MIAMI BEACH, Fla--"The future of the NSABP [National Surgical
Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project] can't be built upon rejection
of the past," said Bernard Fisher, MD, Distinguished Service
Professor of Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Although friends and colleagues have urged Dr. Fisher to forget
the past and "get on with his life," he remains determined
to set the record straight on the investigation that led, last
year, to his ouster as NSABP chairman. At stake, he believes,
are larger issues pertaining to academic freedom and due process.
Speaking at the 12th Annual International Breast Cancer Conference,
Dr. Fisher described the Kafkaesque chain of events that followed
the NSABP's report to the NCI of its investigation into falsified
data from one physician at one hospital in Canada.
The Office of Research Integrity invoked an embargo while it conducted
its investigation, so that for 2½ years, no one was allowed
to discuss the problem publicly. "They felt quite comfortable
that there was no crisis," he said.
Dr. Fisher maintains that the falsified entry data, which involved
a small number of patients (99 out of 33,885 in 22 studies) and
did not affect trial results when the data were removed, was merely
the catalyst that set off a number of groups--Congressman Dingell
from Michigan (former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation), the media, the Office
of Research Integrity, the University of Pittsburgh, and certain
women's activist groups--who used the investigation to fulfill
their own agendas.
He feels that due process was ignored during the investigation
and academic freedom compromised. "The most disappointing
thing is that the University of Pittsburgh officials chose not
to confront either Congressman Dingell or the frightened staff
of the NCI," he said, "and abandoned a faculty member
during a crisis."
First amendment rights were also threatened in that any papers
written by Dr. Fisher were to be reviewed in advance by the University
of Pittsburgh and the NCI. "We were told where to publish,
how to publish, when to publish . . . and that was an egregious
breach of academic freedom," he said.