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The Whistleblower: Dr. Dinah Bodkin’s Experience Blowing the Whistle at Harvard Medical School

January 1, 1999 

 

When scientific misconduct charges are raised, POGO’s experience working with whistleblowers is that an institution – no matter how reputable – is simply unable to review its own work honestly. It is only natural that the research institution will work harder to protect its government contract and reputation than it will to seriously investigate the allegations of misconduct.

Dr. Dinah Bodkin reported scientific misconduct by her supervisor and colleague at the Harvard University-run VA hospital where she was a researcher. She told Harvard officials that her colleague fabricated data in a paper submitted to a scientific journal. Dr. Bodkin was fired by her supervisor within a week after she blew the whistle. When Harvard performed an internal review, they found no primary data to support the research, and incredibly, concluded that because there was no data, there was no finding of scientific misconduct. In 1999, the federal Office of Special Counsel (OSC) ruled in Dr. Bodkin’s favor, stating “OSC believes there is sufficient evidence to support that Dr. Bodkin’s disclosures contributed to the non-renewal of appointment....”

This case is significant for two reasons. First, it highlights the unfortunately all-too-typical experience of scientists who allege scientific misconduct. Second, it reveals the insidious problem of “self-policing” by institutions of misconduct within their own ranks. To address this larger question, POGO submitted comments to the White House during their review of federal scientific research policy. POGO stressed the importance of ensuring that scientific misconduct reviews be performed by independent bodies who have no affiliation with the private or public institution

  • Letter from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, December 14, 1999. 
  • Report of Prohibited Personnel Practice Found In OSC File Number MA-96-0795.
  • POGO Letter to the Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Offices of the President, November 29, 1999.
  • Links of Interest document 1, document 2, If you use the table of contents link, the link to the proposal is under: Science and Technology Policy Office. Notice--Research misconduct; Federal policy to protect integrity of research record; comment request, pages 55722-55725 [FR Doc. 99-26608]
  • Letter from Senator John Kerry, to Mr. Richard Griffin, Inspector General, Department of Veterans Affairs, March 8, 1999.
  • Letter from Mr. Richard Griffin, Inspector General, Department of Veterans Affairs to Senator John Kerry, February 18, 1999.
  • Letter from Senator John Kerry, to Mr. Richard Griffin, Inspector General, Department of Veterans Affairs, December 3, 1998. 
     
  • Letter to POGO from Harvard University, February 14, 1997.
  • POGO's letter to Chief Research and Development Officer, VA Hospital, February 7, 1997. 
     
  • Letter to Dinah Bodkin from Harvard Medical School, October 25, 1996. 


Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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