Saturday, October 21, 2006

There, but for the grace of god, ...

This week's issue of the NYT Magazine has a long story on a case of scientific fraud from the University of Vermont, where a prominent researcher was sentenced to a year and a day in jail (as well as being banned from ever getting public funding) for falsifying results in dietary studies.

It seems unnecessary, (and too easy) to blame the researcher involved; the story is damning enough. What struck me though, reading though the description of how events transpired, was how banal, how mundane the fraud was, and how utterly common the driving forces were; the usual toxic mix of a desire for fame, the pressure to get money, how universities encourage people to bring in grants.
Steven Heymsfield, an obesity researcher at Merck Pharmaceuticals in New Jersey, [...] added that Poehlman’s success owed more to his business sense and charisma than to his aptitude as a scientist.

“In effect, he was a successful entrepreneur and not a brilliant thinker with revolutionary ideas,” Heymsfield wrote me via e-mail. “But deans love people who bring in money and recognition to universities, so there is Eric.”




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