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About: A Research Integrity Ph.D.

A  few days after I started work in the Cell Biology PhD program at the University of Vermont in  September 1988, my advisor came into the office I shared with Eric T. Poehlman, then a post–doc, and handed me a copy of a journal paper.  It was similar to a reliability study I was beginning, one we had talked about conducting before I came to UVM.  A reliability study on the indirect calorimetry system used to measure resting metabolic rate (RMR).

My advisor and I discussed it for a few minutes, then as he left the room, I told Eric I would check the availability of the RMR procedure room and begin scheduling subjects.  As soon as the door closed, Eric looked down at the floor and said: “Don’t worry about it”.

Over the next several months, I would try to schedule subjects for the RMR procedure according to the reliability study test—retest protocol.  This became difficult with Poehlman acting to thwart re—scheduling of subjects for the second RMR procedure, and the reliability study itself was never completed.

This “reliability study” “protocol” would become a means  by which numerous subjects would be scheduled and  data collected;  for RMR, body composition and maximal oxygen consumption, etc..  It would also become a collection of data that Poehlman would work on and manipulate.  He would continue his expedient and fraudulent  practices, at times exploiting departmental environments , over the next several years at UVM, a 1-2 year stint at University of Maryland, Baltimore, and again at UVM when he returned to a faculty position. 

I did not complete the Ph.D. I thought I was starting in Cell Biology.  Yet, it was the beginning of an education, a Ph.D in Research Integrity.  One earned through experiences and observations collected over years; including the selective “investigations” of Eric T. Poehlman’s misconduct, the development of the Responsible Conduct of Research field and the Office of Research Integrity.  Some of this “data” I used later for a “thesis”, a workshop I submitted and presented at PRIM&R’s Annual Advancing Ethical Research Conference in 2010.

I proposed the  workshop because some basic fundamental practices inherent in scientific research were not being followed on the work ETP was doing.  Some of these key weaknesses have not been addressed in the investigations and reviews of his misconduct.  Nor have they been adequately dealt with in subsequent research integrity literature and communications.

Those who have witnessed problems such as scientific misconduct, and who care about the ROI on our biomedical research dollars, have an obligation to share their observations.  This is necessary for a more complete understanding of the factors contributing to misconduct, some of which have been overlooked.  If solutions useful to improving research integrity are evident, one must offer these as well.

If we have any confidence in the efficacy of our Federally–Funded research, these actions will directly lead to improved treatments and faster cures for those suffering from the diseases being studied.

David R. Van Houten

Closter, NJ

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