1995-1996 indexDistributed March 8, 1996
Keller NIMH case closed: No further action
Federal agency concurs with Brown finding: no basis for scientific misconduct
The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) has reviewed Brown University's inquiry into allegations of possible scientific misconduct by Dr. Martin B. Keller, chairman of Brown's Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior. ORI concurs with the finding made by the University's Committee of Inquiry: There is no basis for the allegations and no further investigation is warranted. ORI considers the case closed.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The Office of Research Integrity (ORI), an investigative agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has accepted Brown University's report following a recent inquiry into allegations of possible scientific misconduct by a faculty member. ORI concurs with the University's finding that there was no basis for the allegations and fully supports its conclusion that no further action is warranted.
In a letter received Wednesday, Feb. 28, by Kathryn T. Spoehr, dean of the Graduate School and research, ORI Director Lyle W. Bivens said his office agrees that the evidence does not warrant an investigation. His office considers the matter closed.
"I am gratified that these thorough and independent findings will help to restore my reputation and that of our department," said Dr. Martin B. Keller, chairman of Brown's Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, against whom the anonymous allegations had been made. "On the other hand, I am greatly dismayed that the integrity of a distinguished university and its faculty members could so easily be tarnished by reckless and false allegations made by a nameless and faceless accuser who cannot be questioned or confronted."
ORI had received an anonymous allegation of possible scientific misconduct by Keller. The main thrust of the allegation was that Keller had "fictionalized" or "doctored" certain case studies that were part of an application for a grant renewal. These case studies were submitted to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in June 1995 as part of an application to continue NIMH funding of a research project titled "Lithium Prophylaxis in Adolescents with Bipolar Illness."
The following points summarize the report of the University's Committee of Inquiry:
"We find no basis for the allegations in the letter from ORI," the committee concluded in its report to Spoehr. "... Accordingly, we recommend that you advise ORI of these findings with our conclusion that an investigation is not warranted."
In December, after receiving the anonymous allegations, ORI followed its standard procedures and asked Brown, as the sponsoring institution, to undertake an inquiry. The institutional inquiry is designed to determine whether there is sufficient information or evidence that would suggest conducting a full-scale, formal investigation.
In response to ORI's request, Spoehr appointed a Committee of Inquiry consisting of Thomas Wunderlich, associate dean of research at Brown, and Dr. Georges Peter, professor of pediatrics and director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Rhode Island Hospital. The committee conducted extensive interviews with current and former employees and research staff and reviewed relevant documents including patient records, research files, correspondence, grant documents and other materials. Wunderlich and Peter concluded their inquiry in early January, and Spoehr forwarded their report to ORI. Both Brown and ORI concluded that there was no evidence to suggest fabrication or falsification of the case studies as alleged and found no reason to consider further action.
"Because federal law and ORI policy require confidentiality, it is highly unusual for the University to acknowledge even that such an inquiry has taken place, much less to offer public comment on the outcome," said Spoehr. "However, federal regulations also require institutions to support diligent efforts toward restoring the reputations of persons against whom allegations are made when those allegations are not confirmed. Because the allegations against Dr. Keller were made anonymously to ORI, were leaked anonymously to journalists, and have appeared in published and broadcast reports, the University has chosen to make a public disclosure in this case."
I was notified by the University in late January that the inquiry had run its course and had reached what I knew would be its inevitable conclusion: These anonymous allegations had no basis in fact. Although I was looking forward to the public announcement of that outcome, I agreed not to comment about the inquiry until ORI had officially accepted the University's report.
On the one hand, I am gratified that these thorough and independent findings will help to restore my reputation and that of our department. On the other hand, I am greatly dismayed that the integrity of a distinguished university and its faculty members could so easily be tarnished by reckless and false allegations made by a nameless and faceless accuser who cannot be questioned or confronted.
I commend Brown University and Dean Kathryn Spoehr for the earnest way in which the inquiry was conducted, for respecting the confidentiality of the process, and for making a public announcement of its results.######