Saturday, March 23, 2013

Research scandal cover-up: the prequel

"For almost four years, the University of Minnesota covered up findings that Dr. Barry Garfinkel knew about and participated in scientific misconduct, including fraud, in a drug study, according to a report obtained Wednesday."  This sentence opens a 1993 Star Tribune article on research fraud in the Department of Psychiatry, as my colleague Bill Gleason has pointed out on The Periodic Table blog.  The Garfinkel scandal is a stunning episode that appears to have been almost entirely forgotten. It involves a psychiatric researcher who was eventually sentenced to federal prison, a whistleblower who was fired from her job, a damning internal report that the university refused to turn over to the FDA until it was subpoenaed, and a signed, secret agreement between the researcher and the Dean of Medicine to "destroy all copies of the investigative report except for one to be retained by the office of the general counsel."

Yes, the "office of the general counsel."  And when the truth was eventually forced out, general counsel Mark Rotenberg said that "the university categorically rejects any insinuation that we covered up any of the serious problems” with the research study. In a Pravda-like touch, the university also issued a press release claiming that it had cooperated with the very FDA investigation that it had stonewalled for years. (An FDA spokesman said he found the press release "offensive." He told the Star Tribune,"That is not what I would characterize as cooperation.")

Twenty years later, we have yet another research scandal in the Department of Psychiatry; yet again, the University of Minnesota refers all questions to Mark Rotenberg; and yet again, Rotenberg assures us -- without providing any evidence -- that there has been no research misconduct in the Department of Psychiatry.  When the dust finally settles over these latest scandals, it will be hard to avoid asking: Why was Rotenberg put in charge and why did anyone believe him?


  1. Rotenberg is still there operating under the same shield of Regents protection because he has a track record of being able to get away with things that the normal "state" employee would have been chastised for and fired. Actually, if it wasn't for his Black-Opt experience in unethical behavior, deception, and cover-up he's been a great UMN employee. Could work on his delegation skills though, having a delusional mouth-piece like Paquette actually speaking to the media or other outlets or inquiries really calls into question his judgement. Paquette seems to think that his resume covers being an expert on clinical trials, diagnosis, study protocols, court proceedings, HIPAA regulations...etc. when he probably isn't even qualified to get the stretch-call-right at he races at Canterbury.

  2. There is absolutely no reason or provocation to believe a thing that the General Counsel has to say not only about the Markingson case, but anything related to misconduct by the University. In court, all of Mr. Rotenberg's claims of exoneration would have to be proven by certified documents not just his suspect word. The University should be included in any new "bullying" legislature that's being considered because that's where most bully's have learned their trade.

    The Harmon's