Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Univ. Montreal discusses Poehlman issue

Further to IPBiz discussing the New York Times discussing the fraud case of Eric Poehlman, the Montreal Gazette published something on Oct. 29 that one probably won't read in the New York Times:

Eric Poehlman was already under an investigative cloud when he was being recruited by the Universite de Montreal in 2001.

Trouble is, he never bothered to mention it before he was hired with great fanfare, landing a $1-million research grant as the Canada Research Chair in nutrition and metabolism at U de M.

"Obviously, we were none too happy that he didn't inform us," Pierre Boyle, vice dean of research and post-graduate studies in U de M's faculty of medicine, said this week.

Also in the article:

Instead, by the time news of Poehlman's troubles finally filtered across the border, Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Canada Foundation for Innovation had kicked in another $200,000 to set up a unit for metabolic research and biomedical mass spectrometry.

Boyle admits U de M was caught off guard, but with good reason. Poehlman "was a very eminent scientist with an international reputation. It's fair to say this took everyone by surprise. He was one of the top people in the world in the field of obesity research."

The Universite de Montreal investigated the work of Poehlman AT MONTREAL and found no evidence of impropriety:

In a letter published last month [September 2006] in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Boyle and colleagues Dominque Garrel and Remi Rabasa-Lhoret said U de M conducted a comprehensive review of the six scientific papers based on projects launched during Poehlman's brief tenure there.

"The news of Dr. Poehlman's scientific fraud was a devastating blow to all Canadian scientists and students who worked with him," they wrote.

Their audit included "verification of all electronically stored data as well as raw data from subjects' records," as well as interviews with students and research assistants, who testified "no data entry had ever been purposefully altered."

Results of a study that had been funded by a private company were examined by an external committee, which also revealed no evidence of scientific fraud.

"This evidence convinced the research committee of our university to allow us to continue Dr. Poehlman's projects after his dismissal."

Harold Sox, editor of the Annals of Internal Medicine, commended the U de M team, saying the university had taken its responsibilities seriously and "fulfilled its obligations."

Boyle said while U de M's situation would have been "more delicate" if the fraud had continued there, the Poehlman case sent up warning flares.

"If it could happen there, it could happen here."

Since then, the university has built precautions into its hiring procedure. Researchers who are being recruited take part in a seminar where they will meet with the entire department.

IPBiz cannot help mentioning text from a different Canadian newspaper [The Globe and Mail ( Canada )]:

Does Canada need a tiered system of schools like the Ivy League?

You know, Canada has always been committed to the notion of high-quality, publicly funded universities and I think that has served this country well. If you look at Canadian universities there is much greater social mobility because we're not inaccessible to those from the lower socio-economic strata of society... Having said that, it's extremely important that Canada cultivate differentiation among its universities. ... So you have one group of universities that are highly research-intensive that offer a broad range of programs at one end of the spectrum, but also that there's a place in this country for universities that concentrate on providing a rich undergraduate experience, not necessarily research-intensive, and perhaps focused on a liberal education much like the smaller colleges in the United States... Canada needs to work hard at encouraging greater differentiation among its universities, allowing some tall poppies to grow. ... That is the strength of the American system.

[answer by Indira Samarasekera: President, University of Alberta]


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