Univ. defends its defense against fraud

A Newfoundland university says it took the proper steps to investigate allegations against one of Canada's top researchers

By | February 8, 2007

Memorial University's investigation of scientific misconduct by nutrition researcher Ranjit Chandra followed the university's existing policies, according to a new Memorial-commissioned report. The report's author, Paul Pencharz at the University of Toronto and the Hospital for Sick Children's Research Institute, also recommended that Canada establish a national agency to investigate scientific misconduct, based upon the systems already in place in a number of countries, including the US. Currently, individual universities handle their own investigations. Pencharz told The Scientist that Canada is looking into establishing such an agency. Pencharz emphasizes that the report considers only whether Memorial, based in Newfoundland, followed its own rules while investigating Chandra, and did not investigate whether the university did the right thing by not charging him with misconduct. Meanwhile, the key whistleblower filed a lawsuit against the University the day of the report's release. Memorial commissioned the report in response to a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) series aired last year that criticized the university for not taking action in the face of damning evidence. Although questions have been raised about several of Chandra's papers, including a highly-cited Lancet study that reported vitamins fight infectious disease in the elderly, to date, only Nutrition has issued a retraction. Chandra spent 27 years at Memorial, and left of his own accord in 2002, almost 10 years after the school investigated him for misconduct. Allegations were first raised by Marilyn Harvey, Chandra's research nurse, who said that the number of babies cited as subjects in an infant formula study could not possibly have been tested on-site. The university sealed Chandra's office and formed an investigatory committee, which included one member from outside the university. Months later, Memorial received written communications from Chandra's lawyer accompanied by several affidavits supporting Chandra, and decided there was not enough evidence to officially charge him with misconduct. Harvey has launched a lawsuit against the University for breach of fiduciary duty, defamation and conspiracy. Chandra, meanwhile, is suing the university and CBC for $6.5 million. "It is curious to be sued by one person who said you did too much and by another who said you did too little," Chris Loomis, Memorial's vice-president of research, told The Scientist. Neither Chandra nor Harvey responded to requests for comment. Saul Sternberg, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who raised doubts about the retracted Nutrition article, told The Scientist that he felt that the Pencharz report could prove to be very useful. "This report might actually change Canadian science, if the recommendations are carried out" to establish a national agency to investigate fraud, said Sternberg. If so, "something positive may come out of this rather than the embarrassment of Memorial University." Ed Ungar Links within this article Memorial report Paul Pencharz A McCook, "Research's scarlet list," The Scientist, April 25, 2005. D Payne, "Nutritionist's work questioned," The Scientist, May 11, 2004. Chandra RK: "Effect of vitamin and trace-element supplementation on immune responses and infection in elderly subjects." Lancet 1992, 340:1124-7 D Payne, "Nutrition retracts 2001 paper," The Scientist, March 3, 2005 Saul Sternberg

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