Researchers fake AIDS study
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
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
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
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 Virginia University.
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 reported fabrications.
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 alcohol.
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. Jeffrey Drazen.
"Science should have oversight
from Congress but it ought not to be at the level of specific
grants," Dr. Drazen told United Press International.
But Mr. Souder said the admissions of
fabrication in the Baltimore HIV study show the importance of
"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.