Slutsky Data False, UC Panel Says : 13 Research Articles Fraudulent, 55 Others Questionable
A UC San Diego School of Medicine committee has concluded that cardiac researcher Dr. Robert Slutsky falsified parts of 13 separate research articles during a 6 1/2-year career that ended with his resignation in April, 1985, amid allegations of fraud.
In a report released Wednesday after 15 months of investigation, the 10-member committee also classified 55 of Slutsky’s papers “questionable” because their authenticity could not be proven by the testimony of co-authors or documentary evidence. The team of nine doctors and a statistician concluded that an additional 79 papers were “valid.”
In addition to Slutsky’s apparent dishonesty, the review revealed a breakdown in the medical school’s procedures designed to prevent such research fraud and a sometimes startling lack of attention to clues that could have warned colleagues that something in Slutsky’s research was amiss.
“The research enterprise requires an assumption of the integrity of one’s colleagues,” the report concluded. “This is essential to normal working relationships, but in this case, there appeared to be a lack of normal caution and common sense. It is likely that Dr. Slutsky fabricated data from the beginning of his career at UCSD.”
Committee chairman Dr. Richard Peters said he was confident that no medical patients were harmed by the fraudulent research, and that there is no evidence that Slutsky ever harmed anyone whom he treated as a physician.
But, Peters added, if Slutsky had continued his research into the use of certain heart drugs, he might have published some potentially harmful “wrong interpretations” of their value.
But serious damage was done to the reputations of 93 researchers listed as co-authors on Slutsky’s published articles and to the reputation of the UCSD medical school, Peters said.
The committee last week sent notices detailing its findings to 30 medical journals that had published Slutsky’s work, asking them to print statements describing the research as “valid,” “questionable,” or “fraudulent” and exonerating Slutsky’s co-authors.
Slutsky’s lawyer has previously sought the retraction of 15 articles, but without admitting fraud, said Dr. Paul Friedman, a committee member and associate dean for academic affairs at the medical school.
Slutsky’s whereabouts could not be determined Wednesday. The 37-year-old physician, who resigned from the UCSD medical school faculty in April, 1985, had been practicing with a Hicksville, N.Y., medical group in September, 1985, but was fired when he failed to supply appropriate references. His New York lawyer, Michael Brown, did not return a phone call from The Times on Wednesday.
Friedman said that he had been told several months ago that Slutsky intended to take additional training in another clinical field on the East Coast.
Slutsky received a medical degree from UCSD in 1974, served a medical residency until 1977, then began his career as a researcher in cardiology and nuclear medicine. Allegations of fraud first surfaced when some of his research was reviewed as part of the medical school’s promotion process.
After Slutsky resigned, the school determined that at least two of his articles were fraudulent, prompting the longer investigation that culminated in Wednesday’s report. It was Slutsky’s poor statistical ability that tipped reviewers to his falsified data.
According to Friedman and Peters, Slutsky falsified his cardiology and radiology research by altering data, recycling data from earlier research into new articles, lying about the methods used, and including authors on the papers who were not involved in the research.
“He would apparently fix data to make it come out better or throw in a few more animals (than were in the experiment) to get statistical significance,” Friedman said.
Slutsky avoided review of his data and manuscripts by colleagues, created the appearance of collaboration by forging other researchers’ signatures, and included appropriate methods and results sections in his publications “whether or not the work had been done,” the committee’s report concluded.
Colleagues missed such clear signs of fraud as Slutsky’s “unreasonably high productivity,” the report said. He wrote 161 manuscripts overall, and for two years produced an average of one article every 10 days. That is an extraordinary rate even for a prolific researcher like Slutsky, Peters said.
Flattered or embarrassed colleagues “lacked the authority or willpower” to resist Slutsky’s practice of putting their names on papers that they had not worked on, and the journals that published his research did not detect “even obvious” errors, the report said.
When Slutsky applied for an appointment in the medical school’s radiology department, professors considering his qualifications were never notified of doubts about Slutsky held by cardiology professors, the committee noted.
Slutsky had the talent to build a successful career without fraud, Friedman said.
“He had a lot of talent. He had a lot of good ideas,” Friedman said. “If you only put together the valid stuff, it would make a very respectable bibliography.”