Een onderzoeker heeft bekend jarenlang gefingeerde gegevens in onderzoeken te hebben gebruikt zodat de onderzoeksresultaten er beter uit zagen en de kansen dat hij overheidssubsidies in de wacht kon slepen werden verhoogd.
De wetenschapper had een belangrijke naam op het gebied van onderzoek naar zwaarlijvigheid. Tweehonderd artikelen van zijn hand werden in wetenschappelijke tijdschriften gepubliceerd. Voor zijn valse onderzoeken ontving hij $3.000.000 aan overheidssubsidies.
Under a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, Poehlman, 49, will be barred for life from receiving federal funding, pay back $180,000, and plead guilty to a criminal charge of fraud that could bring jail time. He agreed to ask scientific journals to retract and correct 10 articles they published by him.
”Dr. Poehlman fraudulently diverted millions of dollars,” said David V. Kirby, the US attorney for Vermont. ”This in turn siphoned millions of dollars from the pool of resources available for valid scientific research proposals. As this prosecution proves, such conduct will not be tolerated.”
The fraud charge carries up to five years in prison, but lawyers involved in the case said Poehlman would ask for leniency and would probably get a lesser sentence or possibly no prison time at all.
Poehlman’s misconduct was detected and exposed by a former University of Vermont lab technician, Walter F. DeNino, who once viewed Poehlman as his mentor.
Poehlman was a star among obesity researchers. For years at the Universities of Vermont and Maryland and, since 2001, at the Université de Montréal, he won millions in grant dollars, copious prizes, and accolades from the students he mentored.
Over two decades in which he published more than 200 journal articles, he built a reputation as a leading authority on the metabolic changes that come with aging, particularly during menopause. He also studied the genetics of obesity and the impact of exercise, often following human subjects over time to document how their physiology changed.
Now that stellar career has unraveled. Poehlman resigned from the Université de Montréal in January. He did not respond to requests left at his Montreal home and with his attorney to be interviewed.
Some colleagues speculated that Poehlman buckled to an exaggerated perception of the pressure to publish papers and win grants to keep his laboratory going. Or perhaps he was so sure he knew the right answers that he cut corners to get to them, they said.