WASHINGTON, July 3, 2015 — Call it a case of scientific Munchausen by proxy. Biomedical researcher Dong-Pyou Han, formally of Iowa State University, is going to the big house for defrauding the National Institutes of Health (NIH) by providing false data indicating progress in combating the HIV virus, which can lead to AIDS.
Han admitted in court to fabricating data proving his experimental vaccine increased the blood’s immune defenses in HIV-infected test rabbits.
His research cost the NIH $7.2 million.
U.S. District Judge Gritzner was flabbergasted, saying he could not “get beyond the breach of the sacred trust in this kind of research,” and that Han’s “offense is just stunning.” He sentenced Han to nearly five years in prison and ordered him to repay the NIH its grant money. In addition, Gritzner “mentioned the likelihood that Han will be deported to his native South Korea after prison,” the Des Moines Register reported.
Like a man suffering from Munchausen’s, Han wanted desperately to be recognized a hero and was willing to injure AIDS victims by giving them false hope, while getting rich in the process.
Was the money—and more importantly, its government source—the trigger of Han’s malady?
A 2006 study by Jose Torres and Paul Ridker, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that drug company-funded studies favored new pharmaceutical treatments over old by 65.5 percent, while government-funded studies preferred new drugs by only 39.5 percent
The clear implication is that funding sources skew data toward a particular outcome. Scientists have to make a living just like the rest of us. And in our uncertain world, whoever has the deepest pockets may just find science high-fiving ulterior agendas.
But what happens when the funding source is the ultimate sugar daddy—government? And what if that government’s agenda is to justify its super-hero authoritarian powers as a necessary tool to “save the planet”?
“Is the Government Buying Science or Support?” is the title of a Cato Institute study by David Wojick and Patrick Michaels. It finds “that the federal government funds a lot of research, most of it directly related to agency missions, programs and paradigms. In some areas, especially regulatory science, Federal funding is by far the dominant source. Clearly the potential for funding-induced bias exists in these cases … most noticeably in the climate change debate and environmental policy in general.”
The study further claims that “the use of computer models is now widespread in all of the sciences. There is a concern that some funding agencies may be funding the development of models that are biased in favor of outcomes that further the agency’s policy agenda.”
According to the Science and Public Policy Institute, since 2009, the federal government has provided $32 billion for climate change research and another $36 billion for its related technologies, with funding apparently geared toward consensus building.
“There doesn’t necessarily need to be a conspiracy,” said an institute report. “It doesn’t require any centrally coordinated deceit or covert instructions to operate. Instead, it’s the lack of funding for the alternatives that leaves a vacuum and creates a systemic failure. The force of monopolistic funding works like a ratchet mechanism on science. Results can move in both directions, but the funding means that only results from one side of the equation get ‘traction’.”
Terence Kealey, professor of clinical biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, England, in a piece written for the Cato Institute, got it right when he said, “Scientists may love government money, and politicians may love the power its expenditure confers upon them, but society is impoverished by the transaction.”
And the wildly exaggerated claims made by Munchhausen-affected scientists appear to be related to the amount of their federal funding.