The Potti Scandal

A Duke University associate professor named Anil Potti who does cancer research turns out to have fabricated numerous details on applications for research money. The first fabrication to be noticed was that he had received a Rhodes Fellowship.

This is interesting because Duke had previously investigated him:

Late last year [2009], there was a crescendo that caused Duke to stop clinical trials on three of his research programs, two involving lung cancer and one involving breast cancer. In each program, Potti was giving patients chemotherapy — determining what drugs might work best and in what dosage — based upon his genome research.

In January Duke let these programs resume after an internal review. [emphasis added] And these are the precise programs where Duke — for the second time — has now suspended new [emphasis added] enrollments. . . . In an official statement on the winter review, Duke said it had determined Potti’s approaches were “viable and likely to succeed.”

Someone who appears to be a total fraud is called to Duke’s attention — and they find him innocent! This is what happened with the SEC and Madoff and Memorial University and Ranjit Chandra. Chandra’s research assistant, a nurse, told Memorial something was wrong and Memorial did nothing, or very little. Chandra then sued the nurse. He went on to write the paper that Saul Sternberg and I investigated.

Someone lies on his resume — it happens. That a prestigious institution like Duke let him continue to get away with it, possibly endangering patients and surely wasting vast resources, after it’s brought to their attention — not so well-known. So far, the New York Times has only covered the false-resume side of the story. You may recall how poorly Duke responded to charges against its lacrosse team.

As this unfolded, Duke had the following headline on its website: “Crisis management 101: What can BP CEO Hayward’s mistakes teach us”. From a CNN story in which a Duke expert was quoted.

Duke.Fact.Checker notes that Potti’s papers have at least 26 co-authors! Many with M.D.’s, who have or will tell thousands of trusting patients “you should take Drug X”. The patient endangerment is not trivial.

The Cancer Letter on Potti. Another issue of The Cancer Letter about it.

3 Replies to “The Potti Scandal”

  1. “Crisis management 101: What can BP CEO Hayward’s mistakes teach us…”

    …About Covering Our own Butts more Effectively?

    Step 1: don’t admit any failure unless it’s absolutely unavoidable.

    Seems like primate social behaviour to me…

  2. Duke’s response to its lacrosse case was just the opposite. The craven administration fell to radical faculty pressure and essentially judged the entire team, guilty until proven innocent.

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