Researchers Admit To Fabricating Interviews for Study on HIV/AIDS Prevention Model for Teenagers
Three University of Maryland-Baltimore researchers have admitted that they fabricated interviews with teenagers for a study on HIV/AIDS prevention, which received more than $1 million in NIH funding in 1999, the Washington Times reports. Researchers Lajuane Woodard, Sheila Blackwell and Khalilah Creek, who were employed by the university's department of pediatrics, said that they made up some of the interviews for a study to evaluate an existing AIDS prevention model, called "Focus on Kids." The model is a "widely used" comprehensive sex education curriculum, according to the Times. The study, titled "Effectiveness of Standard Versus Embellished HIV Prevention," involved 817 African-American youths ages 12 to 16 and was originally published in the January issue of the journal Pediatrics by a group of nine researchers led by Ying Wu of West Virginia University. The study concluded that youth whose families participated in the Focus on Kids program showed "significantly lower rates" for several HIV risk behaviors, including sex without condoms and cigarette and alcohol use, according to the Times. The editors of Pediatrics on Thursday said that they were investigating the claims of fabrication.
"It is terribly troubling that federally funded research on a topic as sensitive and important as HIV prevention for children ... would be intentionally manipulated," Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), chair of the House subcommittee on criminal justice, drug policy and human resources, said, adding, "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." Constance Burr, a spokesperson for the National Institute for Mental Health, which funded the study, said, "We would not comment on this," the Times reports. In addition, officials at the Office of Research Integrity had no response to the report of fabrication, according to the Times.
House Republicans in the past year have repeatedly criticized NIH grants for research projects on sexual issues (Stacy McCain, Washington Times, 12/5). For several months, conservative House members have questioned at least 10 NIH research grants, including grants for studies on emergency contraception, Asian sex workers in San Francisco and women's response to pornography. Congress recently investigated hundreds of NIH-funded research projects -- including studies on sexual health and HIV/AIDS -- that were included on a list prepared by the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative group that claims to represent 43,000 churches nationwide. In what many people said was a mix-up, a congressional staff member in October sent NIH a list of more than 200 grants representing more than $100 million in funding instead of the shorter list of 10 grants.
No Room for Interest Groups
Many researchers and some Democrats, including Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), have criticized Republicans' examination of such studies (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/30). In response to the TVC list, Waxman in October sent a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson stating, "Imposing ideological shackles on this research would be a serious public health mistake." In the Dec. 4 issue of the New England Journal of Public Health, NEJM Editor Jeffrey Drazen said that such scrutiny from Congress could turn sexual health research into a "political football" (Washington Times, 12/5). When grants are awarded following the peer-review process, researchers should then be "left to focus on their work and should not be diverted by wasting time responding to the whims of interest groups," Drazen wrote (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/4). However, Souder said that the admissions of fabrication by the Maryland researchers 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," Souder said (Washington Times, 12/5).