Study data at UCLA falsified

Times Staff Writer

A UCLA research associate tampered with data in a study of drug users and stole money intended for study subjects, a federal oversight office said Monday.

According to a notice in the Federal Register, James David Lieber, staff research associate at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, “knowingly and intentionally falsified and fabricated” interviews, urine samples and urine sample records.

The project, which received funding from the National Institutes of Health, was led by Christine Grella, a UCLA research psychologist.

The study looked at what happened to female opiate addicts who had visited methadone clinics in Central and Southern California counties in the late 1970s.


“This is something we’re quite unhappy about, obviously,” Grella said of the notice.

Attempts to contact Lieber were unsuccessful.

Grella said Lieber was falsifying the information over a six-month period in 2005.

UCLA learned of the misconduct allegations in early 2006 and convened a panel to review his work, said Roberto Peccei, vice chancellor of research. Peccei said researchers removed the compromised data from the study and continued with their work. Lieber was discharged from the university.


“Ensuring the integrity of research conducted at UCLA is a duty of paramount importance, and this incident is a reminder that we must remain vigilant in fulfilling that obligation,” Peccei said in a statement.

Lieber was assigned to interview 53 people in the study. He claimed to have met with them face-to-face, but the participants said that he had not interviewed them, according to the federal notice.

According to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Research Integrity, which investigated the incident, Lieber made up accounts of interviews and tampered with urine samples for 20 of the participants. He also stole $5,180 intended to cover stipends and travel expenses for subjects in the study, the notice said.

The Office of Research Integrity has barred Lieber from participating in any federal government contracts or serving in any advisory capacity to the U.S. Public Health Service.