Catch Me If You Can: What happens to fake cardiologist William Hamman’s published papers?

photo of Frank Abagnale, Jr., whose story is the basis of Catch Me If You Can, by marcus_jb1973 via flickr

It’s a mind-boggling story: A United Airlines pilot claims to be a cardiologist and was eagerly sought after for medical conferences at which he taught doctors teamwork. He shared millions in grants, according to the Associated Press. But as the AP reports, William Hamman wasn’t a cardiologist at all, having never even finished medical school.

Hamman’s career seems to be collapsing, now that he resigned from his post as a researcher and educator at Royal Oak, Michigan’s William Beaumont Hospital once the hospital found out he had misled them. (Just last year, Beaumont touted a $150,000 grant Hamman nabbed with a colleague, Marc Abramson at Improbable Research notes.) United has also grounded him.

The storyline is reminiscent of 2002’s Catch Me If You Can, in which Frank Abagnale Jr. (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) forges millions of dollars’ worth of checks around the world, in the process impersonating a Pan Am pilot and a doctor. In Hamman’s case, there are apparently no questions over whether his pilot credentials are legit, according to the AP.

Our interest at Retraction Watch is what happens to the papers Hamman has published over the years. There are at least six, including two published this year. The AP reported that

Journals that printed articles listing Hamman with M.D. and Ph.D. degrees are being contacted in case they want to correct the work.

A fake credential isn’t necessarily a reason to retract papers, but it’s a reason to wonder what else an author is lying about — data, for example. After all, it was the revelation that Anil Potti had lied about being a Rhodes Scholar that led to scrutiny of his work, at least one retraction, and eventually his resignation.

We contacted the editors of the five journals where Hannan published. Jean Gayton Carroll, editor in chief of Quality Management in Health Care, tells Retraction Watch that the journal is “reviewing and evaluating” a paper it published earlier this year, “Using in situ simulation to identify and resolve latent environmental threats to patients safety: case study involving operational changes in a labor and delivery ward.”

The editor of the American Journal of Medical Quality, another of the journals in which Hamman published, tells us they’re looking into the situation.

We’ll update as we hear more.

See an update about the AJMQ paper.

4 thoughts on “Catch Me If You Can: What happens to fake cardiologist William Hamman’s published papers?”

  1. Incredible story. Surely all published papers he wrote will have to be retracted. He seems to have been quite a popular guy. His knowledge of airline safety may well have given him some suggestions for patient safety. There are similarities. Such a shame he didn’t just identify himself as a pilot with some medical background instead of passing himself off as a doctor, a cardiologist at that. You’re right, it’s mind boggling that the places he worked as a doctor didn’t check his credentials.


  2. Lets do something along the lines of an ancient and long lost art called “common sense” and check the mans work to see if it has anything useful to contribute before the knee jerk reaction that is happening. Obviously if some breakthrough or innovation was achieved through his work, doctor or not, it is a benefit. I suspect if that were not the case he would not be so highly sought or published. After all, history has shown that some of the best innovation our species has ever had was condemned by the snobs that thought they were the only ones pedigreed enough (read degreed enough) to be able to create excellent ideas.

    1. There is also a huge risk because of the lack of proper studying and training. Being a “benefit” isn’t a blank check for anything, medically or not. Otherwise you’re blinding yourself to the possible side effects.
      And in this case, we’re talking about human lifes.

  3. People are missing the point here. The guy used the titles for personal gain! If his ideas were so great, he would have been able to publish and might have done some work but, he wouldn’t have received millions in grants! He is a self serving fraud who deserves to go down in flames. The people who really wrote and developed the material that he lectures on, earn less than $100,000 a year and never receive any credit for their work. So, why should he?? The man is a total jerk at the airline anyway.

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