Research Integrity (ORI)  (RCR Track);  Tue 3:45 pm — 5 pm;  John Galland, Sandy Titus.

Next: “Why It Is Important To Get It Right. And To Fix It When It Is Not”

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