A Korean fertility researcher is suing a long-time critic of one of his past studies over an opinion piece
the latter wrote for the March 15, 2007 issue of Ob. Gyn. News
The opinion piece, written by Bruce Flamm
, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California at Irvine, outlines events surrounding a controversial study coauthored by Kwang Yul Cha
, chancellor of the medical school at Pochon CHA University in Korea. The study
reported a higher success rate for in vitro fertilization in women who were prayed for compared to those who were not. In the piece, Flamm calls for the study's retraction from the Journal of Reproductive Medicine
Anthony Glassman, Cha's attorney, told The Scientist
that his client sees a sentence in Flamm's article as false, defamatory and made with malice. That sentence reads: "This may be the first time in history that all three authors of a randomized, controlled study have been found guilty of fraud, deception, and/or plagiarism."
The statement's "three authors" refers to Cha, Daniel Wirth
, and Rogerio Lobo
, who were listed as authors on the IVF-prayer study. Flamm's reference to plagiarism relates to an allegation regarding another paper coauthored by Cha in a 2005.
Flamm, who is on the advisory board of the lobbying group the Secular Coalition for America
, has written extensively
on problems he sees with Cha's IVF-prayer study, which he said was "highly flawed and almost certainly fraudulent," and Cha has responded
previously in print. Flamm's scientific opposition to the IVF-prayer study was not specifically outlined in the opinion piece.
"'Found guilty' states and, in our judgment, implies a declaration of guilt by a court of law or some administrative agency," Glassman said.
Brian Birnie, Flamm's lawyer, told The Scientist
that he and his client feel that the statement has been taken out of context and that "the article itself, taken as a whole, communicates thoughts very different from what the out-of-context fragment suggests."
Flamm told The Scientist
that he stands by the statement he wrote in his opinion piece. "To be found guilty of plagiarism, you don't have to be convicted by a jury," he said.
Glassman said that the lawsuit is "solely and exclusively" about the statement Flamm wrote in his opinion piece, but Flamm said he fears that the suit is an attack on his criticism of the science in Cha's IVF-prayer study. "My concern is that this could have a chilling effect on peer review in general," he said. Glassman said this concern is not at issue in this case. "[Flamm's] right to be critical of any scientific study is certainly a protected right," he said. Cha was not available for comment by deadline.
Cha coauthored another paper
in a 2005 issue of Fertility and Sterility
on measuring mitochondrial DNA in women with premature ovarian failure, which was discovered to be almost identical to one published in a Korean journal the previous year. Alan DeCherney, editor-in-chief of Fertility and Sterility
, told the LA Times
in February of this year, "I'm sure that it's plagiarism." Flamm referenced the quote in his March opinion piece. But after Cha threatened to sue both DeCherney and the LA Times
, DeCherney retracted
the statements he made to the LA Times
and to The Scientist
Flamm, also an obstetrician/gynecologist at Kaiser Permanente, said that he had no way of knowing that DeCherney would retract
his comments at the time he wrote his opinion piece. "I was just reiterating what I had already seen in print," Flamm said.
Cha's 2001 IVF-prayer paper was removed from the JRM
website, but the journal, which did not respond to calls for comment, has not officially retracted the paper. Flamm said that a retraction of Cha's paper would end what Cha's official complaint, filed in the LA Superior Court, terms "his crusade against Dr. Cha."
"If the journal retracted the article, that would accomplish my goal," Flamm said. "I've never wanted to punish Dr. Cha in any way. Personally, I have nothing against Dr. Cha. I've never met him." Flamm added that he has attempted to personally contact Cha several times to no avail.
, a professor of constitutional law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law who is not involved in the case, agreed that the lawsuit may dissuade other scientists from speaking out about what they suggest to be faulty science. "It's the nature of this kind of lawsuit that it potentially chills other people from making strong statements," he told The Scientist
. "The existence of the lawsuit alone is likely to chill scientific discussion."
Faigman, who authored the 1999 book Legal Alchemy: The Use and Misuse of Science in the Law
, said that his strategy, were he Flamm's lawyer, would be to recast the allegedly defamatory statement. "If I was [Flamm's] attorney, I would argue that the statement suggested not that [Cha] had been found guilty in a court of law, but in a court of where it counts for the readers of this editorial -- the court of public opinion," he said.
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, March 2007.
A. McCook, "Praying for credibility," The Scientist
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A. McCook, "Korean plagiarism case ongoing," The Scientist
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K.Y. Cha, et al., "Does prayer influence the success of in vitro fertilization embryo transfer? Report of a masked, randomized trial," Journal of Reproductive Medicine
, 46:781-7, September 2001.
A. McCook, "IVF-prayer study raises doubts," The Scientist
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Secular Coalition for America
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, 50:71, January 2005.
K.Y. Cha, "Clarification: influence of prayer on IVF-ET," Journal of Reproductive Medicine
, 49:944-5, November 2004.
K.Y. Cha, et al., "Quantification of mitochondrial DNA using real-time polymerase chain reaction in patients with premature ovarian failure," Fertility and Sterility
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