NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Power Line Research Faked

June 24, 1999

Reports that a prominent national laboratory researcher falsified data in his studies on electric power lines should add to the debate over whether power lines play a role in causing cancer, according to federal investigators.

In 1992, Robert P. Liburdy committed scientific misconduct in two studies examining the effect of magnetic and electrical fields (EMF) on cells being studied in test tubes, according to the federal Office of Research Integrity (ORI). Prior to Liburdy's studies, which spurred other such efforts, no plausible mechanism for EMF causing cancer had been discovered.

  • Investigators said in one case Liburdy discarded 93 percent of lab data that didn't agree with his hypothesis that EMF affected living cells.
  • Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where Liburdy did his research, became suspicious, and began its own investigation in 1995.
  • Even during the investigation, Liburdy continued to play a prominent role in the EMF controversy, speaking and appearing at conferences.
  • ORI began its own investigation in 1998, after Lawrence Berkeley administrators told the federal government -- which paid for the questionable research -- that Liburdy had falsified his findings.

As part of his settlement with the government, Liburdy must withdraw parts of two studies and may not apply for federal research money or act as an adviser to the Public Health Service for three years.

However, his real punishment could last longer. All of his more than 20 EMF research papers must now be called into question. And according to Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, "His credibility is gone after this. Science is unforgiving, and rightly so, of those who break the rules."

Source: "Researcher On Power Line Effects Said To Have Faked Data," Medical Tribune News Service, June 22, 1999.


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