Duke University admitted Sunday that it used manipulated and completely fabricated data about respiratory illnesses to obtains grants from the Environmental Protection Agency, among other agencies.
Internal investigators at the school believe that former lab technician Erin Potts-Kant falsified or fabricated data for medical research reports, attorneys for Duke said in response to a federal whistleblower lawsuit against the school. Potts-Kant told investigators that she faked data that wound up being “included in various publications and grant applications.”
Former analyst Joseph Thomas alleged in a recent lawsuit that the university ignored warning signs about Potts-Kant’s work and tried to cover up the fraud, but the university denies there were warning signs. The lawsuit contends that all the work Potts-Kant did in her eight years at Duke was fabricated, and that the bogus data was done through grants worth $112.8 million to Duke and $120.9 million to other universities in North Carolina.
Investigators reviewed 36 research reports and found that, in many cases, she simply made things up.
Potts-Kant admitted that she “generated experiment data that was altered” and “knew the altered experiment data was false,” according to information offered on her behalf by North Carolina lawyer Amos Tyndall.
She worked in the laboratory of academic Michael Foster, who received a grant from the EPA in 2007 to determine whether exposure to airborne particulates can impair lung development in newborn mice. Potts-Kant used a machine helping researchers gauge the lung function of mice to gain insight on human respiratory ailments like asthma.
The project was part of a $7.7 million environmental justice grant from the EPA. The allegations could throw a wrench in data sets that the EPA uses to show the relationship between particulate and respiratory illnesses.
The EPA has not responded to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment about the fraudulent data and weather that might affect years of research. The agency has argued for decades that there is a causal relationship between air pollution levels and deaths and illnesses.
Federal regulators estimate that Clean Air Act regulations will deliver $2 trillion in public health benefits by 2030, exceeding the cost of federal clean air regulations by a ratio of 30-to-1 at the high end. The benefits, according to the EPA, come from reducing fine particulate matter and ground-level ozone, which EPA says cause premature death.
Recent research, however, shows the causal relationship is a lot less direct than initially believed. Veteran statistician Stan Young published a study in June which found “little evidence for association between air quality and acute deaths” in California between 2000 and 2012.