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Poldermans update: Magazine cites lack of informed consent, bogus patient surveys, invented data and more

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Larry Husten at CardioBrief has an update on the case of Don Poldermans, a leading Dutch cardiologist who was accused of various iterations of research misconduct. Poldermans was fired last November by Erasmus Medical Center, where he had been head of perioperative cardiac care before the scandal.

According to Husten, Jeroen Bax, another prominent Dutch cardiologist with strong ties to Poldermans, has been cleared of wrongdoing by his institution, Leiden University Medical Centre:

LUMC has now completed its investigation and concluded that no “scientists at the Leiden University Medical Centre [were] involved in the violation of academic integrity by” Poldermans. However, the investigation also expressed concern about the large number of papers co-authored with Poldermans by LUMC scientists.

Husten also notes that the magazine, Medisch Contact, has a major piece on Poldermans, which will make fun reading for those who can read Dutch. Husten seems to have found a translator, and here’s his summary of the report:

Poldermans believes that the ongoing investigations will largely clear him of any additional or greater wrongdoing, but that he does not expect that his reputation will ever recover. “No one can come unscathed from such a nightmare,” he said.

The article outlines the rise and fall of Poldermans career, focusing especially on Poldermans’ close working relationship with Jeroen Bax and another Erasmus MC scientist, the biomedical statistician Eric Boersma. The three worked together on the original DECREASE study and on subsequent DECREASE studies. It was the conduct of these studies that formed the basis for the subsequent scandal.

In 2004 Poldermans was appointed a professor of perioperative cardiovascular care at Erasmus, the first such multi-disciplinary position in the Netherlands. Medisch Contact notes that it was the same dean who created the chair who subsequently led the scientific misconduct investigation.

The Erasmus’ investigation

concluded that Poldermans had performed research on patients who had not given written consent and had taken blood samples without permission. “More seriously,” according to Medisch Contactthe investigation found that Poldermans invented research data, stating that he created fictitious survey forms that “can not be traced back to the data in the relevant patient records.”

A broader investigation, which will include earlier work by Poldermans, is still underway and is scheduled for completion in July, according to Rikard Juttmann, integrity coordinator of the Erasmus MC. Poldermans admits that “not in all cases we asked for written consent,” but “that’s all.” He rejects the accusation that he fabricated data.

The case has similarities to that of Joachim Boldt, the German anesthesiologist who lost his post — and nearly 90 papers — for failure to obtain appropriate IRB approval for his studies.

Anyone out there still think that’s a shortcut worth taking?

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Written by Adam Marcus

April 17, 2012 at 4:45 pm

4 Responses

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  1. It’s good to see another university doing the right thing.

    I wonder when the universities from Canada and Spain, for example, will get on the right track, i.e. will acknowledge the misconduct/fraud committed by their faculty members and will wish them luck in their new ventures outside the university.

    YouKnowBestOfAll

    April 17, 2012 at 11:11 pm

  2. The translated quotes in the blog entry stem mostly from the first half of the article in Medisch Contact. I believe there are a few other important elements to highlight. And in my opinion ‘fun reading’ was not the best choice of words.

    First, while the irony of the dean both creating Poldermans’ chair as well as leading the investigation is not lost on me, it does not end there. The committee judged that there was an accountability vacuum due to the interdepartmental nature of Poldermans’ chair, which likely played a role in encouraging the misconduct. Frankly, I would consider that in itself an oversight on account of the dean; such a vacuum should not have existed in the first place, or else have been identified and fixed shortly after the creation of the chair. Obviously this does not remove responsibility from Poldermans himself.

    Later in the magazine article, a more sinister picture is presented. Not of Poldermans himself, but of the fear of the fallout. The magazine asked Poldermans’ promotor, some of his closest collaborators (including Bax, his 300-paper co-author who has now survived two investigations already) and five most recent PhD graduates whether they would defend him (in general, not regarding the accusations that were investigated). All of these people said they wouldn’t or wouldn’t answer the question. And insofar as reasons are given at all, they simply point in the direction of disassociating themselves from him, presumably to save their own careers and reputations.

    The only person that stepped up for him in the article has probably already retired, and attributes any misconduct findings to the ‘mission impossible’ that full compliance with medical research rules has become in recent times (given the scope of the investigation, let’s put that at the last 10 years). Subsequently he considers dismissal to be too harsh a measure.

    Personally, I think dismissal was the only possible sanction in this case. And that the rules that were broken were not that difficult to comply with, nor were they very new. And this is only the first investigation into Poldermans’ conduct; it was judged that a follow-up investigation was necessary, and that is still going on.

    Finally, Poldermans thinks he can find a new job soon, and is confident the follow-up investigation’s outcome will not harm his chances. In this case, being an MD presents a reasonable possibility to continue earning your bread. Social psychologists may not be so lucky.

    CH

    April 18, 2012 at 8:54 am

  3. I’ve now slogged my way through the Medisch Contact article and the “abridged version” of the Committee’s report. Frankly, I was left more suspicious of the Committee than of Dr. Poldermans. Phrases like “sanctimonious babble” come to mind. That’s a bit too strong, but one can’t really mistake the distinctive squishing sound of someone being thrown under a bus. Perhaps Poldermans deserved it; but its impossible to tell from what the Committee reports.

    Toby White

    April 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm

  4. Many generalist doctors ignore completely what the statins are and continue to prescribe them following the guide lines established by the Producers their selves.
    Some cardiologists are very well payed for this and Mr, Poldermans is still in the list of the biggest specialists in cardiology prescribing statins medications. It is with people like him that the pharmaceutical industry now wants to try statins on children and convince (and paying) doctors to prescribe them. It’s really a horrible world!

    Jaio

    August 10, 2012 at 9:50 am


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