Researchers fake AIDS study data
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Three Maryland researchers have admitted fabricating interviews with
teenagers for a study on AIDS prevention that received more than $1
million in federal funds.
Lajuane Woodard, Sheila Blackwell and Khalilah Creek were employed
by the University of Maryland at Baltimore's department of pediatrics as
researchers on the study, funded by a grant from the National Institutes
of Health (NIH).
The three admitted they made up interviews with teenagers, which
they had claimed took place from May to August 2001, for the study on
preventing the transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The
fabrication was first reported in the journal Research USA.
The study was designed to evaluate the impact of "safe sex"
counseling on black teens in Baltimore housing developments.
Congressional staffers said the study, titled "Effectiveness of Standard
Versus Embellished HIV Prevention," received more than $1 million in NIH
funds in 1999.
"It is terribly troubling that federally funded research on a topic
as sensitive and important as HIV prevention for children, some as young
as 13, would be intentionally manipulated," said Rep. Mark Souder,
Indiana Republican and chairman of the House subcommittee on criminal
justice, drug policy and human resources. "If not caught, the lives of
countless children may have been put at risk by ineffective, perhaps
dangerous, prevention messages developed from this fabricated research."
Results of the Baltimore study were published in January in the
journal Pediatrics by a group of nine researchers led by Ying Wu of West
The study's objective was to determine whether enhancing an existing
AIDS prevention program called Focus on Kids by adding "parental
monitoring" would have an effect on the children involved.
Editors of Pediatrics said yesterday they were investigating the
The study involved "817 black youths aged 12 to 16 years," and found
that youth whose families participated in the enhanced Focus on Kids
program showed "significantly lower rates" for a variety of risk
behaviors, including sex without condoms and use of cigarettes and
The Focus on Kids program is a widely used "safe sex" curriculum
advertised by its publisher, ETR Associates, as "proven effective."
"We would not comment on this," said Constance Burr, spokeswoman for
the National Institute for Mental Health, the NIH division which funded
the study. Officials at the Office of Research Integrity had no response
to the report.
In the past year, House Republicans have repeatedly criticized NIH
funding of sex research projects, including a $147,000 grant to a
Northwestern University professor who paid women to watch pornography
while measuring their sexual arousal.
In July, the House rejected on a 212-210 vote a measure sponsored by
Rep. Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, that would have
eliminated federal funding for five sex studies.
But investigation of federally funded sex research has come under
fire by critics, including Rep. Henry A. Waxman, California Democrat. In
October, responding to a list of research grants questioned by some
House Republicans, Mr. Waxman wrote to Health and Human Services
Secretary Tommy G. Thompson: "I urge you in the strongest possible terms
to denounce this scientific McCarthyism. Imposing ideological shackles
on this research would be a serious public health mistake."
More recently, the New England Journal of Medicine denounced
congressional probes of research grants. Such scrutiny risks turning sex
research into a "political football," warned the journal's editor, Dr.
"Science should have oversight from Congress but it ought not to be
at the level of specific grants," Dr. Drazen told United Press
But Mr. Souder said the admissions of fabrication in the Baltimore
HIV study show the importance of congressional oversight.
"This scandal underscores the need for oversight of all federal
programs — even NIH — to ensure taxpayer dollars are not misspent and
science is not manipulated," the congressman said.