Researcher's faked data leads to lifetime ban on US grants

Eric Poehlman, a well-known obesity researcher with more than 200 articles to his name, says he fabricated data in 17 applications for US federal grants and 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."

By | April 11, 2005

<p>Eric Poehlman</p>

Eric Poehlman, a well-known obesity researcher with more than 200 articles to his name, says he fabricated data in 17 applications for US federal grants and 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." According to a plea bargain announced in March in Vermont, Poehlman will plead guilty to making material false statements in a 1999 grant application worth $542,000 from the US National Institutes of Health.

In an unusual step for scientist investigations, he is charged with fraud, to which he agreed to plead guilty. The researcher could go to jail for up to 5 years, or it is possible he will serve little or no jail time. Stephen Kelly, a prosecutor in the US Attorney's office in Vermont, says that his office's policy has been to ensure "that the scientific record is as accurate as possible." In addition, he says, "We do feel, and will report to the court, that Dr. Poehlman has been cooperative and will try to redress the serious wrongs he has committed." According to a joint release from the Office of Research Integrity and the Justice Department in Vermont, Poehlman also has "to submit numerous letters of retraction and correction to scientific journals related to his scientific misconduct."

Poehlman held various research positions at the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington from 1987 to 1993 and again from 1996 to 2001. He was at the University of Maryland in Baltimore between 1993 and 1996. He conducted research related to exercise physiology and metabolism funded primarily by grants from federal public health agencies and departments. The top most-cited of his papers have been cited an average of 125 times each.

Among the best known studies cast into doubt is a longitudinal study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 1995 and cited more than 150 times. Poehlman claimed that he had tested 35 healthy women for the effects of menopause on resting metabolic rate and other variables and then retested them six years later. He admits to fabricating the results for 32 of the women. As a result of the university investigations, the article was retracted in 2003.

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