This website represents my own personal views as a scientist, not as a Rutgers/NJMS faculty member.
Please visit our most recent preprint: Pitt, JH and Hill, HZ. Statistical Detection of Potentially Fabricated Data. Posted on arXiv: 1311.5517, and on Figshare: http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.858921
I made it in Nature!! http://www.nature.com/news/research-ethics-3-ways-to-blow-the-whistle-1.14226!! 11/27/13.
And I published an Opinion in The Scientist: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/39139/title/Opinion--Reducing-Whistleblower-Risk/
Welcome to my WebPage. Here you will find the story of a woman's struggle to make her mark in the modern scientific world in the face of uncounted obstacles. Read on (if you want to know more, click on the links -- underlined text in red):
In October of 2003, I filed a case for qui tam in the Federal District Court of Newark charging my university and two scientists with whom I had been working with violation of the False Claims Act. I lost the case. There are a number of posts on the web regarding that case, all of which present one side of the story: that of the defendants. This webpage is my answer to those posts, and it shares a story themed aroundÂ medical cover up. On it, I tell all who visit it something about me, my family, my scientific career, but most of all, I will present the information that I acquired during the case in order for others to decide whether I was right or wrong.
Most important, it will become apparent that the whistleblower has no right to appeal unfavorable decisions at the university level although the defendant can appeal. Secondly, I would have had no access to the original data that I eventually analyzed had it not been for the filing of the qui tam case, so I argue strongly that raw data on which papers, reports and grant applications are based must be freely available for scrutiny by both readers and referees; a practice that would greatly promote scientific accountability.
When I was growing up, my older sister and I fought a great deal. Not infrequently, we would come tumbling down from our rooms on the third floor, she in front, me behind or me in front, she behind. The one in front would be screaming Im going to tell on you while the one in back would chant tattletail tit, your tongue shall be split and all the doggies in the town shall have a part of it." We learned early on that to be a tattletail was the lowest form of life. Punishments to the transgressor were dire; to be the betrayer was the greatest punishment of all. Later, in my schools and college, life was dominated by the honor system. If you saw a friend cheat, you were obliged to tell. Heaven forbid. Nothing could be worse. In exams, one never diverted ones eyes from ones own blue book, lest one see a friend's eyes straying.
I never wanted to be a tattler, a betrayer, a whistleblower. But that is what I am. That is what has defined the last quarter of my scientific career. Why not give up and slip gracefully into retirement? Because I know I am right, so I will blow that whistle, in to the wind, if I must, but I live in the hope that someday I am going to be heard. This website is my story.
The story begins of a woman in science starting in the dark times when we were not welcome and had to fight every step of the way. The story is one of the struggles for recognition, for respect and for trust, the story of one person who stood by her principles and refused to give up. Above all, it is the story of the quest for truth in science in spite of shunning and marginalization. This could not be the story of a man, it would never have happened had I been a 300 pound ex-wrestler. I don't know how to fight. I am ashamed for being a whistleblower. I am ashamed for my colleagues who are afraid to acknowledge what they know, leaving me alone in this affair for more than 14 years.
In truth, I have not been totally alone. My husband and my 3 siblings, 2 of whom are now dead, have stood by me as did my lawyer who learned to think like a scientist, but still he lost -- because of timing, not because of our scientific analyses.
I want other scientists but especially women to know that you have to keep fighting for what you believe in, no matter what the odds. And even though I lost, I want changes to come about with the ways scientific misconduct is handled.
I also want to warn other scientists of the perils of filing a suit for qui tam which is what I did and it is that suit that I lost. Qui tam is a suit filed by a private individual Relator on behalf of the federal government charging violation of the False Claims Act. The alleged false claims in this case were made in the application by a colleague of mine for a United States Public Health Service grant in the fall of 1999. The ruling by both the Federal District Court judge and the Appeals court was that there was no violation of the False Claims Act. The decisions were based 1.) on the timing of the knowing on the part of my colleague, the head of the laboratory in which I was working, that is that he did not know of the alleged false information before he submitted his grant requesting funding from the National Institutes of Health (but evidence shows that he did know later on, has never acknowledged it and has never retracted papers that he must know contain false information) and 2.) that 2 Campus Committees on Research Integrity and the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) of the United States Public Health Service had ruled that there was insufficient evidence for research misconduct. I maintain that such august bodies can be self serving and can be wrong, a gross example of the problem of government incompetence in our society. The judge did not think so. Furthermore, the ruling ignored all the information that was obtained during the Discovery period of the case. I will present that information in the pages that follow and I will present all the raw data on which my experts and I based our evaluations.
The qui tam lawsuit was very expensive, it cost me about $200,000, but it probably cost the defense (paid with tax dollars) a whole lot more -- they had 2 attorneys from the second largest law firm in the state. I had no idea when the case was first filed in October of 2003 that it would come to that much. Had I known, would I have continued? Maybe not, but then I would have had to look at myself in the mirror every day knowing I had let myself down. Do I regret having followed through? Not for a minute. And by continuing to work, I have more than recovered the amount that I lost. And all along, I have felt an obligation to my fellow scientists who might not be as fortunate as I to continue the fight. I had thought I was in a unique position as a whistleblower because I have tenure but that is now threatened so I may be facing dismissal if I do not "cease and desist"in my quest to clean up the literature. The whistleblower's fate is rarely a happy one.
There is another reason that I had to pursue this case: In 1991, the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, PA, my school for most of my childhood, awarded me their first Lifetime Achievement Award and then in 1997, Smith College in Northampton, MA, my college, awarded me the Smith College Medal, a medal that is given each year to only a handful of alumnae. (Smith Medal) I was humbled by these honors and felt I had not really earned them. Qui tam became my opportunity to earn those awards. This website is my expression of that opportunity.
The District Court judge said that I was quixotic. By this he probably meant that I was tilting with windmills. He forgot that
This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
To fight for the right
Without question or pause*
While it is important for me to tell my story, what is far more important is that, as a result of what happened to me, the system for dealing with scientific misconduct must change. Here are my hopes:
1.) A way must be found so that Universities are not policing themselves regarding research misconduct. They have vested interests in the outcomes: the fox should not guard the chicken coop.
2.) Mechanisms for outside appeal should be in place for both the accused and the whistleblower. At present, at least in my University and in the ORI, appeal is unilateral and the whistleblower has no recourse for appeal.
3.) The judicial system does not understand science. The courts are not a place where scientific decisions should be made. Therefore, the final arbiter should be a court of scientists, hopefully ones that are knowledgeable in the field in question.
4.) Raw data that are used in scientific papers, reports and grant applications must be made available for examination by readers and reviewers.
5.) Standards and mechanisms need to be in place for the reporting of results that are not reproducible. The Retraction Watch (http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/) is a great step in this direction.Â In the situation I report on this website, there were 22 failed attempts to reproduce results of 2 key experiments reported in 2 publications. There is no evidence that the corresponding author has made any attempt to retract and, in fact, he continues to cite work that he must know contains questionable information. Furthermore, the journal in which these publications appeared is equally reticent to withdraw the papers.
My case is the poster child for the need for change.
The motto for my website from psalm 51 is taken from the seal of Brandeis University, my doctoral alma mater. The mountain in the picture is Mt Everest taken from KalaPatar, the peak on the other side of the valley at 18.000 feet. I was standing next to my husband when he took the picture. I had put one foot in front of the other and the other foot in front of the one just to get there -- one of the greatest challenges in my my life.
*Joe Darion from Man from LaMancha